Self Care

A Yoga Studio Used My Blackness to Lie About Diversity

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women doing yoga

Photo by Bruce Mars and since it is a stock photo, it’s safe to assume the models gave their permission to have their images used.

By Naomi Bradley

When I started yoga teacher training, I hoped my presence in the predominantly white space would help Black women feel more comfortable participating in it. But I never anticipated my body would be used as a marketing tool for the studio I trained with.

Throughout the training, the facilitators regularly took pictures of us as we engaged in various parts of the course, including the poses, learning the philosophies, and the candid bonding amongst the trainees. I’m not a huge fan of candid pics of me – especially without giving permission – but I accepted that these photos would help promote the training course and the studio in general and allowed it to go on. I even posed for a few, believing I was one of many that would be highlighted on their social media. Despite being one of three people of color (the others were Hispanic and bi-racial with more white-passing features) and the only largish Black woman, I didn’t think the studio would use my face, hair, and body to highlight the “diversity” of the super white studio.

I’m not much of a social media person, and I especially hate Facebook, but a Facebook message from my uncle in Guyana prompted me to scroll through my feed one morning. I ran my thumb past posts from people I hadn’t seen since high school, family members I barely speak to, and old acquaintances I lost touch with when I saw a picture that stopped me in my tracks.

A picture of me, front and center, balancing myself into a tree pose, took over my screen. I looked a little sweaty, exhausted after a long day of training, and fully unaware that someone had taken my picture. The shot is grainy, likely because they zoomed in on me from a distance. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought it was taken with a Nokia or another relic of the earlier cellphone days. Between the unflattering image and subpar quality, I was super pissed that the picture existed. I took to their Facebook page to see what else I missed.

Every image promoting the teacher training includes me. The picture of the entire group is a given, but there are others. Some with me with one or two other people. Another slightly more flattering solo shot, but with each image, it’s obvious my presence is a not-so-subtle way for them to say, “we welcome minorities.”

I thought back to every moment I saw them point a camera at me and felt betrayed, violated, and angry.

The worst part was that I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone about it. Eventually, I did reach out to one of my friends in the program, and she agreed there were A LOT of pictures of me on the page. I waited for her to connect the dots as far as the race thing, but either she didn’t see them or felt uncomfortable saying something, so I left it alone. I knew the pictures needed to come down, but I had no clue how to go about it without taking the risk of being the Black girl making everything about race.

Eventually, I made up a shitty excuse to get the studio to take the pictures down and finished the program. After struggling to find a job at surrounding studios due to lack of experience, I agreed to start teaching at the same studio that tried to use me and will likely use me again. I tell myself it’s different this time because I’m using them too. I would get my experience, then leave the first chance I get. But I would be lying if I felt empowered by that. I honestly feel sick to my stomach about it.

That same studio is starting a trauma-informed teacher training program in a few weeks, but I won’t be attending despite my desire to specialize in that area. Because how can I learn how to address trauma from a studio that traumatized me?

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