© 2019 by Kelsey Avalon. All Rights Reserved. All medical, financial and legal enquiries must be directed to your prescribing medical health professional or legal representative.

    Decolonising Your Spirit: Representation Matters

    The other day, I received a message on this Facebook page. The lady, a previous client from around 2014, wrote to me 'I have to ask.. do you still do sessions for white people or not anymore?'


    My first instinct was (sorry) to giggle in a kind of confusion and bafflement. Why would I not..? What?


    But then I thought about the other message I received a week or so ago, again from a Caucasian woman, saying "I'm unfollowing your page. I think you're gifted but I don't want to feel like I'm going to get yelled at just for being a white person."


    Again, I could laugh but I thought these would be a genuinely lovely doorway into talking about how much representation in media matters for all of us.


    When I asked both of these ladies what gave them the idea that I was going to 'yell at them for being white' or that 'I don't work with white people anymore', I got the response that my writing over the last few years talks about racism in spirituality, and the pictures that I post are very often women of colour (of all ages and including trans women).


    Let's clarify: NO, I and nobody else is ever going to 'yell at white people for being white'. And YES, my offerings are for everybody. Just this week alone, I've had clients from Kuwait, Wisconsin USA, Lithuania, New York, Sydney and Guyana. The youngest was 19. The oldest was 58. I love and value diversity and actively seek to promote and learn from, others that may be unlike me.


    The issue here (and again, this isn't an attack but an observation) was that by NOT being centred in conversation - i.e. by me talking about racial/social issues that didn't affect them; and by NOT being centred in my advertising - i.e. not seeing women in my posts that looked like them, these women came to the conclusion that my offerings are not for them.


    And this isn't true.


    But doesn't it show you, how used we are as white (or comparatively privileged light-skinned Women of Colour, which I am) women, to being centred in conversations and promotions? To the point, of course, where the media is always targeting us to look young and fit and tanned and balayaged and Botoxed and natural and skinny and curvy and like Kate Middleton and like Kylie Jenner all at once. We're used to spending our lives being directly addressed by media.


    In wellness, fitness and spirituality, we're surrounded by gorgeous thin blonde yoginis, goddesses with perky bare breasts and flowing hair, 'awakened men' with six-packs that look like Jason Momoa, laughing young women in expensive boho clothes dancing together at retreats, smooth-skinned smiling beauties as massage clients. A naturally beautiful, lithe woman smiling into her cup of herbal tea or dancing on the beach shows you how spiritually divine and abundant she is. Even ethnic goddesses such as Kali Ma or Isis are represented as sexy women with European features wearing Halloween-esque versions of their native costuming. THIS is who you should aspire to be. THIS is what a spiritual person or a healthy person looks like. Again, as white women/lightskinned WOC, we are directly spoken to, even when it's pressurising.


    So it can feel scary to think, that we suddenly AREN'T welcome, centred or being marketed to. And I know that this is a feeling coming up a lot amongst spiritual or wellness-loving white/ white-passing women. More than a few have said to me things along the lines of 'it's not fair to exclude me back! That's not equality!'


    I hear you, so let me definitively say this: NOT being centred does NOT mean being attacked or being unwelcome. (For example, being passionate about elevating Women of Colour doesn't mean that you 'hate white people'. Demanding racial reparations from the government doesn't mean that white people don't also suffer misfortune at their hands. Don't panic- That's just some primal fear shit talking)


    But it is very natural to make that assumption, to feel rejected, when we don't see ourselves represented.


    Let me ask you: say you walk past a hairdresser, staffed by black women all with braids and locs. The posters in their window show all black women. Do you think (as a white woman/lightskinned WOC) that you would automatically presume that they are an 'everybody hairdresser'? Or would you, not unreasonably, perceive them based on their marketing/staff to be a hairdresser solely for black women? That would be the natural assumption. (And this may or may not be true! But how would you ever know unless you saw something to show you that you were welcome in that space?)


    By not seeing yourself represented, you've decided that you aren't their chosen client.


    Now imagine living your whole life that way. Everywhere from the hair salon to the doctor to the meditation circle to the recruitment agency to your country's government does not talk about you, care about you, represent you, show you, support you, have any help for you, does not welcome you. People that look or talk like you are shown in media, if at all, to be at worst, stupid or unclean; and at best, a politically-correct box-ticking exercise to be able to say 'our advertising is diverse'.


