We all want to believe we’re not racist. Even people who engage in overtly racist behaviors don’t see their behavior as racist. Our egos are a powerful thing that prevent us from seeing how our words, our actions and many times our silence and inaction can be harmful to other people. But that doesn’t make it right. And I am certainly not immune to this. This past year, and in particular the past few weeks have really woken me up to how I’ve both contributed to and benefitted from racism in this country. The wellness industry is no exception.
Now I could certainly address how our entire country is built around systemic racism, but instead I wanted to focus on the wellness industry, because it’s my industry and the one I’ve dedicated my career to for the past 8 years. It’s also the area where I feel I can have the greatest impact and I sense this is the case for you too. They say that any lasting change must begin in your home and well, this place is my home so let’s start talking.
I also want to make clear that I am not an expert on anti-racism and am very much late to the party. I instead want to focus on the history of wellness and how it’s contributed to a racist system. I am also leaving links to specific resources and teachers to help you be anti-racist in wellness FROM THE EXPERTS. With that let’s take a look at the history of wellness…
The History of Wellness
The Oxford English Dictionary first recognized the word “wellness” in 1654 as “a state of being well or in good health”. The term wasn’t given much thought or use in literature until the 70s with the establishment of The Wellness Resource Center in Mill Valley, California in 1975. The center brought together followers of Dr. John T. Travis’ concept of the Illness-Wellness Continuum.
“Moving from the center to the left shows a deteriorating state of health. Moving to the right of center indicates increasing levels of health and well-being. The Treatment Paradigm can only take you to the neutral point, where the symptoms of disease have been alleviated. That is all it is designed to do. The Wellness Paradigm, on the other hand, which can be utilized at any point on the continuum, helps you move toward higher levels of wellness.” (source)
Ironically, the group was profiled by Dan Rather in a 60-minutes segment as being more of a cult than a group looking to better their health. Wellness was very much still a fringe concept. Also yes, the irony is not lost on me that this all unfolded in my own backyard. These “wellness hippies” were enthusiastic with the concept of “self-care” i.e. caring for our own minds, bodies and nature as the means to enduring health and happiness. They were also weary of conventional doctors and medicine – two concepts that remain a central position of the wellness industry today.
There’s debate as to when “wellness” made its comeback but one thing is certain, it’s jumped from the fringes to being mainstream. According to the Global Wellness Institute, the wellness industry is a $4.2 Trillion Global Industry – with 12.8% Growth from 2015-2017 (source). That was just 3 years ago. This is more than 3 times the growth of the global pharmaceutical industry! Rather than a war between conventional medicine and wellness culture, we’re seeing more integration and cooperation. No doubt, these are all good things, but that doesn’t mean everyone feels included in this change.
Is The Wellness Industry Racist?
Before jumping deep into this question I think it’s probably fair to assume that yes, the wellness industry is racist. Just look up the hashtag #wellness on Instagram and you’ll see an overwhelmingly amount of images of thin, white women. Though the tides are changing, it’s overtly clear who gets to participate in #wellness and those who don’t. While the images may speak for themselves, let’s focus on the facts:
Black women are 3.4 x more likely than white women to die in childbirth (source)
Only 1 in 3 Black Americans who need access to mental health care actually receive it – despite being affected at the same rate as their white counterparts. (source)
Less than 10% of participants in medical studies come from minority groups – despite making up almost 40% of the US population (source)
In the US, approximately 11% of African Americans are not covered by health insurance (source)
The Death rate for African Americans is higher than whites for heart disease, stroke, cancer, asthma, influenza and pneumonia, diabetes, HIV/AIDS (source)
Clearly health outcomes for Black and minority populations in the US are not good, and this is just looking at health access + outcomes. BIPOC are not receiving the same access or level of health care as White Americans. But this just barely touches the wellness industry which oftentimes comes one step before or one step after conventional healthcare.
People tend to engage in wellness practices as a form of preventative medicine or an alternative approach to conventional medicine when they feel conventional has failed them. These practices include everything from supplements to workouts, various diets to body care products. Perhaps not always rooted in medical science, proponents of the wellness industry look for anecdotal or occasionally spiritual evidence to support their claims. I’m not here to tell you that conventional vs. alternative (namely wellness practices) are mutually exclusive. I think there’s room for both. They both however are exclusionary.
For one, a central tenant of wellness is the idea of “self-care” as the key to health and happiness. Put simply, BIPOC don’t have the same luxury to engage in self-care practices as their White counterparts. When you’re busy working twice as hard as your fellow citizens for positions which still offer less money, less access and less overall support, the idea of caring for yourself is simply a luxury you quite literally cannot afford. The cost of supplements, workout classes, special foods and body care products is a barrier to entry for many, especially when the wage gap between Black and White Americans is over 26% (source).
Not to mention the fact that minorities are grossly underrepresented as wellness practitioners. I don’t have exact facts to back this up but walk into any nutritionists office or yoga class and I can almost guarantee you the practitioner or teacher will be white. The cost of most training programs (including nutrition, coaching and yoga) ranges from $3000-$7000 dollars. This requires expendable income that many minority groups simply don’t have access to and aren’t given appropriate reparations to get access to. And when you can’t feel seen in class or by a coach or teacher, it feels hard to believe these practices apply to you.
