The health and wellness industry appears to be disproportionately, and overwhelming white, with people of color all-too-often, left out of the mix. Disparities in health outcomes for black women are even more problematic. It shouldn’t be this way. That’s why we’re introducing a special series “Melanin Rich Wellness” to help celebrate some of the key black American female influencers and pioneers making a difference today.
Historically black Americans — and distinctly, black females have suffered from significant disparities and neglect when it comes to our health. Back in the day, instead of making our health a priority, we were instead used as hosts of experimentation. (Not sure what we’re talking about? Look up Henrietta Lacks. And then read about Dr. J. Marion Sims . . . The list goes on.) Black women are more likely to suffer and die from almost any ailment you can name from heart disease to breast and other reproductive cancers. Sexually transmitted diseases are being passed on to women of color at alarming rates, and we’re more likely to die from complications in childbirth. Some of this boils down to economics — most of it boils down to being dismissed or ignored by healthcare professionals and the wellness community.
But standouts are changing the wellness game for everyone and especially for women of color. This month (and beyond) we’re highlighting black American wellness influencers who are making it their mission to make best medical practices, fitness, healthy eating, and self-care more accessible when it comes to minority health. Each week we’ll spotlight one of five standouts we think you should get to know better. In the meantime, here are some other exceptional change makers we think you should follow and keep on your radar (if you aren’t already):
There are trendsetters and there are standard-bearers. Massy Arias is a standard-bearer with more than 2 million social media followers. She also frequently lands on the cover of health magazines and is signed to Covergirl! Also known as MankoFit, her message has always been about inclusivity and embracing different body types and making them strong. You can witness it firsthand here in an Instagram post beginning, “I’m different…” and that’s what she celebrates, opening the door to a diverse community that is confident and excited about celebrating their differences as well.
With nearly 30 years worth of experience and literally thousands of workouts under her belt, there are almost no words to describe the influence Jeanette Jenkins wields in the fitness community. Just looking at her is an inspiration to move. She’s one of the most in-demand trainers in Hollywood because she leads through guidance. She promotes the “If I can do it, you can too” image for women of color and we’re embracing it. As far as standard-bearers go, Jeanette Jenkins is also pretty tough to match.
Dr. Chelsea Jackson Roberts
This is a pretty phenomenal woman. Her influence in the yoga world is growing exponentially. She’s a yoga educator and founder of the Yoga, Literature and Art Camp at Spelman College. She also shares the meaning of yoga with communities of color all over the country. In a recent IG post she says, “Embodied movement is my birthright. This way of knowing is deep in my flesh and is one of the biggest reasons I continue coming back to my mat. If I would have depended on seeing someone who looked like me when it came to my skin, body type, and even hair, I may have never returned. Not because Black folks like me weren’t practicing embodied and transformative practices like yoga, but because we weren’t always elevated. In 2011, I created Chelsea Loves Yoga because I wanted a space that celebrated yogis who were not typically hired, lifted, or considered skilled and knowledgeable teachers and practitioners.”
Black Girl in Om
Founded by Lauren Ash (@hellolaurenash) and Deun Ivory (@deunivory), Black Girl in Om provides a safe space for black women to indulge and celebrate the importance of self-care. Holistic wellness is often not sold as a necessity for women of color. Black Girl in Om wants to make sure that it is.
She’s only been super active in the yoga world since 2013, but she’s amassed a large and meaningful following. Simpson says in her web bio that everyone needs a nudge to be themselves and to learn to be unapologetic for who they are. She describes herself as that nudge. “My passion and purpose is to promote self-growth, mindfulness and well-being. By empowering you to take your own personal ‘Journey to Self,’ you’ll learn to silence the outside noise, look inward, and find your happy, authentic, whole selves,” says Simpson.
Nicole Cardoza is the founder of Yoga Foster which develops programs to help bring yoga inside of grad schools. She created a digital practice to make yoga more accessible to educators and academic settings everywhere. Yoga Foster also engages in advocacy and community outreach to bring more resources inside of schools. She also runs a “money positivity” platform for women to lead them on the path to financial freedom. She’s been on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list and is also the product lead for Mind Yeti, a company which develops mindful play for kids and adults.
Dr. Laura Lacquer
She’s a Harvard MD and dermatology resident at the University of Miami. She breaks down the most common skin care complaints from patients and also makes it clear that her field is about much more than Botox and fillers. In a recent post she schools us with the following rundown of a week-in-the-life: “This week alone I was doing Mohs surgery (a method of cutting out skin cancers in stages to ensure complete removal of the tumor), normal excisions, diagnosed eosinophilic folliculitis in a patient who turned out to be HIV positive, diagnosed GVHD (graft-versus-host-disease) in a patient after stem cell transplant, cleared up some melasma, biopsied a few likely melanomas, diagnosed a psoriasiform drug eruption secondary to a patient’s antiretroviral treatment, saw erythrodermic PRP, helped a new mom with her baby’s cradle cap, talked a lot of parents through the natural history of infantile hemangiomas, and saw possibly the worst keloids I’ve ever seen in my life (almost full body)….”
Dr. Jessica Shepherd
You’ll find that Dr. Shepherd likes to work out and share fitness knowledge just as much as she wants to help us pay attention to what’s going on “down there.” She’s a medical health expert and Board Certified OB/GYN who regularly appears on every major network . . . she’s also big on making sure all women, especially those of color, get the 411 on important reproductive cancer screenings.
Food Heaven Made Easy
Jessica Jones and Wendy Lopez are both registered dietitians with master’s degrees in nutrition. They live on separate coasts (New York and California) and join forces on their podcast where they talk about nutrition and healthy eating. In 2017 they released the 28 Day Plant-Powered Health Reboot cookbook. It’s a plant-based eating program filled with recipes and tips to help re-charge your organs. In 2018 you can expect to see much more of them as they embark on focusing on diabetes education and other health issues fueled by nutrition habits and “food deserts” impacting people of color.
Jovanka Ciares is an integrative herbalist and nutrition coach who promotes a plant-based, whole foods diet. You might say she creates wellness solutions through the natural foods you consume. She’s also an author of Cleanse: The 3-week Ultimate Detox Challenge.
Natasha James aims to make wellness easy with her plant-based adaptogenic snacks. She works with mostly raw foods to help benefit the body on a cellular level (get it? Raw Cells). James’ business became popular as she biked her treats around LA. Now you can find them here: rawcells.com. Her goal is to disrupt the junk food industry with healthier options that look far better than what you might find in your regular supermarket or convenience store. Looks like she just might get there!
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