(This is a slight deviation from what I usually post. Indulge me. I’ve been lacking inspiration. )
So I am scrolling through my RSS reader looking through the latest research on yoga looking for something to write about (in case you are interested, nothing too exciting, although I’ll share my highlights as per usual on the next newsletter). And I come across this study entitled “Practice or performance? A content analysis of yoga-related videos on Instagram”.
Apparently, Instagram portrays unrealistic views of yoga
Ok so I am the first to look for scientific evidence for things and references to back up every single thing I say. But I don’t know about you, I’m not sure I needed a reference for this statement. I was intrigued though, so I thought I would dig a little deeper. It also brought back fond memories of my Science Communication MSc research. Maybe someone would like to give me a grant to do a bit of this too?
Yogis on Instagram are primarily female
This is actually from an older study, which found that 89% of practitioners on Instagram posts tagged #yoga were female (weirdly, this study collected 35,000 posts, or data points, to analyse but only analysed 100. Still, I bet the male–female ratio would be comparable).
Most are also young
Potentially pivoting from the above study, two others studies, including the one that prompted this research as well as this one, analysed how female yogis are represented on Instagram. And, surprise, surprise, both studies found that the women were under 40, and in fact mostly in their 20s (although I do wonder how much of this finding is tied to the demographics that use Instagram as opposed to an actual bias in representation). As a side note, as someone who is at that 40s threshold this makes me very depressed because what I’m hearing is that I’m old. But that’s a conversation for another time.
The overwhelming majority in fact, with three-quarters of posts being of white women.
And very thin
All three studies in fact found that somewhere in the region of 70–85% of the women were ‘underweight’, although I don’t really know how they defined this. As they were not actually weighing the women, there is a huge component of subjectivity here.
And they tend to be in an advanced pose
I suspect they mean an inversion (cue headstand on the beach) or an extreme backbend – one of the abstracts actually calls them out as “potentially risky” and the other basically judges their incorrect alignment. We’re back to the Indian aerobics. Either way, all three studies agree that the focus on social media is on the physical practice, with one study finding that only 6% of the images showed someone in meditation. I suppose it is a visual medium so advanced poses probably make better photos?
Which brings up back to my title post “Well, duh!”
Unless you live in a void, none of this should be a surprise. All of us who use Instagram know this because we see it. And of course, we don’t just see it in yoga but in every part of life (at least apparently they are promoting good feelings).
A while back, I wrote a long rant about the fakeness of Instagram and how I much it bothered me. That post did not survive the migration to wordpress (I’m not sure why I decided to let it go) but the upshot of some discussion that ensued is that we all know it and we kind of accept it. Most of us take it with a pinch of salt.
After all, there is a demographic bias already – according to this research, most Instagram users are female anyway, and 90% are under 35 years of age. Of course most of the posts will be of younger female yogis.
It doesn’t mean it’s not somewhat problematic though – these visual cues perpetuate an image of yoga, and wellness more broadly, that is predominantly female, white and thin, which could make everyone who doesn’t fit this feel excluded. (other people have talked so much more eloquently about this than I can, eg the Yoga is Dead podcast).
I’m just glad that where I teach seems to be in a bit of a bubble. Yes, the students are predominantly female but at least there is a mixture of body shapes and colours. Maybe it’s just suburbia?
By the way, in case you are wondering, here are the most popular hashtags associated with #yoga, at least in 2019: #fitness, #yogaeverydamnday, #love, #yogi, #meditation, #yogalife, #yogalove, #namaste, #yogainspiration, #motivation, #yogachallenge, #yogini, #health, #gym, #workout, #yogagirl, #fit. I’m not sure I’ve ever used anyone of them. Maybe that’s why I have so few followers?
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