The ironic piece of all of this is that many of the wellness practices we engage in can be attributed to communities of color. White people have appropriated these practices and then limited access just for themselves. It’s wellness colonization.
How to Be Anti-Racist in Wellness
So what are we going to do about it?
I am certainly not a anti-racism teacher or academic so I will be deferring to resources from Black and minority voices and teachers to share how we can become actively anti-racist in the wellness community.
The first step is to uncover your own racist biases.
I encourage you to start with these resources:
- Diversity Workbook by Dive in Well
- Expressive Writing Prompts for White Fragility and Spiritual Bypassing by Leesa Renee Hall
- Anti-Racism for Wellness and Fitness Professionals Course by Chrissy King
- The Anti-Racism Daily Newsletter from Nicole Cardoza
Read both. Learn. Listen. Fill out the writing prompts. Let it sink in.
The next step is to implement change.
I’m not going to repeat the actions listed in the Diversity Workbook as you should really consider financially supporting them to get access to to their suggestions. Instead I’ll share how we are implementing change to be anti-racist in wellness.
- Making sure this space is inclusive of all backgrounds. This includes all of our messaging, images and anything we promote. If it doesn’t support people of color and/or isn’t accessible to them, we will not promote it.
- Not working with any brands that do not also support BIPOC and/or aren’t including BIPOC in their messaging, influencers or promotions.
- Utilizing the blog and social media to promote stories and work from BIPOC. We don’t need another white girl teaching you how to make matcha 😉
- We have always offered a sliding scale to BIPOC for Camp Wellness, however we will officially be offering Camp Wellness for free to communities of color until further notice. We consider these reparations for generations of abuse and not gifts or donations.
- Taking consideration of where a wellness practice was created and if credit is appropriately applied and/or if there’s a better voice to share it.
- Staying in my own lane. While I want to ensure what we share is inclusive, I cannot understand the pain and the hardship of people of color so I will not create tips and resources to speak to those communities. I will certainly continue to promote and amplify the people who do.
- A huge overhaul of THM to be more inclusive of voices from different backgrounds – stay tuned!
Black Women in Wellness to Follow
I wanted to highlight a list of Black Women in Wellness to follow for inspiration. I’ve had the opportunity to chat with many of these women on the podcast and some I’ve followed for years. This list is not exhaustive. There are MANY more voices of color in the wellness space. Please share any you love in the comments below and of course, check out this list for inspiration.
Koya Webb – Koya is such an inspiring voice in the wellness space! She is a yoga teacher, health coach, author and speaker who promotes a few of my favorite things: self care, eco-friendly living, mental health and social injustices. Listen to their episode on the podcast.
Alex Elle – Alex is one of my favorite IG follows. She is such a light in that space – her words are so powerful! Alex is an author and wellness consultant that teaches workshops and retreats. Her mission is to build community and self-care practices. She’s also an author of multiple books… highly recommend!
Lauren Ash – Lauren is a trailblazer in the wellness space for the Black community. She is the founder of Black Girl in Om where she creates content and experiences speaking directly to Black women and women of color. She is a meditation guide, yoga instructor, speaker and host of the Black Girl Om podcast.
Latham Thomas – Latham is changing the conversation when it comes to women and childbirth. She is the founder of Mama Glow, a company that supports women through fertility, pregnancy, after birth and into new motherhood. She is also using her voice to educate on the injustices towards Black women when it comes to fertility and childbirth. Listen to their episode on the podcast.
Lalah Delia – Lalah is the founder of Vibrate Higher Daily, a wellness company dedicated to helping people to live a higher vibrational life. She helps people return to their empowered, whole selves.
Maryam Hasnaa – Maryam’s focus is on teaching other’s to live their soul’s purpose. LOVE THIS! She incorporates ancient wisdom with new information to teach deep transformational healing.
Tiffany Ima – I am here for Tiffany’s message! She shows up in her real, authentic voice and image to help others embrace their body. She shares simple tips to help build your body confidence and become the woman you always dreamed of becoming. Listen to their episode on the podcast.
Arielle Lawrence – I still think about our conversation regularly… it was so impactful! Ariel has lived with diabetes for 12+ years and has made it her mission to use her platform, Just a Little Suga’ to support and educate people of color about diabetes. So so important! Listen to their episode on the podcast.
Erica Chidi Cohen – Erica worked as a doula in the San Francisco prison system – working with pregnant inmates. She has since co-founded LOOM to “empower people as they navigate their sexual and reproductive experience.” Erica is passionate about helping people cultivate body literacy and sex positivity. If you’re pregnant, check out her book, “Nurture: A Modern Guide to Pregnancy, Birth and Early Motherhood.”
Jessamyn Stanley – I love Jessamyn and her message of body positivity. She is a yoga teacher that focuses classes around body positivity by encouraging students to ask “how do I feel?” rather than “how do I look”. Listen to their episode on the podcast.
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We have a long way to go in making the wellness space more equitable and more importantly, just. I also acknowledge how much work I need to do personally to unravel my own biases and ways in which I’ve benefited from white privilege. But I’m a firm believer that none of us can be “well” if only some of us can be well. We have an opportunity to redefine what wellness means. I hope we can expand beyond the notion of “self-care” to be inclusive of all care. We are committed to this process. We hope you will be too.
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