Sarah Dittmore: 00:00:05
Hi friends. My name is Sarah and you’re listening to the beginner’s mind, a podcast about all things yoga ish. Getting this episode ready for you guys has been such a trip because I recorded this way back in the summer when I was like, unable to walk, sitting in my parents’ living room waiting to get better, waiting to get back to New York. And now it’s what, like six months later and I’m in the city like getting all packed and ready to go back to California for the holidays and it’s just like wow, time has gone by anyway, either way, however long it’s been, I am still so, so, so, so, so excited to share this one with you. It’s actually one of the first topics I wanted to explore when I came up with the idea for this podcast and just the way things shook out.
It took a while to actually get to and to get this all together. But it’s something I’ve thought about a lot before and that’s the, the relationship between yoga and body image. And in this episode we explore it from sort of both directions. We explore yoga and the way the yoga industry might encourage unhealthy relationships with our body. But then we also explore it from the other direction in which the personal practice of yoga might help us reconnect with and heal our relationship with our body. In some ways. I know for me, yoga has served both purposes in my life. You know, there was a point when I became very, very obsessed with the sort of health fad around yoga. So, you know, I was vegan and I was obsessively vegan and I was unhealthy in the way I treated my body just in an attempt to be the perfect Yogi in my mind.
And I think that that’s, you know, one example of it, I know a lot of people, and we talk about this in the episode as well, deal with it from, from a different perspective in the way that the yoga community is very fat shamey and unwelcoming to people of larger bodies. And so we talk about that. But then on the flip side, I’ve experienced how at times when I was angry with my body or you know, when I had my, I had surgery on may on the nerve in my rib cage a while back and I had, you know, my knee injury rather recently. And I’ve had these times where I kind of feel betrayed by my body. And yoga has definitely helped me to kind of, reconnect and find acceptance and compassion for my body in those instances. So it can be a powerful tool. And because of that, it can also be, you know, dangerous when wielded by the consumerist forces of America. And so yeah, we’ll dive into all of that in more today, and I think you’ll really enjoy it. I’m speaking with Melanie Klein, who’s just an incredible human and she is a sought after empowerment coach, a thought leader at influencer in the areas of body confidence, authentic empowerment and visibility, attributing yoga and feminism as her two primary influencers. Melanie has been in the business of empowering women since 1994 with over 20 years of experience and notable credits including advising the Santa Monica college feminist majority leadership Alliance, working closely with Global Girl Media and running the LA chapter of women action and the media. She has dedicated her passion, knowledge and coaching to the empowerment of a numerable woman through increasing confidence, self esteem and worth. Melanie is also a successful and highly acclaimed writer, a speaker, a professor of sociology and women’s studies and her areas of interest and specialty include media literacy, education, body image and the intersectional analysis of systems of power and privilege. She co-founded the yoga and body image coalition in 2014 and is cofounder of the Joy Revolution. She’s been practicing yoga and meditation since 1996 and currently lives in Santa Monica, California. Melanie is also the co-editor of Yoga and Body Image, 25 personal stories about beauty, bravery and loving your body, which I read before our interview and highly, highly recommend and she is the co-writer and co-editor of a lot of other amazing pieces. So I will link to everything in the show notes below. So definitely give all those a read and check it out because Melanie is just a wonderful resource when it comes to understanding yoga and body image and the relationship between the two. So enjoy. And for now let’s get curious.
Sarah Dittmore: 00:05:03
So I’m here with Melanie Klein, co-founder of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition and of course we’re going to be talking about yoga and body image. So Melanie, do you want to just introduce yourself and let me know a little bit about who you are?
Melanie Klein: 00:05:18
Yeah, absolutely. So I am absolutely the co-founder of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition, which we created in 2014. It’s amazing how quickly time goes by.
Sarah Dittmore: 00:05:29
Melanie Klein: 00:05:30
And in addition to a yoga and mindfulness background meditation, that goes back to 1996, I am also an empowerment coach and a professor of sociology and women’s studies entering my 17th year of teaching. And really all of these areas of my work, the mindfulness, the embodiment, the sort of, you know, intellectual, theoretical and analytical have combined and have informed my work over the last 20 plus years. And really in large part informed the Yoga and Body Image Coalition. And I would say if I had to distill it, it’s really about raising consciousness and then moving into conscious and sacred action. So that’s kind of me in a nutshell. And then on the side, you know, in terms of, ah, what else is there about Melanie, aside from the work that she does, you know, really, uh, very much about community and connection, kinship relationships, and being very much a part of the natural world, the planet. So hiking, walking, swimming, being in nature, being with the people that I love, which is interesting. Not only is that like my quote, personal life, but also very much informs the coalition and the work that I’ve done publicly because there’s a lot of, you know, about building bridges and creating collaboration and community. So yeah, that’s Melanie Klein. Thank you for asking!
Sarah Dittmore: 00:07:00
Interesting. Yeah. And so you mentioned that you find your kind of different fields combine and come together to make a bigger picture, you know, the sociology and your professor work and then also your, you work with the Yoga and Body Image. So talk to me a little bit about how those things interact.
Melanie Klein: 00:07:16
Yeah. And if I can, that kind of requires me to go back towards the beginning a little bit.
Sarah Dittmore: 00:07:21
Please. The more the merrier.
