Why We're Overdue For More Diversity In The Wellness Space

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Despite our need to take better care of our mind, body and spirit, why are we still not seeing enough of ourselves represented in the spaces that will help us do so?
Briana Owens Oct, 24, 2018

Self-care — both health and wellness — for Black women is a necessity. On top of living with our social traumas, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health states that Black women have the highest rates of being overweight or obese compared to other groups in the U.S.

Statistics also show that people who are overweight are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, increased levels of blood fats, diabetes and cholesterol which are all risk factors for heart disease and stroke. This is alarming because these are all preventable diseases, yet, we remain underrepresented in the wellness space with few brands highlighting diversity, and even fewer speaking to us about our specific challenges.

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Despite our need to take better care of our mind, body and spirit, why aren’t we seeing more of ourselves represented in the spaces that will help us do so?

The fact is, Black women experience life much differently than women who are typically highlighted as the epitome of wellness. Our cultural traumas are different, our health concerns are different, our hair textures are different, our body types are different, and we need to be communicated to in ways that resonate with who we are. When thinking of diversity and inclusion it’s no longer acceptable to include a token Black girl in a picture or hire one person of color in a fitness center to fill the “diversity” quota. We need to see every version of ourselves represented to remind us that we too deserve to be well!

In the same way that we want to see ourselves reflected on the big screen, in politics, on runways, in business, we need to see ourselves in gyms, health facilities, and advertisements promoting wellness. The media often only shows one version of what healthy looks like, but that is not our reality. There isn’t just one version of healthy, and not only does that need to be shown, it needs to be celebrated.

While the world feels like it is in chaos with the divisive political landscape, I can’t help but to feel optimistic watching the societal changes brewing under the surface. There is an undeniable shift happening as people are banning together to demand more diversity and inclusion from brands they love and industries that they support.

The need for diversity in the wellness space is one that is near to my heart, not because I love working out, but because I know the impact the lack of diversity has had on our community firsthand. I’ve watched generations of women that I love, in my family and otherwise, suffer from ailments that could have been prevented if they had been properly represented and educated in the basics of wellness.

I remember when my grandmother called to tell me about getting a port implanted into her arm because her kidneys were not properly functioning, and she might have to receive dialysis. I obviously had heard the term many times before, but like many people, I brushed it off as something standard – a cultural norm, that someone in everyone’s family gets. Without knowing much about the procedure, or what it meant for her, I still felt unsettled. She tried to be brave and pretend that she was fine, but I could hear the worry in her voice as she tried to accept what her new reality might be.

As I reflected on my grandmother’s diagnosis, the commonality of this narrative in our community, and the number of people who have to face this reality, I couldn’t help but wonder what my grandmother’s story would be if she was told to care about herself and her well-being instead of caring for everyone else. What if she was told that she mattered? Would her story be different? I wondered what her story would be if she had grown up with visuals of women who looked like her, with thick legs and brown skin, promoting wellness.

There is power in seeing yourself reflected. Representation gives us hope for new possibilities and the courage to try. The more people there are who look like us, in spaces to educate and assist us on how to make changes, the more comfortable we will feel with wellness, and the more likely we will be to truly improve generational health and shift the ‘cultural norms’ of the Black community, both mentally and physically.