Navigating Diversity and Inclusion in the Wellness Industry
As with many others like myself, the on and off lockdowns combined with an isolating academic schedule has often left me feeling burnt-out. After an emotionally rocky 2020, I decided this year had to be different.
The missing piece
I had signed up to be a Wellbeing Champion and looking through the six ways of well-being: connect, give, take notice, be active, be healthy and learn and discover – I realised I was doing nearly everything. For connect I was probably over connected – there is always a group chat, always a group call, always a catch up or well-being “check-in.” I was trying to regularly perform acts of service to people around me, so I was giving my time and have also recently started donating to health related GoFundMes. To take notice and be healthy, one of the suggestions was to stay off social media and I had no problem at all doing that for hours or even days at a time. For learn and discover, I always read an article or listened to podcasts on my interests – fashion and interiors. I had also learnt a lot in terms of social media marketing and my Canva skills are perfect (even if I say so myself). The only thing really missing was Be Active and so I thought this was it, the missing piece.
Finding the perfect fit
Due to shielding and corona anxiety, I found it impossibly hard to go for a walk and so I decided to start my active journey from home. Scrolling through TikTok for inspiration I saw thousands of videos on workout routines on “how to get abs in 14 days”, “how to get rid of hip dips” and thousands of recommendations for the famous Chloe Ting workouts. Feeling overwhelmed and already exhausted, I turned to my friends for suggestions. It turns out Yoga and Pilates were the two most frequent suggestions; yoga particularly came with claims of being a 2-for-1 deal – you get active, and your mind becomes centered.
After I began my yoga journey, what struck me was the number of white instructors. I thought surely if this is an ancient Indian practice the most popular yoga YouTuber had to somehow represent the culture, but I was wrong. I’ve been doing yoga a long time now and I’ve scrolled through thousands of videos and I have not seen a single person of colour (for reference I have been taking yoga seriously for about a month). I decided, ok maybe the YouTube algorithm was to play as it is known for notoriously drowning out people of colour. So, I tried Instagram instead. On Instagram there are over 200 million hashtags for yoga. The posts under hashtags are randomized and there is not necessarily an algorithm to the results. Yet, the results were the same. Turns out if you want to see a person of colour on a yoga mat doing a dancer’s pose you have to search with race incorporated into your hashtags for example #blackinyoga. What’s worse is when you go on popular yoga pages that repost videos or promote brands they promote one look – white, thin, petite, and identifying as female.
Moving on from YouTube and Instagram I decided to try apps. But while YouTube and Instagram gave me a sense of connection with people – I could actually put a face to the yoga instructor, apps were somewhat dystopian. There’s something a bit black mirrorish about a CGI model telling me in a computerized voice to relax, breathe and have a great day! And what’s worse is that my phone is already such a great source of stress and distraction, surely it can’t be the source and the solution? The solution to being burnt out or overwhelmed from notifications isn’t to get another app with another notification inviting you to practice today. Furthermore, most of these apps require a subscription or in app purchases for the full experience. So, there I was back on YouTube, feeling the way I did growing up all those years ago with whitewashed copies of teen Vogue – like I didn’t belong, this wasn’t for people like me and I was somehow a fraud.
Seeing a new picture
Reaching out to other wellbeing champions, I came across a recommendation for Jessamyn Stanley (she/her according to her website) yoga videos. I had never heard of her but I was excited to try out another yoga instructor who is both a POC and body positive. I clicked on her most popular video (300k views ) titled “yoga for self love” in collaboration with Health magazine. While the whole self- love movement has become saturated, this video felt genuine and refreshing. She kept reminding us that it is ok to fall, (and even did a little fake fall) as long as we pick ourselves up. This was exactly what I needed to hear after starting to feel discouraged by the whole wellness movement. So, I decided to pick myself back up and actively look for D&I in yoga and wellness. Whilst it’s true that representation may not be as much as I want or as convenient as I want it to be, but it’s worth searching for. Here are some of the people I’ve come across in addition to Jessamyn that I recommend – IsaWelly, Hitomi Mochizuki,FitTuber, and Arianna Elizabeth.
By Valerie Peter-Akhigbe