Wellness Should Be For Everybody
You don’t need to live in New York City – where boutique fitness studios and spas dot every corner of certain neighborhoods – to know that “wellness” options are highly available but deeply inaccessible to most. From yoga classes that cost more than $30 dollars a pop, to endless athleisure brands that don’t go above size XL, to cycling studios that seat their participants based on “experience level” (relegating the newbies and non-conformists among us to the back row), there are many reasons the wellness industry doesn’t feel inclusive.
At Body Politic, we often talk about how to change this culture, and we’re not alone in this mission. Increasingly, the concept of “accessible wellness” is becoming more popular as people begin to critique the non-inclusive, high-priced nature of most wellness options. If you work in the wellness industry or an adjacent industry, it’s possible you’ve heard the phrase “accessible wellness” before. But, what does it really mean?
In many ways, the wellness industry has been defined as a movement for thin, upper-middle class, straight, white cis-women. There are several reasons female-identifying people gravitate toward wellness. For one, the medical establishment tends not to take them or their medical concerns seriously. Many of the women who defined the mainstream wellness movement in its early years, like Gwyneth Paltrow, were responding to health issues in their own lives (like postpartum depression) that they felt the medical establishment was unequipped to treat.
However, the incredible wealth of women like Paltrow has had the (perhaps unintended?) effect of steering the conversation away from inequality and discrimination in mainstream medicine, and toward niche, expensive trends like goat milk diets and yoni eggs. This is shitty for several reasons. First, it makes wellness seem inaccessible to many populations – arguably the populations who can benefit from it the most (those experiencing systematic oppression, for example). Second, it makes alternative medicine and wellness seem like something that’s easy for the public to scoff at, often through a sexist framework.
It was these currents that motivated me to start Body Politic, a queer, feminist wellness collective and event series (and home of Body Type). The accessible wellness movement (which we at Body Politic like to think we’re a part of) is about democratizing wellness and centering the conversation around voices that have previously been dismissed – the voices of people of color, low-income folks, LGBTQ+ populations, people with disabilities, fat and plus-size people.
It is especially important to include marginalized populations and voices in wellness work, particularly because many of these same populations actually created and developed the wellness trends currently being appropriated and adopted by a majority white, mainstream wellness industry. I’m talking about self-care practices that originated with Black Panthers and feminist activists, herbs and potions that have been used medicinally in communities of color for centuries, and mindfulness practices that have been divorced from their rich cultural histories.
Luckily, there are a number of groups and organizations here in NYC and across the country working to make wellness more accessible in a variety of ways. Scroll down for some of our favorite accessible wellness offerings in the fitness and movement worlds…
HealHaus is a wellness studio + cafe in Bed Stuy, with donation-based programming and a diverse group of wellness practitioners. Founders Elise Shankle and Darian Hall were interested in creating a community-minded space that would be inclusive and focused on serving communities of color in Brooklyn.
Pop Gym is a pop-up fitness group that offers free self-defense and martial arts workshops geared toward women, PoC, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. All their offerings are free, because they believe that everyone should have the self-defense skills necessary for survival. For more on Pop Gym, check out the event we held with them in April 2018, and stay tuned for upcoming collaborations…
Body Love Yoga is a body acceptance based yoga practice that offers a four-week body-positive yoga tutorial you can do from the comfort of your own home. Instructor and founder Anna Chapman writes that the yoga video series is “a brave space for marginalized large bodies to learn about themselves, practice joyful movement, and be in community together.” Their current four-week program is sold out, but you can sign up to receive info on their next program here.
Oya Retreats is a company that offers holistic wellness retreats for Black women and women of color. Based in the U.K., Oya retreats take place all over the world.
Women’s World of Boxing is NYC’s first privately owned and operated all-femme boxing gym, located in East Harlem. Women’s World of Boxing is a beautiful and vibrant studio, but it is not your average boutique fitness boxing studio. Coach Reese Scott founded the gym to replicate a “real deal” boxing gym, where folks can learn to train and spar. Needless to say, the mission at Women’s World of Boxing isn’t about burning calories, it’s about learning to fight. Women’s World of Boxing also offers free after-school classes for teen girls.
Black Girls Pole is a group dedicated to celebrating Black folks in pole-dancing, and providing a platform for women of color to embrace their bodies. Founder Dalijah Franklin created the group because she felt there was not enough representation of Black women in the pole industry. Check out their event programming here.
Shaktibarre is a yoga and barre studio and “femme empowerment hub” with locations in Brooklyn and Harlem. Shaktibarre is focused on promoting an anti-diet-culture form of fitness, and offers sliding scale pricing for students who make less than $60K.
Well for Culture is a grassroots indigenous wellness group based in Arizona, that seeks to ‘reclaim and revitalize indigenous health and wellness’ practices. They offer free workout tutorial videos you can do on the go, guides on re-indigenizing food practices, and have a blog where they discuss issues in the wellness industry, as they relate to indigenous populations.
Fat Girls Hiking is a hiking group with pop-up chapters around the country. Founded by a fat, queer woman, FGH provides hikers with information on size-inclusive hiking clothes, local trails, and – most importantly – a community of like-minded folks to hike with! If you’re interested in getting involved with Fat Girls Hiking, or joining the new NYC chapter (we needed one!), check out how to do so here!
For the purposes of this piece, I wanted to focus on fitness and movement offerings, but there are also a number of accessible wellness groups focusing on skincare, mental health, and holistic healing. I’ve linked to a few, but there are of course plenty more. And on the topic of food and nourishment, Body Politic is hosting an event on October 3rd at Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD) in Brooklyn, where we’ll be hearing from chefs, healers and activists in the culinary world!
Before I started connecting with accessible wellness brands and organizations, I felt very alone in my pursuit of physical wellness because it often led me to spaces that didn’t make me feel mentally or emotionally comfortable. Since I exercise primarily for the mental health benefits, this seemed like a really bizarre trade-off. The more I talked to friends and co-workers in my city, the more I realized that my experience was the norm. Most of the people I knew were under the impression that they either had to suck it up and go workout somewhere that generally made them feel uncomfortable and bad, or forgo exercising in an indoor environment altogether.
In our opinion, the groups above are helping pave the way for a new, inclusive, accessible and diverse wellness world. We at Body Politic are excited to partake in them and share them with you. But there’s still a lot of work to be done, and more perspectives to be incorporated in this new vision of wellness. For example, access to wellness options and spaces for those across the disability spectrum is still severely limited.
We want to elevate the work of all such groups, increase awareness of resources, and create a cohesive, inclusive wellness community – both online and in the non-digital world. If you have a group or business dedicated to expanding the wellness world, please feel free to reach out to Body Type. We would love to profile and help promote your work so that we all can have access to the wellness options that are right for us and none of us have to spend another cycling class involuntarily suffocating in the back.
Fiona Lowenstein is the Founder and Events Director for Body Politic. She is a freelance writer, editor, and producer based in NYC. When she's not programming and producing Body Politic events, she spends her time cooking, trying over-hyped fitness classes, or walking one of the many pups she sits for. You can follow her on Instagram @monochromatic_sweetie.
Alexandra Rodríguez is an illustrator from from Puerto Rico currently living in Brooklyn, New York. Alexandra’s main focus on her personal art is design and illustration. You can find most of Alexandra’s work on Instagram: @catscratchale (website under construction). For commissions, collaborations, or questions you can send an email to: email@example.com.