    In my late teens and early twenties, while experimenting with beauty treatments, I was often given well-meaning but super-demeaning attention from professionals who I was paying. "MY GOD, YOUR PORES ARE HUGE. You should get laser." "You'd look more feminine with a nose job". "Your skin is so oily, you must eat too much junk food." All of these 'helpful experts' were telling me that my natural, mixed-race Polynesian features were somehow INCORRECT. Because their training, their marketing, and their practice had always centred White skin/hair/pores/features as 'normal' and anything outside of that was flawed/failing/wrong.


    I care deeply about, and I take seriously, my platform for advocating antiracism, antisexism, anticapitalism, decolonization, reparations and normalising ALL PEOPLE in the wellness and spiritual industries.

    So a LOT of thought goes into diversity, and this isn't "being politically correct" or "having a token black person". (What a shitty effing attitude that would be.)


    It's not politically correct. Thin, sexy, white 22 year old women are NOT the norm that we should all measure ourselves against. Sure, they exist.


    But I consciously choose to not, even accidentally, normalise one very small sect of people for the sake of advertising power. Because when people don't see themselves represented, they don't enter those spaces. And when people don't enter those spaces, we miss out on the wisdom, learning and value of the MAJORITY of the human population that don't fit into that small aspirational niche. We literally lose information. We get the wrong idea about people.


    So yes, my imagery and writing shows trans women, black women, white women, fat women, mixed race women, girls, old women, disabled women. Not to fetishize or tokenize ("All women are beautiful! Erm... you don't HAVE to be beautiful to be valuable & to take up space in the world. It's not the price you pay to exist), but simply because it's normal.


    If you feel offsided because I'm writing about an issue concerning WOC, see it as a beautiful chance to learn from someone (me) who cares about you and holds no judgement whatsoever. Not being centred doesn't mean you're not welcome. But now that you understand that feeling, can you actively advocate to change that for other women?


    How do you think it feels being a dark-skinned POC, a fat woman or a disabled woman, even a woman over 50, when you're just trying to find a yoga class and all you can see is thin, young, beautiful fitness models in clothes more expensive than you can afford? Who tell you that your injury or body type is because you're 'lazy'?


    Or when your personal trainer shames you for having a higher body fat percentage, regardless of your ethnicity or shape or vital stats? Or when you go to try on clothes but they aren't even cut for your body type and your size doesn't exist? Or when you treat yourself to an expensive hairstyle and the stylist tells you that your natural hair is 'bad' or 'strange'?


    Or when you attend church and Jesus and Mary are both shown as beautiful white people while Judas looks like you? Or when your recruitment agency tells you to buy yourself a £300 wig to cover your natural hair if you want a job? Or when you go to have sex with your new partner and he asks you to have vaginal surgery because you don't look like the labia-less pornstars he's used to and you're gross?


    It's proven that humans are deeply affected by how they see themselves and others represented. And if you are NOT represented at all, or you're represented simply as a 'token diverse person', if you're made to feel not normal, you are statistically more likely to experience poverty, sickness, mental illness and not access resources that could help you. That yoga studio, oracle card illustrator or clothing brand may not be 'trying to exclude anyone', but it's 2020. It IS exclusionary, it is provably damaging, and it's sick and outdated.


    I could go on and on. What I'm asking you is to let go of the notion that representing all people is 'being politically correct'. When we (especially in the wellness industry) stop blanketing our marketing with, and promoting, only thin and rich young white women as the aspirational norm, ALL OF US - older white women, black women, poor women, disabled women, Asian women, gay women - benefit.


    To white women and other lightskinned POC - if you don't see yourself represented, don't assume you're not welcome in a space, and don't assume it's an attack. Instead, refocus on how much of your life has been targeted to in terms of marketing, and how deeply, horribly demeaning and exclusionary it is for many other women to go their whole lives, never seeing someone who looks like them be considered normal.


    If you run a business, use your power and CONSCIOUSLY choose to represent, normalise AND to cater to all women, whether that's providing easy disability access to your shop, making clothes in different sizes, or training your staff on differently cultured people.


    WE ARE ALL NORMAL. And all of my work is for YOU. Please always feel welcomed, please always feel non-judged, please always be learning.


    With love,

    Kelsey