As a 24-year-old Black woman I, like many other Black women I know, did not grow up discussing important subjects like mental health, proper nutrition, and intergenerational healing. “Wellness,” the $4.2 trillion dollar global economy, was a foreign concept. For me, wellness meant getting my physical every month, eating my favorite fruits, and occasionally visiting a therapist when life got too out of control. But a recent break down in my health, triggered by the physical, financial, and emotional stress of working as a full-time entrepreneur, led me on a mission to explore ways to live a healthier lifestyle. That’s when I realized a disturbing flaw in the mainstream wellness industry: A stunning lack of Black women.
If you Google “wellness influencers,” the dozens of photos that pop up are overwhelmingly white. White women doing yoga. White women smiling over green juice. White women posed serenely with plants. If you’re a white woman looking for advice about your hair, skin, mental health, lifestyle changes, or self-care, you have a seemingly endless stream of content to peruse.
It’s a different story for women of color. If you’re a young Black woman like me, there are far fewer opportunities to find artfully curated content on Instagram related to our hair type, skin type, or overall well-being. There are far fewer opportunities to feel seen in the wellness world.
That historic lack of Black women in the wellness space isn’t just about followers and #sponcon dollars—it matters to women like me. The lack of visual representation of Black women in wellness has discouraged me from fully exploring what wellness means in my life. On the rare occasion that I did take yoga classes in high school (typically offered in predominantly white neighborhoods) I was surrounded by white women. It felt like they already had their own bond with the practice and with each other. “I was surrounded by all white everything for the majority of my first several years of practicing yoga,” says Lauren Ash, the founder of Black Girl In Om. “I became a yoga instructor and started BGIO because I wanted Black women to know that yoga is for us, that wellness is our birthright, that self-care, self-love, and self-empowerment are things that we do.”
For all the times I’ve felt like an outsider in the wellness world, I have—like so many other Black women I know—written it off as “white people stuff.”
“I think a lot of times when black women go into spaces where they don’t see themselves, we don’t fully release, we don’t fully breathe,” says Deun Ivory, BGIO’s artistic director and founder of The Body a Home for Love, a community that uses wellness to empower black sexual assault survivors. “In order to really practice mindfulness and be in a space where you can prioritize your healing and prioritize your self care, it’s important that you feel seen, it’s important that you feel celebrated and heard. You can only do that with a woman who looks like you.”