Melanie Klein: 00:07:24
To help that all make sense. So I had a really interesting childhood and adolescence where, um, I essentially grew up in two countries, two languages, two cultures. Um, also too in many ways, socioeconomic classes. I grew up with my parents here in the United States after living in Germany for years. And then upon moving to the United States, I would go back every summer and live with my grandparents and my family there. And it was really fascinating. What a juxtaposition in terms of value systems, ways of living, um, just in my family unit as well as the culture around me. And then of course, right, just looking at the social values and the ways of living. So I feel that really inclined me very early on to have what would be called the sociological imagination or sociological perspective without having a name for it at the time where I became very sort of keenly interested in not just looking at the psychology of individuals, but looking at society, looking how it’s structured, looking at how it’s set up, how it, you know, co-mingles with our personal lives. And so when I, back to college, after taking a hiatus, I found a sociology of women’s class and I had never heard of sociology before. I had taken some psych courses in high school as an elective and was very intrigued by that. But sociology, it just, I don’t know, something about it grabbed me and sociology of women. I had not identified as a feminist yet at that point, but I was very much had been thinking about my place in role as a girl and then a young woman. So I walked into that class and I write in the book “Yoga and Body Image” about meeting my first mentor. She was just absolutely extraordinary, reminded me a lot of my very incredible, powerful and influential grandmother in Germany. So there was that and really began to learn that my seemingly personal life and the challenges that I had faced, the injustices I had faced, the abuse I had faced were certainly I had experienced them, but they were part of a much larger matrix. And I began to have the language and understanding of how I was a part of something bigger than myself and you know, began to learn things like systems and structures, patriarchy, you know, white supremacy, ableism, sizeism, classism, all of these things. And that was my really big, as you know, many people call it click moment where I went, Oh, okay. So yes, this happened to me. And yet this is also, I’m part of a statistic, meaning that this is not because of me personally. Meaning that because I am a woman in this society, I am more prone, I’m more apt to having these experiences. And it was a really regulatory and liberatory moment in my life because all of the things that had felt like personal failures, um, personal shortcoming and that marred me with incredible amount of shame and guilt and blame really began to be lifted because, you know, and I wrote this in an article for Ms. Magazine some years ago, I realized, Oh, it’s not me, it’s patriarchy. Oh, it’s not me, it’s the fill in the blank. And so that was incredibly liberating. And at the same time it catalyzed me into action spurned on anger.
Sarah Dittmore: 00:11:07
Yeah. ‘Cause it’s all of a sudden it’s not in your control, but it’s also not in your control. Like it’s like this is bigger than me, which is both liberating, but also a little bit, I think, terrifying…
Melanie Klein: 00:11:17
That an aggravating, frustrating, you know, infuriating. And so I became very much lit up. I would say that up until that moment, I certainly in retrospect I’m like, Oh, I was feisty. I was sort of always going against the grain. Yet deep inside there were big gaps in my young life where I was depressed. I was, felt defeated. I felt depleted, I felt overwhelmed, I felt incapable. And that spark that I felt that spaw ned me into action also made me feel capable. Like I had agency and I was very clear that moment that I was going to spend the rest of my life engaged in this work. You know, like the work that I wanted to be in a teacher, mentor relationship my whole life, meaning that I wanted to lead, I wanted to teach, I wanted to inform, I wanted to inspire and share what had liberated me. And at the same time I wanted to continue to learn and to be liberated and to take an information. I wanted to engage in that beautiful symbiotic, mutually beneficial relationship in all of its forms for the rest of my life. And so that began there in that moment, which was 1994 at the local community college with this amazing professor who happens to now be in her nineties and lives down the street from me. We still talk.
Sarah Dittmore: 00:12:41
Melanie Klein: 00:12:42
Yeah. And then a couple of years later I landed in my first yoga class, which was a Kundalini class. And I always say, you know, yoga at the time was odd. It was not mainstream. There were no products or anything and it still was kind of quote weird. And Kundalini was certainly even weirder. So I landed in a Kundalini class and really, uh, you know, I went once a week, local sort of extension class at a college and then after a year of doing that I was like, Oh, I need to go more. I need to, you know, have more of this my life. And so there weren’t a lot of studios to choose from at the time at all. And so went to a few places, did not like the vibe, did not like the teacher landed up in Bryan Kest’s Power Yoga class in Santa Monica in, like early 1997. And that was just like the game changer for me. I also write about this in “Yoga and Body Image.” And I feel very fortunate that he writes about his story in the same book that he was a contributor because his background in terms of how he related to being a man and masculinity and being part of fitness culture and being a bodybuilder really informed his in-class rhetoric. So a lot of the deconstructing and analyzing and theorizing and learning I was doing, you know, in terms of sociology, feminism, media literacy and kind of picking apart all of the experience that I had and starting to expose them became sort of a practical application to the practice because he was talking about the same things in a very different way about not comparing and not competing, being in the moment, practicing moderation and practicing true flexibility and taking breaks and not, you know, looking around the room to see. I was like, Oh, okay. So these are concepts and ideas that I’ve learned and yet here’s a place to actually practice these things. So, you know, yoga and feminism, mindfulness and you know, sort of sociology and all of those theoretical academic things that were bolstering my intellectual understanding of things and to be applied and practice on the mat and on the cushion. And so together I saw them as really, I was like, Oh, these are the same thing. They’re about raising consciousness and then going into this sort of lived action, which I talked about, you know, at the beginning of this conversation. So it was understanding, learning, having a critical consciousness, beginning to really, like I said, dismantle the systems and structures and see our place in it coupled with embodying a new way of being, releasing the things that I had actually ingested into my being were what really created the massive shift in my life and has informed my work ever since being the yoga and body image coalition, which was rooted not only in yoga, meditation and mindfulness, but it was about if we’re going to, you know, really engage in these practices and quote, raise our consciousness, well then that means we’re going to critically examine the world that we live in. We’re not only going to… go into that feel good space, which is wonderful. We’re going to really like off the mat says take that off of the mat and put it into action in whatever way makes sense to us. And the yoga and body image coalition, when we announced ourselves, we’re very clear. You know, that they were not simple platitudes or mantras that that was part of it, but it was about how do we actually live this practice? How do we use this to make transformation for ourselves as well as for the collective? How can we transform our way of thinking in being into something that is, you know, ripples out into the world and make that a conscious intention that we’re using this as a form of social justice. We’re using this as the depth of the work and that it’s not enough just to say, you know, except your body or love your body or whatever. But it’s like, how do we actually practice that? What does that look like? What does that feel like? How do we create that space for others? And that was a long answer.
