During Black History Month (and beyond) we’re celebrating today’s black American female wellness influencers. These women are making a difference when it comes to giving a face to minority health along with making wellness more accessible to diverse communities and people of color.
You might think Rachel Nicks’ focus on women’s health, and maternal health, in particular, comes with the territory of being a new mom. But Nicks is an in-demand Pilates, barre, HIIT, and pre and post natal health coach. She also happens to be a doula, so the expertise in what it takes to be a strong mom was always there.
Originally from Oakland, CA, Nicks is also a fitness model and Juilliard-trained actress with numerous film and television credits. Based in New York City, she works with various organizations including Mott Haven Academy in the Bronx and Harlem Children’s Zone — always emphasizing the importance of prioritizing health for communities of color.
Nicks has been a Women’s Health cover girl and is frequently featured in numerous other publications and on television programs as a fitness expert. She’s filled with real talk advice and shared some with us!
Sign up to receive inspiring, expert advice on living your best life from Books for Better Living and Penguin Random House.
Books for Better Living (BBL): What’s your take on a wellness industry that seems to pander to a single demographic [wealthy whites] historically? We’re starting to see some major publications like SELF step up and acknowledge disparities. But in terms of the entire industry, we have far to go. Why do you think there has been such a lack of inclusion as far as people of color are concerned, and what do you think is bringing about change, if any?
Nicks: I believe people in power lack diversity and do not think of black and brown people when they advertise. Sad but true. I also feel there is a major misconception that people of color aren’t healthy and do not value exercise. Both non-blacks and blacks sometimes play out these false ideas. For example, some of us sister girls avoid sweating profusely in order to preserve our hairstyles. But let’s not get it twisted; other races try to make their blowouts last long too.
With all of that being said, we can’t forget the impact the Obamas had on so many different facets of life while they were in office, especially health. Michelle Obama became our nation’s top role model and a major example of a black woman who makes fitness and healthy eating a priority. This empowered and encouraged everyone in new ways, but especially people of color. I credit the Obamas for a lot of that change — not necessarily redefining but serving up a reminder that healthy comes in more than just one hue.
BBL: What’s your experience been like as a POC in the health and wellness space? What needs to happen to make a significant difference in raising the profile of black experts within the wellness industry?
Nicks: I have been blessed in this field but to be honest I feel like it helped that I was the “acceptable black girl”— light skinned with long hair and a narrow frame. The fitness industry can be extremely sizeist. I have run into issues with some clients and managers and could never figure out why. It hurts but I strongly believe there have been occasions where I think my skin color played a part in a student not liking me or my confidence. “Feeling threatened” is often some of the coded language you encounter. I’m bold and unapologetic in my teaching. I’m honest and do not apologize for who I am.
At this point in my career, I’m also in a position to make a difference because I am friends with editors and other decision-makers with major influence. Having a seat at the table is critical. I am excited to educate and help move the wellness community forward along with creating more opportunities for other black women and men.
BBL: What drew you to become a health and wellness coach and specialize in the areas you chose?
Nicks: This industry chose me which was pretty awesome. After college, I decided to do a yoga training and then quickly fell in love with teaching. I love to learn so I found myself taking lots of different classes which led me also to become a doula and lactation consultant. I quickly learned when I started teaching that prenatal and postpartum women were grossly underserved. I’ve made reversing that a focus. Now I’m a leading trainer for prenatal and postnatal fitness as well as birth coaching and breastfeeding.
BBL: You recently became a mom. How has that impacted your approach to wellness, to being a doula and the information you are sharing with your social media audience? Do you think this is especially important information for moms of color who often seem to be neglected when we’re talking about health and wellness?
Nicks: Becoming a mother solidified my passion for what I do. It gives me more confidence to share what I know so that I can help as many women as possible.
The disparities in birth between black and white women are immense. The maternal and fetal death rates of black women and babies are offensive and heartbreaking. I’m doing everything I can to inform and educate all women, but especially black women about birth and breastfeeding. Doulas have become a trendy privilege for the upper-classes and that is not what it should be at all. Every woman should have access to a doula no matter her race, creed, or economic status. I am actually working with my amazing doula, Lindsey Bliss @doulabliss from Carriage House Birth, on ways to train more black doulas and try to make sure more black women have doulas. She also just came out with a fantastic birth book that all expecting mamas should have: The Doula’s Guide to Empowering Your Birth.
BBL: Who are your health and wellness inspirations and why?
Nicks: My students and clients are my inspiration. I love to learn from other professionals as well and I am a perpetual student. My true inspiration though comes from who I am serving. Fitness is physical and emotional. I pride myself on meeting my students where they are and pulling out any tool I have in my toolbox to support them. It is a symbiotic relationship. Goals are reached when we work together to achieve a unique plan for their success.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of RachelNicks.com