Social Media: Game Changers, Dirty Business, and the Problematics of Body Image in Yoga

Australian 18 year old former model, Essena O’Neill, passionately denounces the celebrity life that she created for herself on Instagram and other social media platforms in her final YouTube video recently. We love the messaging and have been having recent reckonings ourselves with our own personal relationships with “the screen,” truth be told. We absolutely recommend having a look.


“Real life isn’t through screens, status, likes, views…” “Go do things in the real world, this (Instagram) isn’t the real world,” says O’Neill, through heated tears. The “value” that created who she thought was, she now sees as mere smoke and mirrors. Her personal discovery about social media and its influence on our younger generations is shocking at least. Just this morning on NPR, there was a report that on average, American teenagers are spending upwards of 9 hours a day looking at some form of screen, be it computer, television, or mobile device. 9. HOURS. Where is there time to get outside or read a book, or actually make human contact with another individual when nine hours of the day are spent in this way?

Don’t get us wrong, while we do love and support O’Neill’s diatribe and her newly evolving movement, there is one conflict over which she becomes the most emotional that we feel needs more conversation. That concerns her existance as a model and the discrepencies between fame/ money/ body image that accompany this (chosen) lifestyle and REAL happiness. How validation is short-lived, and such validation led her to the depths of misery all the while smiling into the camera.


This is perpetuated (always has been, really) EVERYWHERE. Period. And getting off of social media is an empowering and inspiring step along her path, but let’s face it, even in YOGA we are faced with the destructive relationship of showmanship, asana and meaning.


Yoganonymous posts an AMAZING article on their webite today that is very relevant titled “Asana: The New Body Image Problem.” In the piece, author Andrea Manitsas states:


“I’m here to remind you that you are in a position, that you hold a responsibility, to convey that the practice is more than just a yoga pose. If all you teach is the pose, then you are telling your students that the only thing that matters is the shape that they are making with their bodies in the same way that an advertisement might convey that a woman is only beautiful if she is thin. When you emphasize the pose, it becomes a box just like all the other boxes that we put ourselves in, and then we feel like we have to fit in that box. If we can’t, and let’s face it, it’s a pretty fucking elusive box, we feel like we aren’t good enough or that we aren’t worthy. And then the yoga practice has just become another way, another place, where we are striving to be better, to be different, to be something else than who we are.”
‘Horse and pony shows’ on the mat are the new black. We have seen this coming for awhile now and are the first to assert that this is not a new conversation. Even with teachers who have incredibly powerful voice, sometimes the verbage and the accompanying image seem to be aligned, but in reality (or is it?) it is merely a self-indulgent demonstration to “show off” and build validation. We see it all the time on social media. We create hashtag campaigns and contests and check and check and check and check the likes to see how it is resonating with our “Tribes.” When it is used as a means of marketing, does that make it okay? Or does the problem lie when we start to believe that the lives we see on the screen are somehow more yogic or loved or IDEAL or happy because of athletic prowess in yoga postures?
Today we seem to be shining light on some of the bullshit of social media presence and the intricacies, time consumption and deception of staging just the right shot. How is this any different than all of the on-going photo-shop controversy? We especially like Manitsas’s call to action about creating more critical content, asking better questions, and creating a practice that suppots rather than harms.
Here’s a ‘Hear, hear’ AND an ‘Amen, sister’ to that.
To learn more about Essena O’Neill’s movement, have a look at her new platform,


Natalie Halt
Natalie Halt is one of Gather’s co-founders and Managing Editor of the Gather Blog, GROW. Based in Charleston, South Carolina with her two young boys and husband, Frederic, she spends her time being a make-shift contributor to Grow when she isn’t chasing after small humans. A former world-class professional athlete and current healthy hedonist, Natalie’s love of inspiring people, places, tastes and sights makes creating GROW an absolute JOY of a lifestyle.
(Feature image used with creative commons license by Montroyaler)

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