Natural health, beauty and fashion

Downward Dog with a Side of Feminist Theory

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“Men act and women appear
– from Ways of Seeing by John Berger.

Have you seen a movie this year? Have you seen a TV show this month? Have you seen any ads while browsing the internet today? The answer to these questions is likely ‘yes’ and in that case you have also witnessed the ubiquitousness of the male gaze.

The male gaze is a well-known concept when it comes to traditional media, and it could be said that the male gaze is also a ‘traditional’ way of seeing the world. But as our media consumption shifts from these older platforms to the likes of YouTube and Instagram the male gaze is migrating along with it. Even in predominantly female spaces such as #instayoga.

The yoga community on Instagram is dominated by women who are white and very thin. Their bodies, whether purposefully or not, already fit into what the male gaze likes to see. And unlike the fashion and lifestyle stars of Instagram, these ‘Insta yogis’ often take their own photos and videos.

Skin-tight leggings and sports-bras are not the main indicators, and they are actually useful in the practice of yoga whether or not it is captured ‘for the ‘gram’. But should an Insta yogi want to grow her following and get more engagement on her posts she needs to take off the leggings and practice in a bikini. Better yet, no clothes at all! No, not all nude photos are meant for the male gaze, but the lack of clothing is only part of the story. Where they choose to place their camera and their bodies in relation to the camera also happens to be where the male gaze gets the best view. And even the specific yoga poses they choose are those that highlight things like an arched back, or those that require a Brazilian wax.  

These women are creating content for other women, and in the case of those with brand affiliations their images are meant to sell things to other women. So, why are these photos obviously meant for consumption by a heterosexual man?

Collage by author

“The surveyor and the surveyed
– from Ways of Seeing by John Berger.

The art critic John Berger wrote that women are socialised to have two different selves: one who observes the world, and one that constantly observes how she appears in the world. Particularly how she appears to the heterosexual males who still control the social order. Berger recognised that women are taught from a young age that we are primarily objects to be seen.

In the case of Insta yogis there is no one to hold accountable for the fact that the male gaze has seeped into this virtual female space. It is easy to judge the women whose images conform perfectly to what a man would like to see, but as Berger points out, how a woman appears to a man is vital for her success in life. Sexy yoga photos on Instagram are only one symptom of the larger societal problem of objectifying women and reducing their worth to their physical appearance.

Unfortunately neither Laura Mulvey, the woman we should thank for the quite handy term ‘male gaze’, or John Berger offer a solution for women looking to evict the male viewer from their brains. For my own Instagram yoga account I can only try my best to create content for the other women on the platform, to demonstrate my awareness of the male gaze in society and within myself. And hopefully the new trend in #instayoga will truly be #bywomenforwomen.

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