From fashion brands invoking blackface to the continual use of reductive stereotypes in brand advertising, it can sometimes seem like true social progress is continually just out of reach. And in the latest example of “what were they thinking?”, fitness trainer Russell Bateman used native Kenyans as “props” during a fitness retreat. BuzzFeed News reports that Bateman was hosting a retreat in Kenya from March 6th to March 13th for his invite-only group, “Skinny Bitch Collective” (um…what?). And many have since expressed outrage over Bateman’s use of the Maasai people during his group activities.
On March 8th, the blog Diet Prada shared videos and pictures from the retreat to Instagram. In the post, the retreat participants—almost all of them white women—could be seen training while several Maasai stood in the background. In other images, the group appeared to be weaving in and out of the Maasai, as if they were merely inanimate obstacles. In the post, Diet Prada wrote that Skinny Bitch Collective (SBC) “managed to use the local Maasai people not only as a backdrop, but as literal props in their fitness routines.”
It wasn’t long before others started speaking up.
The SBC website currently states that it is “down for maintenance.” Bateman’s Twitter account has been suspended, and his Instagram account appears to have been deleted, but BuzzFeed reports that on March 9th, Bateman issued a statement apologizing for the incident. The trainer reportedly claimed that the Maasai people voluntarily “joined in” with the SBC’s activities and consented to being recorded.
Bateman’s use of the Maasai in his retreat was completely dehumanizing, and we sincerely hope that the SBC re-evaluates its practices.