Sarah Dittmore: 00:17:18
No, it was a perfect answer.
Melanie Klein: 00:17:20
That’s how I roll.
Sarah Dittmore: 00:17:21
And so… No, it’s great. It makes my job of editing much easier. Um, and so I’m wondering if we can talk a little bit about that, about, you know, you said that a big part of what the yoga and body image coalition does is talk about how to actually use these practices on both the personal and you know, the systemic scale. So, so let’s talk about the personal first. How have you seen, you know, in your own experience, your own work, but also when these books and hearing all these other people’s experiences and connecting with people through the coalition, how do you find the yoga and the practices of yoga can be a part of someone’s, you know, body image journey?
Melanie Klein: 00:18:02
Well, you know, for everyone it’s different. And that was one of the things that really informed the decision for my co-editor and I guess Jelly of Curvy Yoga and I to create an anthology. When we first connected, this was about 2010 and I had published at the time a blog on elephant journal called Yoga Feminism and Body Image. And so she’d seen my work there. A few months later she published a piece on the Rise Of The Curvy Yogini and the space was pretty sparse at the time, so it was very easy to find each other and read each other’s work. And so I was very excited about connecting because she also had a background in, I believe that she had been running a women’s research center on an academic campus and I was incredibly excited to see another Yogi who had that kind of background. So we connected and we talked and we had so many similarities and yet we knew very early on that first of all we were going to create a book together, which was a pretty ambitious thing given that I had never done that before, but it was so obvious. Right. And that that book could not just be about our stories because while there may be some through lines around our body image journey and how to grow into body acceptance, we knew, especially as two white women, that there was no way that we could speak to everyone’s experiences or really affirm everyone. And we wanted to be very much true to our disciplines. Our background and our aim for social justice is like we want to have inclusivity, we want to have diversity, we want to make sure that the stories and the voices that are in this collection really represent the range of human experience. We wanted to make sure that as people read through it, that there was at least one story that affirmed them, that made them feel seen, that made them feel heard, and that there was at least one that was so completely different from their own, that they could be in a very loving and receptive space to learn about someone else’s journey. And so the role that yoga and mindfulness has played, if you know, folks go through Yoga and Body Image or the followup book, Yoga Rising, they’ll see that what yoga and what meditation and mindfulness offered oftentimes is very different, um, for the various contributors. And yet then there’s a lot of similarities in terms of, in many ways bringing them back to their own center, to their own core. Oftentimes one of the through lines was, you know, bringing them back to a state in which they are not as inundated with all of the images, the noises, the values, the belief systems that we come to internalize and start to incorporate into our identity. And yet at the same time, like I said, that can look very, very different. So the answer to your question is, you know, there are some through lines in terms of coming to that internal space and yet at the same time it can look very, very different when we start to understand that that body image journey and what has informed our body image in the first place has not only intersected with, you know, our families of origin, you know, media messages and values and identities, but how those things are part of a larger culture in which we get ideas about race and ethnicity and size and age and class, et cetera. And so how we see ourselves is very much rooted in those particular systems. Um, so it’s very, very different for, for everyone. And yet we can find some, we can find some overlap as well.
Sarah Dittmore: 00:21:48
Yeah. And that’s kind of the, the beauty of the yoga practice, right, is that it adapts to each of our, like every one of our unique qualities and what we bring to the table and what we’re going through.
Melanie Klein: 00:21:59
Absolutely. And that’s also why for the coalition, you know, at the time that we sort of created it, which was at the end, no, that was at the beginning of 2014 we were, it was in preparation. The book was coming out in the fall of 2014 and I guess Jelly and I had started in 2011 it was a three year journey and at the beginning of 2014 the incentive was really like, okay, interesting. So body positivity, especially around 2013 started to be a little more popular. There was more conversation, I should say, public conversation about body image. And there was certainly starting to be an increase around body image and inclusivity and diversity in yoga spaces, which was very new at the time. And what I started to see is with all of the good intentions and the conversation at that point, five or six years ago, there seemed to be a sort of superficial nature to the conversation. There really no one or not many people publicly were getting into unpacking how the systems and structures in place were informing these things. For me, you can’t have a conversation about body image or anything else to be quite honest, unless you’re looking at how does it intersect with racism and sexism and sizeism and homophobia and classism and ableism and so on and so forth. And so I understood this was an opportunity for me and Anna, Dianne Bondy at the time and a handful of others who were really kind of opening up the space to bring, you know, academic and theoretical sort of understandings and an activist and advocacy mindset into yoga and spirituality and simultaneously bring yoga and spirituality into those spaces. That has changed tremendously over the last six or seven years. There are so many more voices, so many more incredible leaders and organizations that have happened. And at that time it was really the nascent beginnings. And so the coalition was a way of kind of aggregating a lot of the individuals for doing this kind of work on their own oftentimes and far flung places where they felt very different than the rest of the people and their yoga and spirituality communities. And it’s like, okay, so if you’re really have been doing this work deeply and you are having these critical and oftentimes uncomfortable conversations and you’re having your practice inform the way you show up to those conversations and move into action, let’s all come together as a community so that we can continue to inform more people, we can collaborate, we can create new content and we can really create a united front to show these organizations. And you know, at the time, uh, I was, I’m always distinguishing between yoga, practicing yoga culture, let’s go ahead and educate yoga culture and the yoga industrial complex about what things can look like and how deep we can go. And for sure, as soon as we, you know, we came together and we announced ourselves, we had our mission statement. We had, I think at the time about 30 community partners. Um, we definitely received more, I think, attention and we were taken much more seriously if it was like one or a handful of us doing this work, it was like, Oh, there’s something happening and it’s definitely worth listening to. And so from the get go that in the first six months we went and we sat with yoga journal and Lululemon on a panel that off the mat had curated called the practice of leadership panel and at the yoga journal conferences between April and October of 2014 there were four different panels. Uh, I believe the first one was in New York that April, which was really on commodification and consumer culture. The one that I was on with Dianne Bondy and Carrie Kelley was on contemporary body image politics and talking about aspirational marketing with Lululemon and Yoga Journal. Dr. Chelsea Jackson was on one in the fall, I believe it was in Colorado on race and racism and diversity. So that was just in the first six months, first year of being out. And you know, we got a lot of press and we presented this idea hashtag this is what a Yogi looks like, right? We created a t-shirt campaign and a video that’s still available on YouTube. We created our own photoshoots because it was like, if we’re not going to be represented in the media, we’re going to be the media and we’re actually going to show what it looks like to have diversity and accessibility and inclusivity and not have the photos be just about selling the mat or selling the outfit. We don’t have to be just in a bikini on a tropical Island, but what does it look like? What do yogis look like in terms of not being, you know, um, digitally altered, not having a professional makeup inherit team, not having a stylist. We wanted it to be raw and gritty and kind of set a precedent and an example and allow all of the decisions we made to be rooted in social justice. And that was really important for us because like I said, I was feeling like people were very getting very excited about the idea of body positivity. And yet I was still seeing a lot of the patterns and trends that are actually harmful being replicated and it was simply a matter of not knowing and the folks that we were gathering for the coalition had really done a lot of study in practice and things that other people hadn’t. I was like, this is an opportunity to bridge these spheres. The two spheres that have been at the root of all my wor,. right. Going back to 1996 like I had shared with you in 1994, 1996 so that is another long but hopefully thorough answer to the question that I to be quite honest.
