‘Skinny, bendy and blonde’: women of color challenge racism

‘Skinny, bendy and blonde’: women of color challenge racism

David Batty

When Sue Forde returned to practising yoga in a studio earlier this year, for the first time since the pandemic, it was with a sense of trepidation. Because it meant she was, once again, usually the only black woman in the room.

“I’ve had my body pointed to as ‘an African body’,” said Forde, from Hackney, east London. “Recently, in a class, this discussion sprang up about whether black women have a bigger tendency to a pelvic tilt. You think: ‘Oh, please don’t bring this into the yoga room.’”

Forde is one of a growing number of black and minority ethnic yoga teachers and practitioners who are challenging racism in British yoga organisations. Many said they have experienced inappropriate touching of, and comments about, their bodies and hair in classes, as well as crass racial stereotypes, such as Indians being ‘naturally bendy’, and ignorance of yoga’s sacred texts, including the Bhagavad Gita.

“I’ve had my body pointed to as ‘an African body’,” said Forde, from Hackney, east London. “Recently, in a class, this discussion sprang up about whether black women have a bigger tendency to a pelvic tilt. You think: ‘Oh, please don’t bring this into the yoga room.’”

Forde is one of a growing number of black and minority ethnic yoga teachers and practitioners who are challenging racism in British yoga organisations. Many said they have experienced inappropriate touching of, and comments about, their bodies and hair in classes, as well as crass racial stereotypes, such as Indians being ‘naturally bendy’, and ignorance of yoga’s sacred texts, including the Bhagavad Gita.

In a book published this week, yoga teacher trainer Stacie Graham argues that in Europe and North America, yoga’s traditions have been misappropriated and commodified as fitness.

In Yoga As Resistance, which Graham wrote as a guide to making yoga more inclusive, she noted that social media representations of the practice are dominated by images of white women who are “very skinny, bendy and blonde”.

She recalled a class where a white teacher “who’d just come back from an ashram in India was wearing Indian clothes, and all the accoutrements, in a class full of white people”.

“It felt like it was almost a parody of being south Asian,” said Schut, from south-east London. She added that such experiences in white-led yoga spaces were traumatising for people of colour, and she was no longer willing to practise in them.

Dorothy Hosein, chief executive of British Wheel of Yoga, said the training body had recently set up an equality, diversity and inclusion working group to discuss how to change the culture of the organisation.

Hosein, who is white, said the organisation’s new board, which is elected annually, was all white. She added: “We haven’t got diversity in our demographics, and there’s a lot of work to do.”

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2022/jun/21/women-of-colour-challenge-white-uk-yoga-racism

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