I'm certainly no stranger to controversy.
I'm the spokeswoman for a lovely company called ToeSox, where I model yoga postures in their socks. Yup, you heard me. Just in their socks.
Needless to say, modeling in the nude is a surefire way to shake people up. Our intention was to inspire and show the beauty of a body that practices regular yoga to get people back on their mats. I can happily say it was highly successful in that realm. I receive regular thank yous and have even signed pictures of my bare buns at workshops. But as life goes, there are two sides to the coin and many people were displeased. They were offensive. They objectified women. They were using sex to sell product. This list went on but I remained calm in the center of the storm because I believed in my choice. My intention was to inspire and empower and I knew that desired effect had taken place. I also knew if you stick your head above a crowd, someone's bound to throw a tomato at it.
Point being, I couldn't help but feel empathy when another controversy surfaced recently in the yoga world. Equinox posted a short video of the lovely Briohny Kate-Smyth (a past student of mine) practicing awe-inducing asana in her lingerie. About 500,000 hits a few days later, Briohny had gone viral and was receiving a plethora of love and hate notes. I reached out to her knowing this experience must be difficult. She opened up to me about her past, her struggle with an eating disorder, and how her practice, daughter and love for her fiancé brought her to peace with her body. It's a gentle reminder that we are quick to judge when we have no idea where someone else is coming from. People often overcome mountains of adversary to be in a place where they can shine. I'm hoping this look into Briohny's life will help us all remember to look for the beauty where we're so quick to see fault. To be inspired where we want to compare, to love where we want to forget and to feel empowered where we want to shy away.
A Talk with Briohny Kate-Smyth
K: You were a child pop star in Asia with a platinum album by the age of 13. How did this experience affect your body image?
B: Because I was so young, I didn't have the tools to navigate the press and attention that came with this stardom. One thing that really stuck with me was how people made fun of my weight. You see, I'm 50 percent Thai, 50 percent Australian and apparently my Australian roots gave me "big bones." Now that I look back, I see how ridiculous this all was but at the time, it affected me tremendously. Thai women are very petite. From the age of 13, I had everyone from my record label to my make up artist suggesting various ways to lose weight which at the time was "baby fat." I did acupuncture on my thighs and cheeks because they were too chubby. I took diet pills that turned out to contain traces of speed, I even had people suggest that I go to China to get knee surgery that supposedly adds inches to your height! All before I turned 14. My spirit, heart, soul and mind were in such a bad place. No matter what anyone said, I always felt fat and inferior.
K: How did you escape this negative cycle with your body image? You mentioned yoga was a key tool to finding an outlet to this pain?
B: Despite my efforts to recover on my own, my eating disorder continued and I was hospitalized for an ulcer at 17 and put on bed rest. I started to treat the disorder as a way of life. I finally found help within 12-step programs and began to attend AA meetings along with practicing yoga. When I identified with the fact that I had a disease, my mindset started to change. I slowly began to build new values within my belief system. I surrounded myself with supportive people who shared similar experiences. Day by day, minute by minute, I fed my mind with affirmations and started to heal.
During my pregnancy in 2004, I cleansed my body of all of my old habits. It didn't feel right to treat my body badly when it would affect my daughter. I always tell students that my daughter changed my life but it feels more like she saved it. She is seven now and continues to teach me something new about myself every day. We practice yoga together almost every day. I thank all divine powers for such a wonderful gift.
K: What was your experience like shooting the Equinox video? What was your intention?
They gave me full artistic freedom and allowed me to express "My Yoga." We all agreed that minimal clothing was the best way to show the lines of the body. I felt very comfortable with that since most of my female teachers have been photographed in the nude by Jasper Johal. Equinox explained that the concept would showcase the home practice of Woman of our generation set inn NYC. I loved it!
Once on set, I put my outfit on and had a brief moment of panic... a relapse of old thinking. But when I revealed that to my fiancé he told me, "You look beautiful." And that stopped the chatter in my mind.
No one expected or hoped for controversy but I understand and respect all views. This situation reminds me of an exercise my sponsor gave me during my recovery in OA. I made a list consisting of the names of those who I felt hurt me. I read the list to my sponsor, and to my surprise she tells me to think of ways to practice compassion for the people on this list. This exercise helped me learn that the way we react to something is a reflection of the way we feel inside. It helped me look within for the answers to my eating disorder issues rather than blame others for my pain.
It felt incredibly liberating to be confident in my own skin. So, thank you to Equinox, Q Blog, and to everyone who was inspired by the video.
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