No, it was. It was perfect. I think it’s, it really brought me into sort of the next, the next question I have, which is you’re talking a little bit about the patterns and trends that you are seeing that you guys were trying to be the antithesis to. And I’m, I’m curious if we could dive in and kind of unpack a little bit more what these… sort of trends are? What sort of systems exist both in, you know, the country and the community in the world as a whole, but also in that now we are seeing replicated in the yoga industry that contribute to this, you know, almost antibody positive culture.
Melanie Klein: 00:28:54
Yeah, I mean there’s, there’s a lot of angles to that question in terms of how to answer it. To be quite honest, one of them being that I was finding a lot of people talking about body positivity and mind you, this was sort of at the beginnings of yogis on social media as well. And yet what I was seeing was very little diversity in terms of who was given that platform and how they represented the message. Right? And part of that was love your body and oftentimes that meant be in a bikini and celebrate how beautiful you look because you’re in shape and you’re… I was like, listen, I have no problem with that. But it’s like, okay, we’re not seeing all of the other folks and all of the bodies and all the other forms of, of how that might look. That became a problem. I also felt it was problematic when, you know, publications and organizations would kind of pull up the body positive message. But if you looked at their models and their ads and the sizing of their clothes, there was no diversity, there was no representation. So really it was like love certain bodies, you know what I mean?
Sarah Dittmore: 00:30:04
Love your body but make it look like this first.
Melanie Klein: 00:30:08
Yes, there were, yeah, there was all of that. And so you know, a lot of the, the toxicity and the harmful effects of racism and sexism and homophobia, ableism, sizeism, you know, and classes and we’re still being folded back into the ad campaigns into, you know, the products that were being offered, who was landing on covers, whose work was being discussed, who was being interviewed, who was being seen, who was not, who was making money, who was, who was always working for free, you know, all of these things. And I was like, we’re not, we’re, we’re kind of seeing these messages being co-opted and being used as feel good copy and yet the work was not going any deeper. And so it was really about understanding, well obviously, you know, yoga has filtered through mainstream culture. It’s one of the things I was talking about at sociology conferences back between 2003 and 2005… I would say as we’ve gotten to the new millennium, so almost 20 years ago, there was a shift. I started to see a shift in the branding I used to, I started seeing a shift in the kind of advertisements, yoga magazines or including, I started to see a shift as a result of many of the local small studios being sold to large corporations and being run by folks who weren’t actually yogis, but were just, you know, CEOs who were like, Oh, there’s something to capitalize. We can sell this lifestyle, we can sell, you know, products associated with this lifestyle. And so I started doing a lot of work and like one thing that I represented and wrote on was Nikki yoga, the diet for spiritual America. I started writing about the rise of the yoga celebrity and this was again between 2003 and 2005 and I was like, and looking at that, you know, from a lot of different social theories, it was like, well that’s kind of inevitable. Yoga like any other aspect of culture is malleable. You know, there are these conversations obviously about cultural appropriation, commodification, and unfortunately as a sociologist I’m like, that’s kind of not surprising because anything that comes into the mainstream, anything that comes into the larger culture usually gets filtered through that existing culture. And so yoga, right was filtered through the lens that the fashion industry, the fitness industry had already set up. We know that for example, yoga journal had been run by a much larger media corporation that have things like shape magazine and self, and that there were a lot of people who were running the magazine at various times and it’s, you know, history that did not actually have a yoga practice. What they knew how to do was sell magazines and what they knew how to do was sell lifestyles. And so all of this that we’re talking about was part of my intention for the coalition is like let’s have conversations about, you know, media images, how they’re created, why they’re created, who creates them, what the intention is. Let’s look at lifestyle branding. Let’s look at the harm that you know, and I’ve been doing media literacy work for 20 plus years about the harm that media culture has created, you know, for individuals. Let’s look, go ahead and look at the harm on women’s and girl’s bodies, on the bodies of people of color, the trans and queer community as a result of this and understand that what we’re seeing really in yoga culture is just a microcosm of the macrocosm that this is part of a much larger conversation. And it’s a conversation that I’ve been having. Like I said, going back to 1994 what happened though in 2010 is I saw an opportunity to kind of distill the work I have already been doing in a very specific community, in a specific culture. Yoga culture is definitely smaller than mainstream culture. And so what I found was a lot of the change that happened there happened much faster because it’s smaller. But yet at the same time it was no different from the larger advocacy work that I had been doing with many of my allies. You know, as a whole around looking at how values and norms, right? They become internalized and they become part of our identity and that we have to go ahead and make some new decisions. And I felt like, you know, in the last 10 years yoga has had its wake up call where like, okay, you know what, we’re not just a small sub or even counterculture anymore. We are a part of mainstream culture in so many ways. And so we need to be just as mindful about what images we create and why and who’s represented and who is not and how accessible is this practice and what are all the different ways that accessibility shows up and what it can mean and what it can look like. Because what’s different here is, we actually have practices that can be very liberatory. If we are able to disseminate it to as many people as possible, we’re able to democratize it as much as possible and we also have an opportunity because it’s a smaller culture. Ralph Gates wrote about this in Yoga and Body Image. He talks a lot about the excitement of like, Hey, listen, culture is something that’s created and we can recreate it. Which, Oh my God, the sociologist in me was singing his praises. What I was, what I was reading through his draft. I was like, Oh my God, I love this, and we had a long conversation on the phone as he was writing his essay. It was like we have an opportunity in the yoga community to… in many ways model to the larger culture about how we should never take for granted what exists. It’s all a social construct. It has no meaning other than the meaning that we give it, so why not begin to critically examine it, have the difficult and loving conversations and create something a new, we don’t have to feel like the machine or society or its values are above and beyond us even though it feels like that because we have to remember that we have all chosen to create it and recreate it in our daily life and that’s always the exciting part for me than about doing this work within the yoga community as well as you know on a larger scale because we have the possibility as yogis and mindfulness practitioners to kind of make that happen faster.
