The Elephant Journal
March 2, 2011

Can Yoga Combat the Limitations of the Princess Brigade?
By Melanie Klein

Can Yoga Combat the Limitations of the Princess Brigade? Yogini and New York Times best-selling author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Peggy Orenstein, thinks so. In a recent addition to her growing resource list on her book‘s website, she states:

Girls want to do ballet in preschool. And that can be fine. But most of them won’t want to do it anymore once it gets “real”–and given the body image concerns about ballet, most of us don’t want our daughters pursuing it anyway (I don’t mean to put a knock on ballet, which I respect, or certainly any other form of dance, I’m just saying the world of ballet can be very tough. I’ve seen “Black Swan….”). Anyway, in addition to, or instead of, ballet how about kids’ yoga? It’s graceful, you can wear a leotard if you want, and it’s something that can actually be the building block of a lifelong healthy practice that promotes POSITIVE body image, confidence, competence and inner strength. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

The Pepto-Bismol pink and glitter strewn world of “princess culture,” one that has exploded in the last decade, is what has been referred to as a gateway drug. It is a gateway drug that leads to the narcissistic, ego-driven world of the diva. As Orenstein describes in one chapter of her book, Wholesome to Whoresome, and a point that is made in a recent interview, Cinderella and the growing pantheon of princesses aren’t inherently evil. The problem rests with the aggressive and highly sophisticated marketing tactics that have placed greater and greater emphasis on the hotness quotient and severely limited girls’ choices. It is the cradle-to-grave brand loyalty that is forced upon children at ever earlier ages. In fact, marketers have hyper-segmented to such a severe degree that not even infancy is off-limits. The hyper-girlie, overly marketed, painfully pink “princess industrial complex” has increased the pressure young girls feel, limited their measure of self-worth, and decreased self-esteem.

The world of the princess, one in which girls aims for hotness or “little-girl sexy,” is a very limited world, indeed.

Orenstein has listed yoga as one of many tools parents can use to combat the ever encroaching marketing forces and create a world of greater opportunity and self-definition.

In a recent interview with Orenstein, she told me that yoga has been a source of healing, something I can personally relate to. While Orenstein dabbled with yoga classes in college, she came to yoga more seriously after being diagnosed with breast cancer. She’d heard that yoga could be a helpful aide in regaining mobility in the arms, especially after the painful removal of lymph nodes in that area. After meeting her first teacher, a teacher that resonated with her personally, a consistent and permanent yoga practice was solidified. Orenstein has been practicing regularly for over a decade.

Yoga has allowed Orenstein, someone who is not, in her own words, “naturally graceful” or flexible and someone who has a long history of “body unease and embattlement,” to marvel at her body’s capabilities. Like too many women and men, Orenstein spent the greater part of her 2os pushing past her body’s limits by engaging in popular, and grueling, forms of exercise such as high-impact aerobics, running etc. in the pursuit of the beauty ideal- with little regard for the physical consequences. Orenstein’s past is characteristic of the dangerous lengths girls and women will go in order to achieve the ubiquitous and unrealistic beauty ideal. For many, the gamble seems worth it in a culture that repeatedly emphasizes the number one way girls and women are valued- one that is measured in a size-zero frame.

Similar to my own evolution and personal healing through yoga, Orenstein has been able to shift her body image narrative into something more loving, compassionate and forgiving. This has given her the ability to accept her body unconditionally and love her body in the moment. As body-image activist, Jessica Weiner, says, “your life doesn’t begin 5 pounds from now.”

Your life is now. Love the body you’re in. This is a sentiment I echoed in a recent talk during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.

In a recent interview with Los Angeles-based yoga teacher and founder of mini yogis, Shana Meyerson, yoga is empowering for children (and adults!) because it is virtually one of the only arenas in our life where competition and “perfection” don’t come into play. Effort is essential, not the final outcome. In fact, falling is an indication of effort, something to be applauded and celebrated. Referencing girls specifically, Meyerson states:

For girls especially, yoga helps self-esteem and promotes a healthy body image. Unlike other popular sports for girls (gymnastics, ballet) that revere the physical aesthetic, forcing children to diet (or even starve) and work through injuries, yoga encourages students to love who they are and be mindful of their injuries and/or limitations. That’s not to say that yoga promotes complacency. It doesn’t. But it does promote constant self-study and introspection, so that you are living to your own ideal of the best you can be, instead of someone else’s.

Princess culture is alive and well- and growing. The idea that we can shield our girls from this myopic and limited definition of girlhood, and eventual womanhood, is delusional. Even the most progressive, conscious and “enlightened” families I know, ones that don’t watch television and don’t support pop culture, have been infiltrated by the world of the princess. Like Barbie, princesses have a way of showing up in your house. Parents are up against mammoth marketing forces that seem to penetrate ever deeper.

Yoga is a powerful tool that can facilitate a healthy body image and deflect some of the countless messages aimed squarely at our girls. As the world of the princess grows ever smaller in it’s range of choices, yoga expands those limitations.

We are not just defined by the mirror on the wall.