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#PRFAIL: The Maasai Are Not Your Movie Extras, Attn: SBC

#PRFAIL: The Maasai Are Not Your Movie Extras, Attn: SBC

The general public was already suspicious of Russell Bateman’s Skinny B—- Collective (SBC), the invite-only fitness group supposedly designed to train “supermodels” and “the next group of female icons.”1 Indeed, one reporter who gained entry described all members as “[looking] like girlfriends past, present, and future of Leonardo DiCaprio.”2

Probably the worst thing this fitness group could do, then, you would think, would be to plunk down in Kenya for a retreat and film its glamorous participants crabwalking and jogging with Maasai tribesmen for set dressing.

But yeah… it happened.

Bateman led ten select “Skinny B—-es” on a retreat to, of all places, Maasai ancestral land in Kenya during March, and when the documentation went up on Instagram, The Internet was not pleased. Many people characterized the role of the tribesmen in these videos as literal “props,” standing still and silent as the (all white) women performed various fitness stunts around them.3 Someone with the remotest bit of savvy on today’s media landscape could see that the optics (to say the least) weren’t great.

Bateman explained that the retreat had been intended to foster “cross cultural exchange through shared experiences,” and to “highlight the beauty of Kenya and its indigenous people.”4 Even if that was true – even if we take Bateman at his word – this is 2019, people, and this is PR.

Cultural sensitivity is super, super paramount. I don’t have to be the one to tell you that any accusation of racism or cultural exploitation, in these times, will explode your hot air balloon faster than the the Hindenburg. Not to mention, of course, that if there’s truth to the accusation, you’re unethically doing business – but from a PR standpoint, you can’t be careful enough.

The Skinny B—- Collective, it’s certainly evident, was already on thin ice, and already a target in the conversation on privilege by branding itself around exclusivity when inclusivity is the critical mass. The Kenya retreat and the images that came out of it were terrible public relations, even if a misguided sense of cultural exchange at the “scene of the crime” was intended to occur.

  1. “About.” SBC, thesbcollective.com/about.html.
  2. Lauriello, Samantha. “The ‘Skinny Bitch Collective’ Is Under Fire for Using Locals as Props in Kenya Workouts.” com, 11 Mar. 2019, www.health.com/fitness/skinny-bitch-collective-kenya-controversy.
  3. Cranley, Ellen. “This Trendy Fitness Group Got Slammed for Using Maasai Tribesmen as ‘Props’ in Posts from a Retreat in Kenya.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 9 Mar. 2019, www.businessinsider.com/trendy-fitness-group-maasai-tribesmen-as-props-in-posts-from-fitness-retreat-in-kenya-2019-3.
  4. Lauriello, Samantha. “The ‘Skinny Bitch Collective’ Is Under Fire for Using Locals as Props in Kenya Workouts.” com, 11 Mar. 2019, www.health.com/fitness/skinny-bitch-collective-kenya-controversy.

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