When you imagine a popular spirituality and wellness website, what do you see?
For me, it’s a mixture of the same cliched images. A pile of balanced pebbles. A sunset beach. A view over mountains. (Oh, and that apparently onmipresent image of some hands holding a sparkler. You know the one.)
As for the people in these images and all over these websites? Well – they’re almost always white. White people resting. White people healing. White people ‘doing yoga’. White hands in prayer, white feet on the sand.
White, white, white.
And of course, the question isn’t “Where are all the spiritual people of colour?” because as we all know, they’re out in the world getting on with their spiritual lives, running their businesses, sharing and teaching their practices. Like everybody else.
The question is, “where are all the pictures of spiritual people of colour?”
Or perhaps more importantly, “why are all the big spiritual websites saturated in whiteness (even when so much of the spirituality they teach is born from cultures of colour)?”
White supremacy, whiteness as default, whiteness as aspirational. The time-honoured practice of affirming that a practice isn’t worthy unless/until a white person does it. The time-honoured practice of white people getting to decide what spirituality looks like, what yoga looks like, what wellness looks like (and by extension, who gets to access it). It’s a part of what Kelly Diels identifies as the Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand, and once you begin to notice it, trust me, you’ll see it everywhere.
In 2016, our team hand counted and tallied over one thousand images from various yoga studio websites across the city of Toronto.
Of the 1000+ images, only 8.82% featured a person that was visibly Brown-skinned. There were more images of studio spaces than there were of people of colour!
The pervasion of this spiritual whitewash is both subtle and insidious, and smack-you-in-the-face astounding. It’s a continuation of the violence ‘white culture’ does to people and cultures of colour.
Through the Spirit Stock Network, Toronto-based photographer Fonna Seidu is changing things.
Spirit Stock is a growing collection of stock images dedicated to representing people of colour engaged in all kinds of spiritual practice. And these are stock images. As in, they’re there, for anyone to purchase and use.
Have at them! Purchase one for your next blog post! Commission a photoshoot just for you! As Spirit Stock says: saturate your practice.
What I love most about Fonna’s images is that they’re not imitations of the ‘thin white yoga in the sunset’ I’m so tired of seeing. These people are in parks and community studios, on fire escapes and beside city walls. They wear acrylic nails, dreadlocks, headscarves and hi-tops. Beyond race, Fonna’s photography embraces body diversity, colour diversity, gender, orientation and class diversity. These are images of actual people, real people. Everyday people of colour and their everyday wellbeing practices.
I chatted to Fonna about her purpose and mission, and her plans for the future…
What inspired you to create the Spirit Stock Network?
In 2016, I was shopping around for a Toronto-based yoga studio to do a 30-day trial. As I was looking at the different websites I noticed a trend – stunning studio images, tons of slender-bodied white women, pets, and a sprinkling of visibly Black or Brown-skinned folks. I was frustrated because I know that I don’t thrive well in white-dominated spaces.
One day I said “F**k it, I’m going to count this.” Haha! Because why not? I hand counted and tallied over one thousand images from various yoga studio websites across the city of Toronto. Of the 1000+ images, only 8.82% featured a person that was visibly Brown-skinned. There were more images of studio spaces than there were of people of colour! What kept me from creating Spirit Stock was because in the USA there was colorstock and Create Her Stock in addition to the larger stock photo companies. Unfortunately, a few weeks ago colorstock closed their doors and this brought a raging fire back into my heart about diversifying the perception of wellness on virtual platforms.
Would you say you have a mission here? If so, can you tell us about that? What would you like to achieve?
I want to work myself out of a job.
I want to be able to search “yoga” on google and on the first page of the images section see a diverse range of people doing yoga (outside of white able-bodied feminine presenting people). When I recently did a search, I saw Jessamyn Stanley – shoutout to Jessamyn for being the one queer fat femme to begin breaking barriers! I am not alone in this vision. There are tons of people dedicated to changing the visual landscape of health and wellness such as Black Girl in Om, 21Ninety, Radiant Health, and CRWN Magazine just to name a few.
