Yoga Journal's Split Cover is Such a Disappointment

I was killing time at the airport after the Consumer Electronic Show in Vegas this week, and I came across something in my feed that stopped me in my tracks . I saw a stunning black woman in maroon tights and black sports bra, leaning back, eyes closed, completely uninhibited in a striking yoga pose on the cover of Yoga Journal. Yes! I was inspired. I was energized. I thought: Media is finally making a shift—showing people as they are, not as they think we should be.

The January/February issue featured Jessamyn Stanley, a yoga teacher and body positivity advocate who looks distinctly unlike the kinds of people typically featured on the cover of magazines. She’s beautiful. She’s black. And her body doesn’t check the boxes that mainstream media considers “normal” or “desirable.” But Jessamyn doesn’t abide by those standards. She has her own code she lives by on her terms for loving her body and spreading that message. That’s why she has become a leader in the yoga world.

It was exciting to see a mainstream magazine like YJ feature Jessamyn. It felt like an important step forward on so many fronts—a strong, brown woman who is living her truth and inspiring others to let go of insecurities in a time when we so need to hear that message.

But then I saw the other cover. When I went home and looked it up later, I discovered that Yoga Journal decided to do a “split run,” which means there are two issues of the same edition. I wasn’t aware magazines did that, but I was dismayed to see there was another cover. It featured Maty Ezraty, the woman behind YogaWorks. Maty is a force herself, and she’s perfectly qualified to be on the cover of the magazine. But man, what a missed opportunity. It was a chance to show the yoga world, which is often accused of being most accessible to predominantly white and upper class people (when in fact, yoga is one of the oldest practices, grounded in Hindu tradition), that yoga transcends race, class, body type, or gender.

Now, I myself am the only Indian I’ve ever met who cannot touch her toes. However, that said, I wish publications and other forms of mainstream media would have the courage of their convictions. Runners aren’t strictly thin. Yogis aren’t exclusively white or toned. Yoga Journal has benefited from an ancient tradition and framed the practice within a very narrow lens, which excludes so many of us. If they, like other magazines, would widen the scope of what we should aspire to be profiling a broader (and more realistic) representation of people, we would be empowered. Yogis come in all different shapes and sizes from all different demographics from all over the world.

Ironically, this magazine edition was called the “Leadership Issue,” but YJ was anything but a leader here at a time when we need bold leadership more than ever before.

In reality, I imagine YJ ‘s intent, surely, was positive. But they played it safe and they missed the mark. We need media to keep up with the pace of our evolving self-image. Were they afraid to lose readership? I think, actually, it’s the opposite. They could have opened a door and bridged a gap to so many of us who are so rarely represented. We want to see people on covers who we can identify with and to whom we can relate.

I wish they would have leaned into Jessamyn to really shine a light on this very issue. Instead, I believe the magazine took something away from both women by running a split cover instead. It’s time to be bold. It’s time to recognize that we are a spectrum of humanity with diverse interests and body types. That’s what makes us an amazing human race.

Love to know what you think. Have you see examples of courage in media? Share with me.

Amita Mehta