The wellness industry has been historically homogenous and well, white. If you’re a white woman googling tips on self-care and mental health, you’ll find books, articles, and endless resources written for and by white women. On Instagram, a quick #wellness search propagates a feed dominated by images of white women caressing smoothie bowls, meditating, and doing yoga on the beach.
I’ve spent the last five years working as an editor in the health and wellness space. Often, I’ve been the only Person of Color in team meetings and one of a handful at international conferences where thousands have attended. As a Filipina working in this space, I’ve rarely seen my fellow People of Color genuinely represented and acknowledged by this industry.
This all begs the question: where are all the People of Color? And more importantly, what’s a Person of Color to do when the lack of representation makes them feel unwelcomed, othered, and unseen in the wellness world?
For many People of Color with large social followings, a brand’s representation is a key factor when it comes to collaboration. “If I don’t see BIPOC [(Black, Indigenous, and People of Color)] represented, then I cannot believe in you. Our intentions just don’t align,” said Nikia Phoenix, the founder of Black Girl Beautiful.
With the renewed Black Lives Matter movement bringing greater attention to the harsh systemic injustices faced by the Black community, many corporations are forced to examine how they are addressing diversity and actively fighting racism in the workplace. Among these corporations are a slew of wellness companies pledging to better represent People of Color. While this pledge of solidarity is no doubt a step in the right direction, the greatest and most significant change has come from Black entrepreneurs, speakers, and teachers in the wellness field creating spaces and self-care tools for their community.
According to Kelley Green, a certified yoga instructor and founder of Rise in Color, this is crucial. “As a community, in order to make the wellness experience more inclusive, BIPOC need to create and own more spaces for gatherings, whether virtually, in-person, including apps. More of us need to take ownership of the ability to lead and provide spaces that didn’t previously exist. This is how we create massive change in the lives of the communities we represent,” Green said.
A Needle in The Haystack
“I realized finding Women of Color in the physical wellness space was like finding a needle in a haystack,” Green said. “When I was first introduced to yoga, I quickly noticed the majority of the studios where I live in NYC were filled with predominantly white women. The staff, the instructors, and the students were mostly of Caucasian descent, so I often found myself being either one of two People of Color in the class—or maybe even the only one.” Building spaces where Black voices feel safe and supported has far-reaching implications.
Black women are at three to four times the risk of pregnancy-related deaths for white women; while both Black and white women develop breast cancer at about the same rate, breast cancer death rates are 40 percent higher among Black women. The adult Black community is more likely to have feelings of sadness and hopelessness than adult whites, yet there is a glaring absence of culturally responsive health care providers available to their community. The work done by Black wellness advocates brings awareness to these disparities by providing the tools and resources needed to take action.
Yasmine Cheyenne, a teacher, and speaker on mental health sought to create free mental health resources for BIPOC, as her experiences as a Black woman were not welcomed at the predominately white wellness groups and retreats she attended. “In BIPOC communities, I think we’re still unlearning a lot of the ways we haven’t been taking care of ourselves based on the way we’ve been taught to live in ‘survival mode’ all the time. Creating spaces where black people and POC feel comfortable healing, and where we can also have people who look like us and viscerally understand us is important for our community and our individual growth,” she said. As wellness brands proclaim their commitment to fighting racial injustice, how they move towards change will be telling. The task cannot fall on the Black community alone, and changing the wellness space to truly be more inclusive will itself be an effort in solidarity.
Beyond bringing more diversity to their social feeds, who companies hire to leadership positions, how they plan to implement long term processes to fight both overt and covert racial discrimination, and how they persist in creating platforms for People of Color long after the public eye is gone will be the real test.
To do your part in turning the tide, here’s what you can do:
Be aware of the ongoing public health crisis in the Black community rooted in centuries of systemic racism and prejudice. America is Failing Its Black Mothers is a good place to start. After that, read The Black Women’s Health Book: Speaking for Ourselves. When you’re done, don’t stop. Listen to black voices in the wellness space, have those tough conversations with those in your circle, and continue to educate yourself through the many resources available. If you’re looking for more reading material, here are 20 books on Black stories, white privilege, and how to be anti-racist.
Support Businesses That Embrace Inclusivity
Whether it’s the yoga studio you attend or your favorite skincare brand, do a little research, and consider how that company’s messaging and images are helping to create a place of inclusivity. If you’re only seeing one type of woman being marketed to and for (or if their feed just recently includes People of Color), that’s problematic. And if you don’t see any People of Color as instructors or in executive leadership roles, it might be a sign to take your money somewhere else and support a business that is actively working to create diverse and inclusive spaces.
Hold Wellness Companies Accountable
On that note, encourage those in positions of power to actively work towards addressing and dismantling racism in the wellness space. Message companies (studios, gyms, wellness brands, etc.) on social or email them asking how they are taking part in the current conversation on systemic racism—let them know that this impacts your decision to support them. Remember, as a customer, you hold purchasing power.
Amplify Black Voices
Support black leaders in the health and wellness space by listening to their podcasts, watching their videos, and following them on social. Repost, retweet, and reshare their work. Better yet, discuss their work in conversations with friends, family, and coworkers. Attend yoga classes, workshops, and retreats led by black instructors and teachers. If the wellness spaces you go to are mostly white, reach out to the owners to see how they can create more inclusive spaces where People of Color feel safe, welcomed, and acknowledged.