The yoga world is aflame with criticisms of the yoga apparel industry for their consistently off marketing photos. In one example, ASOS ads show models demonstrating yoga poses in ways that vary from just plain bad form to actually dangerous for your body. Yoga teachers the world over have been heckling the online boutique for its inept and appropriative portrayal of yoga. But, honestly, who’s surprised? This is just another example of white Americans stealing the practices of brown people and repackaging them for profit.
The product ads show mostly white, skinny femme-appearing people in spandex doing poses that are supposed to be yoga, but which are basically only recognizable as yoga because of the visual product placement cues like mats. As a person who has been teaching and practicing yoga since 1997, I can say with some level of expertise that what is being sold on ASOS as yoga is just fashion.
In fact, if you tried to do yoga the way the photos on ASOS depict it, you would most likely injure yourself. Take for example the way the pose vriksasana — tree pose — is shown. In this posture, you balance on one leg and bend the opposite leg so that the foot is placed on the inside of the standing thigh. Only that’s not what’s happening in this image. Instead, the model has her foot pressing against the knee joint of the leg she’s trying to balance on. Done regularly, this is a sure fire way to dislocate your knee. Please don’t do this with your body. Your knees are rare, beautiful, and very expensive to have replaced.
The below image is not from ASOS, it's from Getty, a stock image site. And it commits the exact same offense. So really, this is way bigger than one company or even one industry.
And then there’s the many iterations of bujangasana — cobra pose. This pose is a traditional backbend in which you broaden the chest by laying on your belly and pressing your palms into the ground until they — eventually, maybe — straighten. The whole point of this pose is to open the chest, but in the ASOS pictures, the models are straight lounging. Their collapsed postures and half open lips look combine the aesthetics of fashion photography and soft core pin up styles, neither of which have anything to do with yoga.
Marketing yoga as a sexy whitewashed aesthetic rather without acknowledging its complex Indian spiritual and religious lineage is nothing new or surprising, and it is also, in my opinion, the real danger of most companies’ representation of yoga. Exoticizing and sexualizing the practices of brown people in order to sell them to white people has been the MO of consumer capitalism since forever, and ASOS is definitely not the only offender (though we did reach out to the company for comment and did not receive one by time of publication). Every time I write about yoga, it takes half a work day to find a stock image that isn’t of a white person doing yoga wrong.
The wellness clothing industry’s style of appropriation is transparently trying to mask itself by including a few ambiguously ethnic looking models. In reality, literally everything about their yoga marketing is cringey and insulting, even to a white American yoga teacher like me.