Tell us a little about your services – what’s on offer, and how can a blogger or business owner connect with you and make use of your work?
I like to keep it simple:
- Stock photos through our website and via shutter stock
- Event photography
- Custom content collaborations
All of these options focus on Black, Indigenous, and People of colour using alternative healing practices.
I am currently based in Toronto but am open to traveling. On day I hope to bring my team to document a wellness retreat for BIPOC folks on a warm tropical island.
And how’s it all going, and what are your plans for the future?
I will be completely transparent. Do you ever start a project, hit a plateau, lose momentum, then pick up where you left off after watching a bunch of motivational videos? That’s how it’s been with Spirit Stock. Honestly, it has been a slow burn. In our fast-paced society, I feel like I’m already behind even though I’ve been operating Spirit Stock part-time for 1 year.
Our 5-year goals include:
- hundreds of stock photos available online for usage
- images are on at least 10 different media publications
Do you personally have a spiritual/wellbeing practice, and what does it ‘look’ like?
My personal practice has been evolving as I learn more. So far it looks like:
- listening to binaural beats at night
- reflecting on what I am grateful for
For example, being able to take a deep breath without struggling, having a network of people who love me and have my back, access to clean water, feeling safe at night, etc.
occasional shower meditations
- acknowledging ancestors and remembering people who passed, especially those close to my heart (love you lola and tita)
- quarterly gatherings with my start tribe (shoutout to Natoya, Samson, and Tanya) who are seers, feelers, and empaths
- working with crystals, tarot cards, and oracle cards frequently
Who knows how it will grow in the future!
Is there anything else you want to share with us Fonna?
Yes! I love asking people questions help them reflect on their place in the world, so I want to ask all LRT readers:
- If you could sit down and have a conversation with yourself 10 years ago, what advice would you give that version of you?
- Brene Brown introduced the concept of creativity scars. She wrote “85% of the men and women we interviewed for the shame research could recall a school incident from their childhood that was so shaming that it changed how they thought of themselves as learners. …The research participants could point to a specific incident where they were told or shown that they weren’t good writers, artists, musicians, dancers, or something creative.” Have you experienced creativity scars while you were younger? How did you move forward from it?
- A Stanford Professor, Tina Seelig, introduced the term failure resume (Princeton Professor, Johannes Haushofer, introduced his CV of failures). The failure resume lists personal, professional and academic failures. After each failure, Seelig had her students reflect on what they learned throughout the process. What are some items on your failure resume that helped you learn some hard lessons?
- What is the kindest thing you did for yourself?
- I am a person who is motivated to live my fullest life because (1) I could die any day, (2) working with folks who procrastinate really upsets my soul, and (3) the potential apocalypse could uproot my entire life. How do you stay motivated to do the work that you do?
- What kind of work leaves you energized rather than rained? Are you doing this work already (even if it’s not for yourself, then for the world)?
Radical Care Bear | Photographer | Strategic Alchemist
Recognized as a young change-maker in Toronto, Fonna burst into the arts sector in 2012. She is a community-taught photographer with experience documenting 100+ events across North America. She noticed a lack of Black and Brown-skinned bodies in the wellness industry, so she decided to make a change through her business, The Spirit Stock Network. She’s had the pleasure of photographing wellness practitioners such as Kim Katrin Milan, Chelsea Loves Yoga, Shelah Marie founder of Curvy, Curly, Conscious.
When she’s not behind the lens, her passion is helping artists become more organized by incorporating project management principles into their creative practice. Currently, Fonna is coordinating a project called Behind the Dust at This is Worldtown, working with photographers and videographers to develop their creative projects over the course of a 1- year pilot initiative. You can find her photography work at spiritstock.net and her project management work at fonnaseidu.com.
I’m a 30-something writer, artist, tarot reader, and perpetual explorer of the space between thought, feeling, and action.
I believe that spirituality and ritual are for everybody. I’m about the journey, in all of its messy, non-linear, chaotic iterations. I am excited by anticapitalist business and living with my whole entire self present. I use tarot cards to bring forth hidden truth, and ritual to affirm my commitment, over and over, to my ever-shifting path.