Unflattering Self-Portrait: on the Selfie

733845_719592151391268_1462006814_nIn between yoga poses- I’m just a girl on a bench on a pretty day. 

I was at lunch with my friend the other day celebrating the first of her birthday lunches (she knows how to do things right. Since then we have had THREE more birthday lunches). We were somewhere between the appetizer and the meal, but before the enormous piece of cake, when she asked me,

“Why do yoga people take so many pictures of themselves?”

Ah, this question. Unbeknownst to my buddy, I had an arsenal of opinion to unload on her. I put down my fork (thereby relinquishing my rights to half of the loaded latkes, minus bacon, that we were working on) and stepped onto my soapbox.

I’ve been thinking about this for several months- ever since the NYT article- (read this if you’re confused about what a “yoga selfie” is) was printed, followed by the YogaDork diatribe. This means that I’ve had some time to distill my opinion. With any luck, I might even manage to be concise. Here goes:

Point 1: What’s up with yoga people taking pictures of themselves all the time? As my friend pointed out, you don’t see Crossfitters and runners posting pictures of themselves all over social media the way that your yogi pals do. My (unproven) theory is that yoga just lends itself to photography due to the nature of the practice. While in truth, it would be surprising if a photographer were to pop by during your practice and take a picture, it’s easy to set up a particular asana (posture) and hold it as though you just happened to be doing it during your regular practice and you were caught in the act. I mean, after all, these poses are often held for several breaths, so, in theory, it could happen that way… except that in the staged version, you can get  your hair looking all perfect and your leg bent to 90 degrees, and arrange a serene half-smile on your face. Oh, and you’re wearing your cutest duck-print leggings, or whatever.

Point 1.5: So why do we do it? Tricky question, maybe with varying shades of truth in the answers. Some say it’s inspirational to see other people in postures, it’s fun to feel like you’re sharing in a community (check out the #aimtrue challenge on Instagram)- but I can only speak from my own experience and my own heart, and I have to say, I think it’s got a lot to do with ego. I love to look at pictures of myself and see how far I’ve progressed in a posture. This sucks, and I wish it weren’t true, but I’ve always been honest with you, so here it is: I like for other people to see these pictures too. It feels good when people say things like “Wow, that’s awesome!” Or, “I can’t believe you can do that!”

…and how do I know it’s really, truly about the ego? I mean, for me, anyway? Well, because if I don’t like how I look, then I don’t share the picture. If I feel like the posture isn’t well-executed, or (ugh, I hate to even say this) I feel like I don’t look good, I sometimes I keep it to myself. I’m sorry, guys. I’m working on these things, but it takes time to overcome years of conditioning.

Point 2: If it is about the ego… then that’s not really very damn yogic, is it? No, it’s not. I fully, 100% believe that yoga is about the way the pose feels, not the way it looks. That, as Bernie Clark says, “we do not use the body to get into the pose… we use the pose to get into the body.” That whether or not your face touches your shins in paschimottanasana, you are expressing the posture beautifully.

Point 2.5: Who cares? Why can’t we just appreciate the beauty of the asana, the physical prowess that goes into a practice? Again, tricky. Maybe we can ask ourselves, what is it that we are admiring? Would we appreciate it as much if the subject were older, less flexible, weighed more, were wearing a snowsuit?

Point 3.0: What message does the yoga selfie trend send to the community? Here it is, my final opinion. I am concerned that when we take these carefully edited, carefully posed, critically chosen photos of ourselves, we are nurturing an environment of competition and self-judgment. The most popular photos tend to look an awful lot like the cool girls at high school. Thin (or at least not overweight), beautiful, wearing expensive clothing that is easily recognized as such.

One of the reasons this speaks to my heart so much is that I was NOT a thin, beautiful, well-dressed high school girl- which is, I know, why I am so susceptible to the siren call of my ego. One of my beautiful yogini friends (and a self-confessed selfie-lover) said to me recently, “Sometimes I look at these pictures and think, I’ll never be able to do that pose. I hate those girls for how perfect they look.” Ouch.

Point 4.0: What are you going to do about it, Laura? Yeah, I’m not really sure. As a teacher, and now a studio owner, I think it’s up to me to at least try to stand behind the moral principles of yoga. Non-violence, truthfulness, contentment- these are three that come to mind right away. If I post a picture of myself, at the very least, I need to consider my motives and the potential impact of the action. Am I fostering an atmosphere of inclusion, inspiration, and self-acceptance… or am I encouraging critical self-talk and judgment? Maybe I don’t always make the best choice, but I really do try to consider the angles to see if I’m “walking the talk” with my social media actions. I’m doing what I can to recognize my own truth, even when it’s not pretty.

Feel free to weigh in. What’s your take? What’s our responsibility as a community? I’d love to hear your input.

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