BTC: Briohny Smyth for Equinox

In this advert, an exquisitely beautiful and powerful yogini, Briohny Smyth, clad in fetching skivvies, moves through her acrobatic morning practice in a million dollar Manhattan apartment for all us wistful voyeurs while her oblivious bedroom companion snoozes away in the background:

Well played, Equinox. Manipulative as hell –as many have noted— but still. Well played, ye bastards.

(Not your scene? There’s always “Cat Helps With Yoga Routine“!)

13 Responses to “BTC: Briohny Smyth for Equinox”

  1. M.S. Patterson Says:

    Yup. I totally prefer the cat version.

  2. Jamie Says:

    I think it’s lovely.

  3. Dan Barry Says:

    Oh man. I saw this yesterday and couldn’t sit through it. Meredith, I’m so glad you noted the manipulative angle of it. (And I loved your smarmy description.) I never realized it was an advertisement. (That only further commodifies/complicates the sexual aspect of the piece)

    Basically this is yoga porn. A total “sex sells” setup. I personally scan it as erotica first, and yoga second.

    And I get mad when people posit interpretations of this video as an either/or situation: e.g. either you can recognize this performance & this woman as a powerful, well-practiced yogini, or you see her as erotic, a sort of soft porn actress. As though one possibility excludes the other. As though there couldn’t possibly be a reason for conflating the two. (Shame on you, Elephant, with your baiting “Sex or Art?” angle.)

    Here’s why the vid made me uncomfortable. As noted, we’ve got an ultramodern hi-rise apartment in what is debatably the world’s most important city (taking your word for it, Meredith — I don’t know Manhattan from my elbow); someone still asleep in the bed Smyth presumably just got out of; and our protagonist wearing fancy undies of the sort most folks don’t pull on unless there’s a reason to. The camera voyeuristically looks in through the windows of the apartment. Totally meant to be interpreted as a morning after sex. Totally meant to be an intimate/private moment that we’ve somehow found a peephole into.

    And with all those loaded signifiers, they seem to be saying that yoga is the centerpiece of a lifestyle that will bring you attractiveness, wealth, sex, and power.

    Am I the only one who found myself mentally rewinding to the implied sex scene before, and the implied boy-meets-girl in urban oontz-oontz club scene before that? This is like the middle of a movie we’ve all seen before.

    I think it’s interesting, too, that based on the comments I’ve seen around the web so far, the ones who defend the video the most fervently are women, the group ostensibly being advertised to. (Not that there isn’t an implied wink-and-nudge to the men out there. “Do enough yoga and maybe YOU can be the lump snoozing in her bed!”) Isn’t that how most advertising to women works? Hook into their envy of some celebrity/powerful figure, and at the same time play off of (or create) low self-esteem by demonstrating just how far you are from that figure? Propose that the product/service is the key to closing that gap? Ye bastards, indeed! I mean, that’s marketing in general, but I mean how female-directed marketing specifically sets women up to envy other women. I hate that shit.

    The editing was also interesting. Did anyone else notice that they always cut away if the shot was going to turn into a full-on crotch or breast shot? But only if it was a full-frame zoom. If they were zoomed out, they let you see her whole kit ‘n kaboodle.

    Also, the girly music-box soundtrack makes me flip out. I thought the twinkle-twinkle shit was kind of infantilizing.

    So they’re hooking into class fantasies, sex fantasies, social status fantasies, construction of gender identity, presentation of gender identity …

    A bit too much baggage for my tastes. I feel like this video misrepresents what yoga is. As far as I know, those things are not what yoga’s about. Or supposed to be about, anyway. Although I guess that’s what happens when it turns into a massive, trendy industry in America. (Disclaimer: I haven’t studied yoga, but I have plenty of friends and colleagues who take or teach classes, and I’ve listened to them talk about it at length.)

    (Thanks, Coilhouse, for making a space on the web where I can talk about these things. Makes me feel less crazy.)

  4. Dan Barry Says:

    Briohny’s response here:

    Apparently she was a child pop star in Thailand from ages 11-16. A good handful of the current commentators seem to be Thai folk who were fans of her music.

  5. Dan Barry Says:

    Oh, and the person in the bed? Probably not a guy. According to YouTube user bigkellyclarksonfan, “I’ve had the honor of working with both Briohny and “the guy” in the bed. Ps. the guy in the bed is actually a woman. no joke ;) She is another fitness leader at EQ”.