Sarah Dittmore: 00:36:43
‘Cause like you said, smaller community.
Melanie Klein: 00:36:46
Yes. Yes. And also because we are theoretically right aimed with the practices to allow us to do this in a…
Sarah Dittmore: 00:36:54
Melanie Klein: 00:36:56
Yeah, right. To do it in a conscious and hopefully compassionate and loving way.
Sarah Dittmore: 00:37:15
Hi friends. Thank you for joining me on this quick visit to the studio shop. I’ll be pretty quick today. Just want to tell you guys about the beautiful and wonderful Plum Deluxe. You all know how obsessed I am with this tea. I, I was telling my mom the other day, so I was having one of those days where I was just like not feeling the world at all. I was just moody and upset and did not want to participate in being a person and I go to get a cup of tea. And so for those of you who don’t know, I have OCD and I, one of the ways in which my OCD manifests is when I am stressed and I go to pick out tea. It’s this weird thing where I just become like really concerned with giving all of my tea equal attention. So I get really worried that I’ve been drinking one tea a lot and not appreciating or like drinking and valuing one of my other teas that I maybe haven’t been drinking as much. And I get really just sort of like anxious and OCD about making sure I drink this every tea equally and giving everyone their fair shot. And so I’ll have these moments when I’m already feeling sort of not great. I go into my key tea cabinet where I just get like very overwhelmed with the idea of picking out a tea. It just seems like this impossible task that’s gonna like offend my teas or something. I don’t even know. And so I was having that feeling and I was just staring at all my teas like how do I even begin to pick? And so I was staring at all my Plum Deluxe Tea is just like trying, which is now pretty much the only tea I have and I was just staring at all of them and I was just trying to sort of magically divine which one I should drink. When I notice something I had never noticed about the teas before, which is that under the title of the tea they have like a little description of the tea but not like your traditional description. That’s like, Oh you know, black tea with notes of cranberry or whatever. They’re actually little like words of happiness. I don’t know how else to explain it. So I’m reading all of the little taglines on my tea and I look at this one that’s called the house warming tea. It says a warm hug and a cup of kindness and no joke. And for those of you who know me, you’ll know that I cry easily, but I just start crying. I just, I am like, I’m just like sobbing as I look at the tea and I’m just like, “that’s what I need.” And so I just like, I made that tea and it was exactly what I needed. It was a warm hug and a cup of kindness. And for me that’s definitely, you know, tea is about more than just delicious tasting goodness. It’s about taking time to just sort of love yourself for a moment and give yourself what you need. And in that moment, that was exactly what I needed. So yeah, I don’t know if you all have the same love and obsession with tea as I do, but if so, I would recommend Plum Deluxe. It’s a really, really good tea. I really enjoy it. And their little taglines are very fun. Make it easier to pick teas. If you’re having an OCD moment like myself, you can find all of their loose leaf teas as well as their membership option, which is super awesome. They send you different teas every month as well as exclusive teas that are only available to members. So you can find out about all of that over at plumdeluxe.com that’s P-L-U-M-D-E-L-U-X-E.com and make sure to use the promo code when you check out to get 10% off. So that’s promo code TBM10 at checkout for 10% off on all of the loose-leaf teas and other purchases, links for that are in the show notes below. So enjoy, and let’s get back to the episode.
Sarah Dittmore: 00:41:50
Yeah, so you, you mentioned that, um, you know, it might, I think something that came up in, in what you were saying to me is that, you know, for you and me it might seem fairly obvious why yoga journal covers that are only thin white able bodied women could be harmful to others. But you talked a little bit about how is that harmful, why is that harmful? Why is representation so important?
Melanie Klein: 00:42:16
Well, I mean, here’s the thing. I mean I think that as a young girl, and I speak just from personal experience right now that I grew up, you know, in the eighties and the nineties and that I would say in many ways represent a really watershed moment in terms of pop culture and the role of the media in young people’s lives. If I go back to, you know, my parents who were born in the early fifties, television was only invented in 1942 by the time we get to the early fifties you know, a lot of homes in the United States, for example, have one television. It becomes part of their family, right? And yet at the same time, there was only programming on for certain hours of the day and it was only television and maybe you know, radio, there was a certain limitation. By the time I’m a young woman. I remember when MTV came to be, I mean what’s, what’s wild is even before MTV happened, there was a show called MV3 and interestingly enough Richard Blade was the host of that before he went to KROQ and all of that. And it was this interesting show on network television where they would show videos on like a big screen in like a building and there would be always like new waivers dancing to it. So they would, it was almost like soul train–
Sarah Dittmore: 00:43:36
Yeah, Yeah, ok.
