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CultureFirst person

All’s not well in wellness

Jette Virdi writes about racism in the wellness world…


I’ve realised that yoga isn’t for me.

My boobs are so big they dangle in my face during downward dog and my post c-section shelf tummy creates a pillowy softness that never lets my fingers touch my toes and let’s be honest, I’m shit at handstands. If we look across the industry of Wellness we’re bombarded by atheleisure, skinny girls claiming to have rolls which to anyone who actually has rolls is laughable (ok, I know I’m not supposed to laugh but…), people with perfect lives telling us that fortune can be ours if only we eat this, drink that, believe this, believe that. I often wonder when I’m in a room of wellness coaches if they can see themselves. Really see the disparity. Really feel the genuine pain the rest of us feel at being different.

I’ve lived with racism my whole life. Micro aggressions that are often overlooked because I’m so used to them. “No, where are you really from” is a common sentence in my weekly life. When I walk into a room people look like they can’t quite figure out where I’m from, I’m foreign that much they can tell. Too white to fit in with my kin and too dark to be “normal”. I’m in a world where I’m confused.

As confused probably as most but what I find confusing is that while I’m a person of ethnic minority I also have no clue as to the correct terminology to use, I hate the word BAME. I’m not sure if I should use Black, people of colour or any other of the hundreds of phrases that have been associated with well, non white people. And the truth is it didn’t used to bother me. I was the mongrel of my family. Every one else a smooth marble, but me a shade of dark. A shade of coco. A mongrel. I actually don’t mind being called a mongrel. Isn’t that weird. That I don’t mind being referred to as a dog of no definable breed. Offensively it’s a person of mixed descent.

And yes, I would be offended if it was hurled at me like the saliva I have been spat on by racists. But it hasn’t been. The intention behind the word was different. It came from a place of love. Is this the way forward – where are our intentions? As a person of ethnic minority the conversation around race is one I hate. I understand we need to have it, by god, the things I didn’t notice that suddenly make my heart race a little faster, my fists tighten. But it’s so awkward. So shit. So exhausting. I am Indian and Sri Lankan and White.

By my ethnic minority kin I have been told I’m too white to fully get it. My racist encounters tell of another tale and my white friends tip toe around the conversation. Between my Black friends and those of other ethnic minorities we chat of words we can use, words we can’t and the truth is it changes so frequently that by the time we’ve discussed, mulled it over to really see how it feels rolling off our tongues, it changes again. What about you? Are you afraid of the conversation? I know I am. I know I get tongue tied and twitchy. One of my many professional hats is a coach to female founders.

I have been part of the 15 billion dollar industry for the last 3 years working with female founders to create more work life balance alongside a bigger profit margin. It’s another arena built for the white person. Coaching – in all its forms – has become the “new” wellness. Coaching to write a better CV, get a better job, a better sex life, more confidence, more money, more organised, more, more, more. I say built for white people because there are very few coaches of ethnic minorities.

You’ve probably heard of Amy Porterfield, Marie Forleo, Jenna Kutcher. Have you heard of Tamu Jones, Suzy Ashworth? Time and time again industries pop up and leave us behind. If we go back to yoga or any fitness class for that matter – can you name me one teacher who’s Black or of ethnic minority that works at your local studio? Do you believe that the company you give your money to will do its fair diligence and be inclusive? In today’s age are you ok with letting someone else do it? For a very long time I was.

Honestly it’s a bit like knowing that you shouldn’t shave your moustache at 13 but no-one else has one but then it wasn’t until you were shown that waxing was the way it clicked. The fight against racism and standing up for your friends with less mobility, less battles won, less chances wasn’t really cool was it. It wasn’t in our faces and shown that it’s really quite shit and to what extent that shit-ness went to.

Look, I don’t need to clarify that racism is a no-no. I mean seriously. But we didn’t quite get it did we. I go back to embarrassment when I think of all the micro aggressions I didn’t realise were micro aggressions and systemic racism because goodness, if I, a person of ethnic minority can’t get a gauge on it, how do I expect a white person to get it. A friend of mine said recently “the difference between a white person and myself is that while they’ve had to work for it, I’ve had to fight for it”.

Change is always tricky. Hard. I think this time, so much more so because it’s made us realise how racist we all are. Inherently, through perhaps no fault of our own. But the realisation that racism is in every single thing we do is scary. Hard because for so many, we hate that others will be made to feel left out, to feel less-than. But, that is the reality for a lot of us. Throughout my life I have encountered racism.

When I was 13 and travelling with my dad on a train from Glasgow we were surrounded by drunk Scotts. Yelled at, spat at. The policeman on the carriage just watched. As did every other passenger. On the dart in Dublin being repeatedly questioned “no really, where are you from?”. Being held at Houston Airport for hours on end when travelling for work with my Dad. From people exiting my life the minute they discover my heritage.

I now live in fear of letting people know that I am mixed race because it hurts. To know that I am not enough for your friendship. To know that you might subconsciously put me into a different category of people when choosing who to work with. And at the same time as being fearful I have come to the understanding that I too have been racist during my life. I definitely do not win ethnic minority person of the year award. It’s ingrained in me. Like it is all of us on some level. I wonder how life will be in years to come.

Surely MLK thought that change was here. But turned out it wasn’t.

Will this time be different because we are having a bigger awakening. And yet deep down I know it’s not. Because it hasn’t crept into every aspect yet. Coaching for example. Oh, of course the outward nod to coaches who are Black and of other ethnic minorities are there just like the Anthropologie website showing us non-white skin tones and nothing but, how long will that last. Is it just face value? Are they hiring non white people to the board? Perhaps when more people of ethnic minorities hire coaches, become coaches and start to be in every aspect of life arenas it will be a lasting change.

I don’t really have the answers which is frustrating and annoying because as someone of an ethnic minority aren’t I supposed to? Aren’t I supposed to guide those whiter than me to a place of understanding and awareness like I do my coaching clients.

While I’m failing miserably at guiding my white friends, what I do know is that the most valuable thing we can start with is intention. What is the intention behind the words you use. What is the intention behind the actions you take. What are your intentions? To dare for a world where we are just as loved as you? For us to have access to your jobs? For us to have opportunities too? It starts with each and every one of us.

Ask your local studio if they have an inclusive hiring policy. Ask if someone of a different race would be better suited for that panel talk? We all are the puppeteers of some aspect of somebodies life without knowing it. What a big bloody coaching job we have.