  6. Angela Says:

    I was all set to wax thoughtful about what point at which we should call out advertising (which is inherently manipulative) for crossing a line into being too much so, whether advertising can be considered art, whether sexiness or sexuality lies more in the eye of the beholder or the body of the beheld and at what point it becomes objectifying, and maybe even try to compare what a well-done ad for a pole dance studio could look like (as more of my friends take up pole as sport or artform and have to contend with the inevitable social connotations of doing so)…

    And then I read that it was a woman in the bed behind her, and now I have to go be in my bunk.

  7. david Says:

    exploitive? really? i do yoga in my underwear because it’s more comfortable. i get really hot. if i was this girl, in her own space, i probably wouldn’t even be wearing the bra since she doesn’t look like she needs much support. then the video would just be what i really looked like every morning, slightly edited and set to a soundtrack. i think all bodies and all movement contain inherent eroticism. i don’t think that’s a bad thing, whatever gender one’s sleeping partner is.

    i agree that sexuality (and thus our reflections on it through art and the media) can be problematic- and our actual desire to willingly commodify ourselves, so long as we are a valuable commodity, is often overlooked in that conversation- but if the narrative isn’t disempowering then i don’t even see it as that problematic.

    so, dan, your analysis was very interesting to read, but i think a bit over thought. although i do like the statement that having to chose to see a depiction as either this/or that was well put.

  8. Meredith Yayanos Says:

    Even as I wince at the outright “yoga porn” labeling, there’s no denying that, for all its beauty and impressiveness, this is a very calculated, blatant example of “sex sells” advertising. For me, it’s actually not the underwear that creates that context. Namely, it’s the highly voyeuristic quality of what I’d call “Creeper/Peeper Cam” –those looming handheld shots, often filmed from behind furniture or windows, disembodying zoom-ins on her fluttering lower-abdominals, or shots taken from directly over-and-behind her next-to-naked body– and yes, the snoozing, intimated nude in the rumpled bed beyond her, replete with kicked-off cowboy boots. Some of the signifiers are more subtle than others, of course. (Hat tip to the DP for ensuring that you really can’t tell whether the sleeping companion is male or female.) Some are blatant: she’s in peak physical condition, serenely doing jaw-dropping calisthenic moves in a gazillion dollar penthouse-type apartment. Yoga = POWER. And power can be very, very sexy.

    The whole thing is incredibly artfully done with great editing/pacing/set-dressing, a shrewdly fae music score, and at its core, there’s Briohny’s top-notch athleticism, physicality, self-assuredness… all of which is undeniably arresting. But yes, it’s also undeniably intended to manipulate. Whether they’re trying to get viewers to think “I want to be like her” or “I want to get with her” is up for debate, and is, I think, be entirely dependent on the eye of the beholder. Either way, the masterminds behind Equinox knew exactly what they were doing when they produced this commercial.

    Bottom line, from where I look at it: Dan’s (and other’s) core criticisms are completely valid, and yet, there’s not denying that I enjoy watching the ad immensely. I can completely understand both the strong negative and positive reactions to it, because I am having plenty of both.

  9. Angela Says:

    I also find it interesting that the writer on ElephantJournal claims not one of her Spanish-speaking friends saw anything sexual about the ad, as contrasted with her North American friends. (My partner, for what it’s worth, didn’t think it was all that sexy, either, and he’s a cis hetero North American white guy.)

    Putting aside the advertising savvy at play, it is really fascinating how much culture can possibly “sexify” everything we see. Someone doing something they’re really ace at is pretty impressive, possibly a turn-on, and if it’s body-related, even more so. Also, sometimes someone just enjoying themselves may be seen as semaphoring sexiness—I had that put on me lots of times when I was younger and more naive and it kind of shocked me, because I “didn’t mean to be”.

    When it’s women doing things with their bodies, sadly, North American and/or Western culture can be just awful about that. Reminds me of this Blue Milk blog post, dealing with the sexualization of girls from a young age:

  10. david Says:

    so, the first time i watched it, i just saw her astounding yoga and didn’t even see the ominous tones dan, meridith and an army of youtube commenters were discussing. having seen it again, i agree that certain shots, like the belly to crotch pans, convey a sexual message. still though, the conversation isn’t just about whether there is too much sexiness for a commercial- after all, contrast the level of non-relevant sexuality here with your average beer ad.