Melanie Klein: 00:43:47
–with a video component. Right. And so I remember starting to watch videos as well as the cool people dancing in front of the screen ‘cause they’d show the video and then they would like pan to the people dancing. And I’d be like, Whoa, they’re so cool. Look at their clothes, like all amazing blah, blah, blah. And then MTV shortly thereafter, you know, came to, to life. And that was a big part of, of sort of my adolescence was videos, music, pop culture were massive. I definitely spent a lot more time consumed with that. Then my mother, then my grandmother, and, and certainly now it’s, it’s incredible.
Sarah Dittmore: 00:44:20
Oh, yeah. It’s the next level.
Melanie Klein: 00:44:21
You know, we know that there’s almost no moment of our life where we’re not plugged in. And you know, I know that’s true for me and I can only imagine, you know, how different it is for young people. Like the fact that I truly had low self-esteem and was part of the comparison trap because of all of these glossy pages and, and models, especially during the huge, you know, fitness era of the 80s when that really came to be. And they’re all like, you know, had been in tanning beds and they’re, you know, toned and you know, they’re on magazine covers. You had the abs of steel workout tapes that were huge. You had models and celebrities starting to take a much bigger role in our day to day lives. You know, watching the video screen, seeing representations of women and their sexuality and their, and their bodies. And so I’m like, Whoa, what is it like for girls and women and just people in general now? Like there’s really no time that we’re not connected. And so I just know that there were those moments. To go back to your question, which is a harm I was like, and why is representation important? I just didn’t feel worthy. I didn’t feel seen. I didn’t feel that I could be seen the images of what success looked like, what happiness looked like, what love looked like, relationships, sexuality. None of it looked like me. Right? And so even the ideas of what I could aspire to be, I did not feel that I was competent or capable on my own. I truly felt like the best thing I could possibly do was marry a guy who could take care of me. And instead of being an artist, which was, you know, art and poetry and writing was very big in my young life. Instead of being an artist, I was like, Oh, I could be a docent in an art museum. I could volunteer, well, my lawyer husband works right? And I mean it’s, it’s interesting. My life didn’t turn out anything like that. I, I never had anyone take care of me. And I ended up going to college first as an art major. And then a social major. But that was all because of what got ignited in me as a teenager being part of alternative movements and then you know, landing in that class. And that’s sociology of women class. And that is when I started to specifically learn stories and learn the names of all of these incredible specifically women and their male allies who had done incredible things and they had done incredible things in countries and in time periods that were much more oppressive than the one that I was living in. And to learn about them and to, to have this diversity of representation in terms of backgrounds, races, ethnicities, religions, ages and sizes made me feel like, Oh dang, I can do stuff too. It was very inspiring to me and that is why for me I’m like, listen, I don’t even have a problem to be quite honest. Like great. If we want to have the Kardashians on, have the Kardashians on, if they want to have a show or five shows and a makeup line. Awesome. And at the same time, let’s make sure that we’re telling other kinds of stories.
Sarah Dittmore: 00:47:36
Yeah, and not only the Kardashians are on.
Melanie Klein: 00:47:39
Yes, that’s right. Let’s make sure that we’re seeing other kinds of families, other kinds of people, other storylines, people with different value systems and not making them outliers or tokens. But let’s actually change the narrative of what is normative and to be expected.
Sarah Dittmore: 00:47:57
Yeah, it’s almost, you know, it makes me think of, you know, I’m thinking of media today, which is becoming increasingly social media. And it makes me think that there’s both a positive and a negative aspect there because on the one hand you’re seeing more images like the ones we saw in more traditional media, but it’s marketed as just everyday people, you know. So you see social media influencers who are supposed to be your neighbor or your yoga teacher or just every average human that are like perfect. And they just have this, you know, physique and lifestyle and clothing, closet. That’s just like not attainable for most humans. But then on the flip side, it’s an Avenue through which we can show the normalcy of these, what have traditionally been token stories and show, you know, normalize just every different way of living.
Melanie Klein: 00:48:56
Yeah. So there’s a couple of things as I was listening to you talk that sort of sparked in my mind. One was, I do want to acknowledge that media content over the last 10 years, especially the last five has absolutely shifted tremendously.
Sarah Dittmore: 00:49:13
Melanie Klein: 00:49:14
If we look at the mannequins being used in mainstream stores like Nike, if we think about Apple Lita catalogs, if we think about, Oh my gosh, contestants that have been on dancing with the stars, it’s really incredible. Movies that have been centered that are women’s centered, centered on the lives of people of color. We have more of them. And what I want to say is “Yes, we do.” We’ve had an incredible shift and yet it’s still not normative. So when I say this work for me is important until you know the patterns that we see are normative and expected that it’s normative and expected to have diversity. It’s not about plugging…
Sarah Dittmore: 00:49:54
Right, it’s not a media story. Every time someone writes a movie based on people of color, it’s not a big deal…
Melanie Klein: 00:50:01
Exactly, exactly. That’s exactly right. And that’s exactly what I talk about so much. It’s like where it just is the given. It is the standard, it is the default, right? It does not turn heads. It is not the exception. Things of that nature. And we definitely, like I said in the last 10 specially last five years, there’s been an incredible, incredible shift. I just saw a thing, you know, yesterday coming through my feed about, you know, a Barbie In A Wheelchair. I remember when Jess Weiner actually got hired by Mattel and started working with them five years ago. She had been part of my larger network of fellow activists and allies doing work for girls and women. She was hired and that’s when Barbie ended up coming out with their first line of Barbies of different heights sizes and skin tones, right? That was a result of a feminist activists actually getting into work with that large company and consulting them and informing them, you know, what, it could look like, what it should look like. And so if I think about that, if I think about, you know, films that have come out shows that have been created the last five years, there’s been a lot of change and yet it is still not the norm in the same way. Right? In 2012 or at the, I think it was 2012 there was a big thing about, Oh we have, you know, I think it was like 13% women in the Senate or maybe would had gone from 13 to 20% I don’t remember. But I just know it was a very small number.
