The word wellness inspires a particular vision, precisely, one kind of person. They likely speak in a soft drawl, wear expensive yoga pants and extoll the virtues of goji berries and they’ll almost always be white. The lack of inclusivity in the wellness community didn’t necessarily happen by mistake; we got here through the treatment of a thousand paper cuts that make up the majority of racism today. One of the critical factors has been exclusionary pricing. A set of five spin classes can often cost the same amount as a new bike. Even the scheduled times when these classes take place act as an exclusion – a 3 pm Monday slot means you’ll have a specific lifestyle.
How people of colour are excluded from the wellness community
If you make the 3 pm Monday class (microaggressions included), you’re likely to be the only POC there; something Christina Rice, founder of wellness travel retreat company OMNoire, knows well. “When you have $120 yoga pants, $35 yoga classes that are led by a size two white woman and wellness being marketed as green juices and self-care, from the start a person of colour cannot connect to this very elitist perception.”Rice spoke about being into spin classes, kickboxing and yoga but found it a challenge to afford these classes. “For most individuals with limited income, the thing that goes first is fitness and healthy eating. Who does that adversely affect? People of Color.”‘
How people of colour are promoting inclusivity in the wellness community
But things are changing, partly because of shifts in the general consciousness, but mainly because POC are taking it upon themselves to offer alternatives that’d appeal to people like them. This was the case for Rice, who sought solace in yoga after going through burnout. After becoming a teacher, it was glaringly apparent that the industry had a representation problem. Combining her love for travel with her yoga teaching, she launched OMNoire for wellness and travel retreats.
Rice credits the growth of the Black Travel Movement for showing her that this was something people en masse wanted. “So many travel groups were formed, and it showed that you could travel well without breaking the bank,” she said. “From there, wellness travel took shape because people, particularly women, understood that travel is a form of self-care.”
The world of self-care for POC has often been underserved, although the added adverse effects racism has on POC. Dr Erlanger Turner, PhD discovered that “Racial trauma is experiencing psychological symptoms such as anxiety, hypervigilance to threat, or lack of hopefulness for your future as a result of repeated exposure to racism or discrimination,” with the outcome being that those that suffer from racism can have symptoms similar to PTSD.
Creating safe spaces for people of colour
With this in mind, spaces like Ethel’s Club are more important than ever. Originally planned to be a physical space in New York, it shifted to a digital space once the early days of the pandemic hit. Founded by Naj Austin, it was born from necessity. Speaking to The Local Optimist, she said, “I had so much trouble navigating the mental health and wellness world. It seemed mainly white, expensive, out of touch and not designed with me in mind.”
From this sprang Ethel’s Club, which hosted online grieving sessions during the protests around the murder of George Floyd. Today, it hosts wellness sessions, a 24/7 TV channel and a host of resources around everything from sex & romance to spirituality. Austin later launched somewhere good, currently in the beta phase, aiming to create a social platform with POC in mind.
Due to the number of POC getting involved in the field, we are slowly seeing more inclusivity in the wellness community. The next step would be a revamp of what the word conjures. “I think the wellness space could use more authenticity,” says Austin. “A world where it’s not all matcha drinks and yoga in a field of grass.” Austin says that “Wellness is anything that makes you feel grounded, centres you, and fills you with joy.” And, by that definition, there’s no reason why it can’t be for everyone.