World famous yoga teacher Katy Budig´s status as “the face of body positivity” has been questioned by people from the Yoga and Body Image Coalition (YBIC). Is Miss Budig not a little to white and too fit to speak for all those bodies excluded by the Yoga Journal ideal? A member of the YBIC asked: Where are larger bodies? Where are people of colour?” A set of very interesting blog posts followed. Below is my humble reflection on how this debate is unfolding originally posted as a comment to Melanie Klein (co founder of YBCI). But more importantly, take a moment to read the statements of both Budig and Klein as this debate is both important and informative.
Response to Melanie Klein
Thank you for a very interesting and sober turn in this debate. I like the invitation you extend to Miss Budig and see your efforts in taking this debate to a more constructive place. I would also like to hear your reflections on how your own privilege of academic training plays a role in the power dynamic of this particular conversation.
As an academic, I couldn’t agree more with your reflections and welcome your analysis. However, I am not blind to the fact that my preference for your writing over Budig´s is shaped by the fact that I share your privilege: academic training. As an ex-academic now full time yoga teacher I share your feeling of wanting to “educate people on some key points, and help raise consciousness“. However, it has also become painfully clear to me that my privilege and the desires it installs in me has its own power dynamic and subtle mechanisms of oppression. That academic authority is a razor sharp, double-edged sword to be handled with great care.
You quote other responses to Budig´s work and emphasis that people have been “honoring her vulnerability for sharing her story.” and then continue:
”But (yes, there’s a but…), there’s more to examine. And that’s where people, including myself, have often felt disappointed by your statements. Often, your shares feel incomplete, they’re powerful stories lacking a deeper analysis.”
On the one hand i share your frustration. On the other hand i see a mirroring of the use of privelege in the way you adress Budig here. The very ability to do a deeper analysis of contemporary yoga, the litteracy to power structures and systematic oppression is your privilege, not hers. You had training, you had 20 years of working in this field, she didn´t. The power of academic authority is a trump card. It gives voice and this voice can (and should) be used politically in a conscious way. And I see you do that, and it’s great.
But (yes there is a but) you also write: “it’s difficult to even acknowledge our privilege because it’s taken for granted”. How does your own position as an academic constitute a privilege here? And is that privilege not taken for granted in this debate? As academics, we do see things structurally and systematically, but does that give us the right to be “disappointed” when we read statements from people who have not had the training, resources, desires and structural conditions to do what we do? I´m not so sure.
I have no doubt that your response to Budig expresses a genuine concern and a real desire to generate “a sense of community and promoting healing and understanding”. But I do have doubts as to whether that message is going to be heard when it is backed up by the power/knowledge nexus which to me is the privilege that beats all other privileges. It beats all other privileges because academic authority comes with the illusion of neutrality. The illusion that “anyone can do this”, anyone can go and educate themselves. But in reality there are lots of structural, political, economical and social factors who has to be in place for that to happen. The literacy and sensitivity to power you acquired though academic training is not available to everyone. I see your passion for sharing it, but I also wonder if there could be a more constructive way to go about that.
Building a real sense of community seems unlikely when the invitation to miss Budig to join your party rests on the premise that she first accepts to be “educated” and “elevated” by the very people she feels perpetrated by. Her feelings can be brilliantly analyzed as not wanting to be called on her priveleges, as her exercising power by slipping into the victim position and evading responsibility. But will that brilliant analysis of yours generate healing, understanding and a sense of community? My guess is no. It’s educative but not healing. Your mission to educate and elevate consciousness presumes that you are already on top and your partner in dialogue will have to accept a position at the bottom and in addition agree to need your help in rising up to your (privileged) level of consciousness. You invite miss B to enter into a dialogue and collaboration but on the premise that she first accepts that she has to become more like you. I doubt miss B will step up to that level of vulnerability. If she does that would be a true act of courage and wonder-woman strength. We can only hope. It would be nothing short of a miracle.
For this conversation to produce the healing, understanding and community I see you aiming for, maybe we all need to be ready to be called on our privileges without slipping into the position of victim or the rescuer (both positions tend to just generate more perpetration). I have no solution to this problem. I have no idea if this is even a problem worth thinking about. I am just sharing a concern. And again I celebrate the fact that you make the inquiry to always reflect on what we are busy doing in the yoga community. Rock on!