Sarah Dittmore: 00:51:27
It’s no less than 50.
Melanie Klein: 00:51:29
Yes. And I’m all about let’s celebrate the victories. Let’s acknowledge that there has been a shift, but let’s not pretend that that means that the work is done or let’s not pretend that we now have parody or quality or accurate representation. It is a change and yet it’s simply movement in the direction we need to go and that there’s more work. Right?
Sarah Dittmore: 00:51:51
Yes. It’s better but it’s not where it needs to be.
Melanie Klein: 00:51:54
Exactly. Exactly. You know, like in many ways when people are like, Oh great. So like once we have a woman as president, good. It’s like, well actually no. If we’ve been a nation for, you know, my God, two almost 250 years let’s say, and we’ve had one woman present, there’s seriously a problem given that women constitute 51% of the population. Right. That kind of a thing. The other thing that I thought about while you were speaking on that was, yeah, you know, what’s, what is super exciting is that with social media we are able in many ways to bypass the conventional media gatekeepers that existed for a long time. And yet we know that these large media corporations and companies have found ways to, you know what I mean, use that to their benefit. I’m aware of all of that. And yet there are still these opportunities like with the yoga and body image coalition to disrupt the pattern, to disrupt the narrative. And there are tons of amazing people disrupting the patterns and the narratives, whether we’re talking about Jessamyn Stanley who has a contribution and you know, and one of the books, if we’re talking about Dianne Bondy, if we’re talking about test holiday, all right, there are, you know, even if we’re thinking about that amazing and her name, forgive me is, is evading me right now, but she is the Australian comedian who kind of redoes adds a beautiful models to kind of like call them out where you know, she’ll just recreate it in her underwear, like big granny underwear and she lets her belly hang out and she recreates the sexy sleek ad, right? Like there’s all of these amazing people disrupting the patterns. And that to me is what is really exciting about social media. And I also want to say I’m a huge fan of pop culture. I love pop culture. I grew up with MTV, I grew up in the eighties and nineties and you know, I grew up with “Laverne and Shirley, and Happy Days, and Mork & Mindy, and All in the Family, and Chico and the Man, and Good Times.” Like I love pop culture. I love great sitcoms. And for me it’s about how can we use it to entertain, to inspire and to inform, how can we use that to connect and collaborate and celebrate and also really raise consciousness. It’s about, you know, how do we use this tool essentially? And I always think about my own teacher Bryan Kest when he would say, “Listen, a yoga Asana is also a tool. You can, you know, like a knife, you can use it to butter your toast or you can use it to stab someone,” right? I mean, how are you going to use it? And it’s so, it’s like, how are you going to use your practice? How are you going to use your exercise regimen? Are you going to use it to beat yourself up or going to use it to invigorate and energize you? Are you gonna use it to celebrate your body or are you gonna use it to punish your body? How are you going to use the media? Are you going to use it to numb out to, you know, brainwash? Are you going to use it to inspire, excite, motivate, challenge, you know, are you going to use it to educate? It’s really, you know, it’s those basic lessons about moderation and being conscious enough to think about what is your intention and desired outcome.
Sarah Dittmore: 00:55:17
Yeah. And so bringing that back to the microcosm of yoga and the yoga community, how do we as yoga teachers, you know, yoga students, yoga studio owners, yoga, anyone who participates in the yoga community, how can they help make yoga sort of the ideal? Like you mentioned like the example of how it can be done, how it can work, what are ways people can participate in that?
Melanie Klein: 00:55:45
Yeah. Well I mean there are lots of different ways. One of the ways is, first of all, I really want to encourage people to live their practice fully, right? To be willing to be uncomfortable, to be willing to listen, to be willing to go into new actions, to educate themselves, right? To take the initiative to seek out information and listen and you know, be open to hearing things that may challenge them or make them feel potentially like, Oh, I should feel guilty for not knowing this or I’m to blame for this. It’s like, no, let’s just listen and let’s tune in. Let’s contemplate, let’s find a way to, you know, really go into those places and then make some new decisions. How can we use our platforms? How can we use our voice to elevate the work of others? Which is why for me, community building and community platforms are huge. The Yoga and Body Image Coalition and all the books that I have created were not, you know, sort of, uh, exercises and self and grand or anything like that. It was like, I could have written the books on my own and yet we chose, you know, and right now I have another manuscript going in for embodied resilience is coming out next year. It’s an incredible amount of work. There are a lots of contributors and it’s like hurting cats, getting contracts, signed, photos, editing. And I’ll be honest, the advanced really does not cover all that work because that’s not what it’s about. That is about how I go into service. That is about how I make sure that other people’s work and their experiences that are not being represented elsewhere have an opportunity and a platform to inform, to inspire, right? So I would love people to think about how can I use my studio, my platform, my voice, my blog, my podcast, whatever it happens to be, to work with others, to elevate others, to create space, right? To allow other people to lead, to inform me and of course, get involved where, where they feel inspired to do so. There are so many incredible programs and organizations specifically in the yoga community from Dianne Bondy’s training, which is on, you know, yoga for all, obviously becoming a community partner for the Yoga and Body Image Coalition to learning and studying with Jeevana Haman and accessible yoga. The work that the yoga service council is doing so, I mean, there’s just so much incredible work. The work, the Susanna Barca Talkie is doing around cultural appropriation right now. Uh, on the cover of yoga journal. I’m not sure when this will actually come out the podcast, but what’s really lovely and gets me very excited is that Nicole Cardoza is on the cover and you know the proceeds are going to yoga foster and she’s doing an incredible amount of work with the reclamation ventures and yoga foster about the reclamation of wellness. It’s like you know, get involved on at the very least share that information with others. Right? It’s like if you have a platform listeners, followers and your Facebook feed, like at the very least share those articles, share the names of those organizations, connect people. So there’s so many things that we can do, you know, think about the intention and the potential outcomes of the kind of content you’re sharing in your social media feed, the kind of photographs and copy that you may be using for your yoga studio if you have one. There’s just a lot of ways that we can pause and really, really sink in and reflect and make some new choices along the way.
