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Dharma Connect: Are Blondes Better Meditators?

The current issue of Time magazine promotes coverage of "The Mindful Revolution: The science of finding focus in a stressed-out, multitasking culture."

The story itself is behind a paywall -- you can read the opening anecdote about the author examining a raisin in a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction class -- but even before the content is available, the cover has stirred things up.

It features a blonde woman with gold eye shadow and soft pink lips, head tilted back with a blissful expression on her face. One Buddhist teacher I know suggested that she looks like she's smelling hot dogs cooking. My immediate reaction was that she needs a posture clinic -- that head tilt will cause great pain in her shoulder muscles.

The photo prompts some serious questions, though, particularly around the choice of this model as the face of meditation on a general circulation magazine. Does imply that meditation is for thin, wealthy, white women with too much time on their hands? Does it exclude people of color? Or less-attractive people of any race?

Tricycle magazine, a Buddhist publication, posted on Facebook an image of the Feb. 3, 2014, cover next to one from 2003 on meditation, commenting: "Ah, to be white, blonde, mindful, and frozen in TIME."

The Rev. Danny Fisher, reposted the side-by-side images on a blog post on Patheos, under the headline, "How the Mindfulness Movement Uses Buddhism to Prop Up the White-Supremacist-Capitalist-Cishet Patriarchy."

That's a strong statement. But images are powerful. The debate over the use of thin white women to sell beauty magazines and clothes rages -- the website Jezebel last week published un-retouched photos from Lena Dunham's Vogue shoot.

Back in 2012, IDP founder Ethan Nichtern asked on this blog, "Who Should Be the Face of Meditation?" using the 2003 Time cover as an illustration.

I find the image mildly irritating -- I feel like it trivializes mindfulness and doesn't reflect the sanghas I see. It might attract some people; it might turn others off. I'm sure Time put a lot of thought into its choice of a cover, but that thought was aimed at selling magazines, not showing meditation.

Time could have used a pair or trio of more diverse models -- or meditators -- to feature.  Or found one whose expression is more like the ones I see in the meditation class I teach, more relaxed than jaw jutting forward. Maybe like this one from Buddhadharma:


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People Will See What They Want to See

I have been reading many articles about opinions people have regarding this cover. It is impossible to know how people are going to react to a cover of a magazine. I don't believe that the editor at Time was trying to make a statement about the face of Buddhism in the West. I think he/she was trying to sell some magazines and make some money. I understand if people take it personally as they're saying something about Buddhism in Western society. I don't see it as such. I was attracted to this article because I am interested in reading about Dr. Kabat-Zinn, Dr. Davidson or any of their respected colleagues and the scientific findings from their research. That is what I see when I look at this cover.


Has anyone read the actual article yet? I'm going to try to pick up a print copy so I can read the content...

not sure when it's available

it's the Feb. 3 issue -- I'm not sure when it hits newstands. The ones I've checked still have the cover with a woman's high heel to illustrate a story about Hilary Clinton. (that one created a lot of discussion in feminist circles!)

I plan to buy and read it. I expect the content is more nuanced than the cover photo.

Further Related Reading

Interesting discussion with Buddhist Scholar David L. McMahan about the possibility of Buddhism turning into a "modern folk religion of the elite":


a note

I know people who teach meditation in prisons, to homeless youth, to victims of domestic violence. there are studies about meditation's benefits for youths in impoverished schools. all of that might be in the article. but none of that is hinted at on the cover.

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