    watching it a second time and thinking “creepy music” and “voyeur camera”, i see what is being referred to but it still doesn’t strike me that way. nor does, in my opinion, the way the camera emphasizes her sleeping bed mate do so to signify her sexual activeness. given that it’s advertizing, of course, thought was put by the director into even the color of the blanket on the bed, but as the viewer, it requires significant effort on my part to see an evocation of “man hiding on her balcony with handheld camera”. anais nin said “we don’t see the world as it it, we see it as we are.”

    it’s a truism that we’re surrounded by sex. we’re animals. animals have sex. we’re surrounded by food too and if i was on a diet, i might be offended by “intrusive fast food marketing”. once i got a certain kind of car, i saw it everywhere. in the blue milk post, for instance, the writer says that *she* observers herself objectifying her daughter and then goes on to explain that everyone else does too. in the “slut-shaming” blog, the poster claims that rape-permissiveness is intrinsic to our culture, but while this is to some extent true, it is no less true that we are assault-permissive, murder-permissive and war-permissive, the recipients of all of which are claimed to be “asking for it” by some people. (not that i’m criticizing her. what a thoughtful and well spoken thirteen year old. i just disagree with the inevitability of her interpretation)

    like sex, violence surrounds us and like every life form, we are meshed in a web of predatory and parasitic relationships but while these things certainly exist- and a wise person takes precautions against them- whether they define our experience is up to the interpretation of the individual.

    …coilhouse should have a forum.

  11. Heather Says:

    Thanks, Angela, I’ve just gone down the Bluemilk rabbit hole…so many great articles!!

    What bothered me about this video was the obviously-sexual shots. Not the apartment, not her lingerie, not any implications of the night before (i actually assumed it was her husband/partner before I read the comments) – although the association of wealth and enlightenment IS pretty blatant here – but the totally unnecessary close-ups of her underwear or the shots of her from behind when she was in a position which from the side would look like, you know, yoga, but which from behind looked submissively sexual. Yoga isn’t sexual by nature but this is the sort of thing that would make me self-concious about doing yoga with other people around!

  12. ax Says:

    Honestly, when I saw this, I just thought is a nice video of a woman doing her warmup routine. Seriously. In my mind, she was a woman who woke up early in the morning to do a work out while the person she loved was still asleep.

    A few notes about me

    -I am either naked or in fancy underwear. Always. Yes, even to wash dishes, even to clean the house, even if I’m sleeping over at my best friends house. Fancy underwear is a great gift to give yourself. It’s more comfy and makes you feel good.

    -I grew up in Miami, which has a high Hispanic population. In some ways it’s more sexualized (as in overtly sexual) and in other ways, it sees the human body as a body. I don’t think anyone in Miami would blink at this video. It’s just a woman doing yoga.

    -I took loads of dance classes and most of my friends were in theater. So nakedness has never phased me or my friends. Just the other night, I had to peel my model-beautiful friend out of her clothes. She was super drunk and couldn’t do it herself. She slept on my couch, naked. My husband saw her naked. It wasn’t a big deal.

    I think nakedness and sex has become this thing in America. We’re both obsessed with it and repulsed by it. We don’t want to acknowledge that we have sexual feelings waaay before puberty. We’re scandalized by women breastfeeding their infants. And then we (as a society) do everything we can to feel sexy and desireable, to be sexy and desired.

    Also (and I do understand this is getting superlong) what if it is supposed to be super sexual? Who cares? Since when is sex a bad thing if all parties consent? The yoghi consented to the video, so did the person in bed, the filmmakers, and the people who clicked to watch it. How does this actually reflect negatively on people who practice yoga? What, they’re now seen as people who are sexy and like sex? This is bad, how? Sex (among consenting people) is often fun and feels good. I’m not sure why this is still controversial.

  13. Dan Says:

    Linking sexual attractiveness to physical health is basically “a good thing”. Yogi’s can choose to view this as a tribute to the most accessible step on the Yogic path…

    This ad is selling a membership to a fitness club. For some fitness is about avoiding a heart attack at a relatively young age, for others it is about being sexually attractive (for some, both). If you assume this ad is selling fitness for the latter purpose, it’s using sexiness to sell sexiness.

    Finally, like alot of art through the ages, it is commercial. Also, like alot of art, it is erotic. It is also beautiful on many levels: in image, color and texture; in space, volume and form; as a presentation of the human body, in strength, in stillness, and in movement; and in it’s erotic elements. I respond to a few of the shots as crossing the line into the pornographic: they are not, for me, part of the representation of a strong, beautiful, sexual and whole woman. But I also know that line is different for everyone….