Sarah Dittmore: 00:59:38
That was beautiful. Thank you. Before we wrap up, I just want to know is there anything else that you feel like should be a part of this conversation, a part of the yoga body image conversation that we maybe didn’t touch on?
Melanie Klein: 00:59:52
No, I think it was pretty thorough. I always am so grateful and excited to have these conversations. I’m always excited that people are interested about getting into these conversations and um, you know, just the opportunity for these platforms to exist to go deeper. So no, I feel it was full and complete. I’m very grateful to you Sarah and I just invite people to, if they, you know, want more information to certainly reach out. I’m all over social media include links and bio in the show notes. The other thing I’ll mention is if people want to do things in person, there are what our downloadable free discussion guides on both of the websites for the books, so at yogaandbodyimage.org which obviously we’ll go ahead and put that in the show notes. There is a downloadable discussion guide and then also at yogarisingbook.com there is another downloadable discussion guide and it really sort of lays out some protocol for how to set the tone, create the space, bring people together. And you can either have one let’s say workshop or discussion or you can break it down into five different ones because you can go through each kind of individual contribution. There are 25 in Yoga and Body Image and there are 30 in Yoga Rising and yet each book is broken down into five parts. So there are questions for each section. There are questions for each contribution and in Yoga Rising itself, at the end of every chapter there are some prompts for inquiry, so there’s a lot more. Each book supports the individual sort of journey and then people who really feel called to like, you know, I wouldn’t get together with other yogis in my community and I want to have these conversations. Those downloadable discussion guides are a great sort of way to help facilitate that and I always extend the invitation that if folks want to do that, the coalition is happy to spread the word that that’s going on in a certain community. And I also extend the blog space on the Yoga and Body Image Coalition website for anyone who wants to write about their own experience related to these topics or wants to reflect on the process of coming together as a community and having these conversations. That’s what the blog is for. It’s what the Yoga and Body Image Coalition is for us. I just want to extend the space and the platform for people who want to get involved deeper, who want to connect with others who are like minded, want to write about it or want to host, like I said, in person gathering.
Sarah Dittmore: 01:02:36
Yeah, and I will put, like you said, I will put all these resources and links into the show notes so that people can get involved and it sounds like really great conversations to participate in. So thank you for sharing all those resources.
Melanie Klein: 01:02:47
Yeah, you’re welcome.
Sarah Dittmore: 01:02:49
And thank you so much for talking to me. It was so wonderful. I’m so grateful that you made this time to speak with me and your perspective was really valuable. Thank you.
Melanie Klein: 01:02:58
Oh, thank you again, Sarah. Absolutely enjoyed it.
Sarah Dittmore: 01:03:13
Thank you again to Melanie for an incredible interview. I learned so much and I’m so grateful that we had this opportunity to connect and to discuss. I think the conversation about yoga and body image and just, I mean there’s a bigger conversation about the way we treat bodies in the United States, but they’re not even just in like Western culture. Um, but to, to look at one microcosm of that with the question of yoga and body image was really fascinating and I’m so, so, so grateful for Melanie for taking the time to connect with me and to share her wisdom. You can connect with Melanie on Instagram at Melmelklein, M. E. L. M. E. L. K. L. E. I. N. or at Ybicoalition. That’s Y. B. I. C. O. A. L. I. T. I. O. N. You can also find her at melaniecklein.com or at ybicoalition.com in addition, as always, you can connect with me on Instagram at TBMpodcast, on Facebook at the Beginner’s Mind Podcast or directly via email at email@example.com and that’s sarah with an ‘h’ firstname.lastname@example.org and please if you enjoyed this episode, if you learned something, if you have an interesting thought, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. You can also show your support by rating, reviewing and subscribing to the beginner’s mind podcast or by sharing this episode with someone you think would enjoy it. This podcast is made possible with the support of all of my lovely listeners like you as well as “Shutup & Yoga.” Shutup & Yoga is an online magazine that takes really unique and humorous approach to the yoga industry, the wellness industry, and the health industry. So definitely give them a look over at shutupandyoga.com and thank you to my sponsor “Plum Deluxe” for all your support. I also want to give a shout out to everyone who’s reviewed me thus far. It’s been so much fun to read all of your guys’ amazing feedback and I really appreciate you guys showing your support and it’s, you know, it keeps me going and what makes me make the time to make these episodes. So thank you for that. And um, just a reminder that I will be going on a holiday break. So I leave on Sunday for some amazing California holiday time and between that, and then when I come back, I’m pretty much turning right back around to go to Costa Rica for some work with a client and then to Malaysia for my part of my yoga teacher, 300 hour training. So with all of that back to back after the holidays, I’ve decided to take a little bit of a break until I can kind of come back and get my footing. And I also have some amazing interviews happening after the holidays and I want to make sure I have time to finish those interviews, edit them, and get them out to all of you guys. So I’m planning to come back March 4th with brand new episodes every other week. I know you’re gonna miss me dearly. I’m going to miss you too. It’s going to be rough, but we’ll get through this. I believe in us.
I know most people do like a summer break, but for me, this is the busier time of here than the summer, so it’s nice to have this time to just sort of be with my family, focus on my new clients, my travels, my training, and then come back with a whole fresh new set of interviews for you guys. That’s going to be really interesting. We’re covering some really cool stuff on both the kind of practical side and the philosophical side, and I’m really excited for the conversations that are going to come out of that. So thank you for your patience. Enjoy the next couple months break and I’ll see you in March until then. Stay curious.