Wellness is incredibly trendy right now. You can hardly scroll down any social media feed without seeing positive mantras, a variety of smoothie-selfies, and sneaker shots next to weights with the hashtag #GettingItIn. While it might be annoying — depending on your friends’ list — this isn’t a bad thing. More than just a hashtag, wellness focuses on self-love, self-care, healthy living, and improving mental health. And even though it is a trend, it’s one that almost everyone can benefit from. It is not, however, one-size-fits-all.
There are many external factors that need to be considered on the path to wellness. One of the most important should be a positive relationship with your medical provider. For women of color, however, this is sometimes a difficult feat as we are disproportionately affected by an overall lack of proper care and attention. It is no secret that some diseases affect black women more than the majority — heart disease, stroke, diabetes, fibroids, breast or cervical cancer, as well as mental health issues. In addition to this, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families, black women are three to four times more likely to die in pregnancy-related deaths than white women.
But pregnancy and childbirth aren’t the only risks to black women’s health, breast cancer is a looming threat, too. “While white women are more likely to receive a diagnosis of breast cancer, women of color have a higher mortality rate,” says Julie Voss, Executive Director for Susan G. Komen Houston. “According to available data, breast cancer mortality is about 40 percent higher for African American women than Caucasian women in the U.S.” Black women also tend to be diagnosed at later stages when the treatments are limited and more costly with a poor prognosis.
Environmental factors also play a part in the increased health risks for black women, and black people as a whole. “It is staggering how black communities are disproportionately affected by health risks related to environmental factors, such as living near toxic refineries or near freeways that have a lot of traffic pollution,” says Teju Adisa-Farrar, a Jamaican-American writer and geographer whose work focuses on the intersection between environment and cultural equality. “As a result of residential segregation coupled with environmental racism in the U.S., black people are more likely to live in neighborhoods primarily inhabited by black people and downwind from industries that pollute the air.”
Making wellness more welcoming
Taking all of this into consideration, one would think that the wellness industry would embrace those who seem to need more encouragement to take time out for themselves. But it appears, at times, to do the exact opposite. The way women of color are often mistreated and ignored can lead people to believe that the culture of wellness is not as inclusive as it looks on the surface. It can also make it harder for black women to seek out self-care options for themselves.
“As a black woman, I understand first hand how it feels to not belong within certain spaces,” says Brittney Cofield-Pool, a community psychologist. “This sentiment has reverberated throughout the wellness groups I am apart of with so many black women feeling left out of the larger dialogues regarding holistic health.” Pool recently decided to become a yoga teacher to create opportunities and resources to her community through a practice that can be both adaptive and accessible to meet the needs of the diaspora. “Especially since the preservation of black mental health is such a crucial component of restorative justice. We cannot thrive in the face of adversity without a solid well being,” Pool said. Through yoga, Pool hopes to strengthen the hearts of black women in her community in order to cultivate self-compassion.
“As I see the black yoga teacher community growing, I am also bearing witness to the reclamation of our collective health journey. It is centered on cultural responsiveness, connectedness, and activism,” Pool says. “The larger goal as a teacher is to create communal intentions that breed more love, openness, and acceptance among black women.”
While wellness should indeed be accessible to everyone, to many, it often looks like a luxury instead of a necessity. This fuels the myth that taking care of your mind and body is a form of elite care that is only granted to the few.
“We need more diversity in the space of wellness so that more people can understand it is okay and they are good enough to make the self-care commitment in their lives,” says Dr. Nekeshia Hammond. “True self-care comes in a variety of forms. Yes, sometimes expensive or luxury, but also free, at-home, staycations, and really an overall mindset to take care of one’s self.”
Most of these forms of self-care have been around for ages and are finally coming to the forefront, and despite the stereotypical image of a thin, blonde woman on the beach sitting in the butterfly position, yoga, meditation, and other mindfulness trailblazers were people of color.
Access to quality care can be a privilege
Women of color are typically expected to be strong, able to handle whatever life throws their way. But this mentality often leaves many of them too stressed to rest or prioritize their self-care.
“With these messages, women of color don’t take the time they need to exercise daily self-care and if they do it, they feel guilty,” says author Keisha Blair. Her book, Holistic Wealth, was inspired by the death of her husband, who passed at 34. “After my husband died when I was 31, just 8 weeks after I gave birth, I found that the support systems in place were lacking and that we needed to go back to the place of wellness and embrace.” But it’s hard to return to a community you’ve never felt a part of in the first place.
In 2016, Achea Redd, wife of former NBA star Michael Redd, was diagnosed with depression and generalized anxiety disorder. Ashamed of her condition, Redd (who also suffered from eating disorders as a teen) hid her condition which led to a full-blown breakdown. On her road to healing, Redd started a blog to talk about her mental health journey.
Thanks to her husband’s success, Redd has had access to the best modalities for treating pain, lessening anxiety, and getting better sleep. “It really is a position of privilege that I feel blessed to have, but that’s why I work so hard to make accessibility easier to attain for others,” says Redd. As the founder of Real Girls F.A.R.T. [Fearless, Authentic, Rescuer, Trailblazer], Redd hopes that her access can open pathways to other women of color to feel worthy of wellness, too.
“Mainly, we just aren’t taught what wellness is, nor are we taught that we have the right to it,” Redd says. “The ‘wellness’ lifestyle is viewed by some as a luxury or excessive: ‘It’s for rich white women who have nothing better to do with their time or money. The numbers don’t lie, and mental health issues are continuing to rise every year, especially with the youth. Life is also much faster now, with social media now being the focus for so many people. Although social media was created to connect us, it has ultimately made the culture more lonely and isolated, which then lends itself to people wanting to feel more grounded.”
While those in wellness spaces slowly make room for people from all communities to participate, it’s important for women of color to carve out a place for each other, reaching out to sisters and introducing them to self-care and self-love in various forms. Whether it’s taking a walk in the park, praying, reading a book, or taking a long bath, it’s important that we remind communities that there are paths to wellness to take that don’t depend on socioeconomic status. Despite the trends, posters, and hashtags, wellness is not a commodity. It is an essential tool for everyday life and we are all worthy.
Kit Stone is a 90s obsessed storyteller, born and raised in the Bay Area. A descendent of Rock n Roll Hall of Fame royalty, you can find Kit tucked in the corner at a concert with a camera in hand, or on the couch binge-watching reruns of Living Single. Follow her on Twitter @KitStone.
Get Shondaland directly in your inbox: SUBSCRIBE TODAY