Wellness as an industry is something that’s primarily marketed towards the white upper class. From beauty to spirituality the industry gives off the impression that it’s for privileged people only.
Of course this isn’t the intent of many in the industry, but the vast majority don’t even consider people of colour. As the marketing norm continues several companies have revealed themselves to be insensitive or outright exclusionary towards anyone but rich white people.
How Did We Get Here?
When ‘wellness’ first started being marketed to women a few years ago (think Goop) the target audience was upper middle class white women. Those were the women with enough expendable income to spend on spa days and meditation retreats. Having more wellness in their lives was emblematic of a ‘perfect’ lifestyle. Yet as the wellness movement and community have expanded, the marketing hasn’t. The companies that remain most prominent in wellness gatekeep the industry whilst inundating us with pictures of slim white women drinking cappuccinos.
What started out as people offering information and services on a small scale has suddenly boomed. But despite this the wellness community remains pretty small. In an industry where everyone knows each other racism and classism become blatantly clear.
Speaking from only one perspective means that their products and services can only cater for one portion of the wellness demographic. Most brands have a personal feel, and often involve the founders leading things themselves, making it glaring obvious when people are being pushed from spaces. The prejudices of one person can quickly become the prejudices of the entire brand.
In 2018 have to be wilfully ignorant to decline to engage with people of colour. Just a few months ago Lacy Philips from Free And Native was called out for her lack of diversity and insensitivity to racial issues. Instead of learning from these mistakes Lacy insisted that she was ‘beyond’ racism. Essentially brushing off any complaints with an affirmation of being enlightened. The company doubled down on this stance and after a week or so refused to speak further on the issue. Of course this resulted in droves of people, myself included, being put off from the brand and the work of Lacy herself.
Why’s This an Issue?
People from less advantage backgrounds deal with daily stresses that those more privileged often cannot understand or even begin to fathom. The need for wellness and a focus on wellbeing is there, it just isn’t being met.
I believe that wellness and caring about one’s wellbeing should be an option for everyone. Unfortunately with many helpful tools being solely available for one demographic this makes it a lot harder for the rest of us. I for one know tons of people who’d love to be able to take life-coaching courses, or spend more time doing yoga, or even have easier access to eco-friendly products. However if the current trends in wellness continue then this will never be possible.
Whilst many people in the community believe they’re being impartial by remaining silent what they’re actually doing is exacerbating the issue. By not speaking up about issues you’re actively allowing people to be exclusionary and racist. In the sense of racism you’re either for it or against it. Watching it happen and doing nothing is being for-racism. Dismissing the real accounts of people of colour as mere ‘complaining’ is being for-racism. Allowing yourself to believe that you’re somehow too enlightened to deal with racism, is being for-racism. These might be tough pills to swallow but inaction really is just as bad as discrimination itself.
So what Can We Do?
Make Informed Choices.
The companies and people you support make a huge impact. If you want to support inclusivity but only engage with brands that’re proven to be insensitive, then you’re part of the problem. There’s still room for people to be educated, but money speaks louder than words. Many companies won’t take note until they notice that a lack of inclusivity does actually affect their image and ultimately their income. Why support racist people when you can just…not?
If you see an issue please speak up! Whether that’s engaging in conversations about race or calling out problematic behaviour. Through voicing your concerns you’re making it clear that racism and other prejudices aren’t welcome in the community. That gatekeeping and further marginalising people isn’t something that can be accepted any longer.
If you’re white you need to pay attention. I’m sorry but the time for passivity is over. As the wellness community continues to expand those in privileged positions need to be helping others. Rather than ignoring or making light of their issues. When it comes to marketing brands pour hours of time into their image. It’s never a coincidence when brands only market showing white people. These things are much more common than a lot of people realise, you just have to pay attention.