The Rise of the Yogalebrity
The Discouraging Truth about Yoga Celebrity Culture
by Dianne Bondy
We live in a celebrity-obsessed culture where fame is the ultimate measure of modern-day success. Celebrity status is everywhere: from dog trainers to nannies and from movie stars to fitness and lifestyle professionals. Even yoga has its superstars.
We live in a celebrity-obsessed culture.
Yoga celebrity status is something that many young teachers aspire to achieve. From a broad perspective, branding your approach to teaching yoga and commodifying your image as a yoga professional is seemingly one of the only ways to make a “comfortable living” teaching the practice. Endorsements, brand ambassadorships, spokesperson contracts, book deals, and corporate advertising opportunities are all big-business ways to make a profit in the yoga industry. Unfortunately, achieving stardom or making that comfortable living as a yoga teacher only happens for a select few.
With the rise of yoga’s popularity in mainstream Western culture, we are witnessing an increasing number of yoga teachers selling their images and brands in order to initiate themselves into yoga celebrity culture, and the cost is disappointing. Brand awareness has become more relevant than the teachings.
Top “yogalebrities” have very specific brand images. The majority of individuals catapulted into the stratosphere of “yoga superstar status” gain their traction in mainstream pop culture based on the ability to make sales. As a result, the main qualifier for celebrity status ends up being physical appearance, rather than the quality or the substance of the individual’s teaching, or even their professional work within the yoga community. The better looking you are, the move value you have in mainstream yoga culture. Your message and your words hold more influence if you fit a specific idealized aesthetic. Some yoga celebrities aren’t even aware of the impact of their words and images on modern yoga culture. This unconsciousness, lack of awareness, unexamined physical and racial privilege, and disregard for how words and images influence and shape culture are devastatingly problematic. How can you change the world if you don't understand the problem? How do you diversify the imagery if you have no experience with cultural or racial diversity? How can you shift culture if you feel threatened by change?
Those who think critically, push boundaries, and examine white supremacy and sexualization in yoga culture are often accused of being negative. I am a big believer in focusing on the positive, but not at the cost of ignoring and marginalizing and perpetuating exclusion. Just because you don’t choose to see something doesn't mean it is not there.
Those who think critically, push boundaries, and examine white supremacy and sexualization in yoga culture are often accused of being negative.
At the top of the yoga celebrity culture is the homogeneous image of thin, fair-skinned, flexible women. We see very few men and almost no people of color, bigger-bodied individuals, or bodies with different levels of ability or disability, and pretty much no one from the LGBTQ communities achieving stardom.
When I look at the yoga celebrity model and the popularity of certain teachers over others, I can’t help but wonder: How does a diverse practice like yoga, a practice that is designed to serve a diverse group of people, end up being so exclusionary when it comes to its public leaders? Why do we only deem a certain aesthetic of beauty valuable?
So how does this actually affect us, and how do we go about changing this idea? Our modern-day practices of exclusion, idealized standards of beauty, and the supremacy of dominant culture have permeated our spiritual practices, our society, and ultimately our souls. We are completely unaware of our own internalized biases. How do we not notice who is consistently celebritized in our yoga culture and why don’t we question it? Will we continue to be contaminated with the idea that only certain voices matter? The only way to change this is to be aware of it, to educate ourselves, and to be open to moving the conversation forward. No matter who you are, this does affect you. And sooner or later you are going to have to take a stand…