A conversation about equity and inclusion in the wellness industry
On Wednesday, October 19th, the Museum of Fine Arts hosted The City Talks: Equity in Wellness at Hibernian Hall in collaboration with YW Boston. The event was heavily inspired by the MFA Obama Portraits exhibition, as well as Michelle Obama’s legacy, including her emphasis on wellness for communities of color. The event included a discussion about how to make the wellness industry more inclusive.
The panel featured Boston city leaders who have made an impact in the wellness industry:
- Dr. Anouska Bhattacharyya, Vice President of Programs, YW Boston
- Ashley Mitchell, Founder of the Courage Campaign
- Lisa Simmons, Director of the Roxbury International Film Festival
- Heather White, Founder and CEO of TrillFit
Amaka Ubaka, Emmy award-winning journalist and 7NEWS anchor, moderated the panel.
Moderator Amaka Ubaka introduced us to the conversation through her lens as a Black woman in the media, and a daughter of immigrants like Heather and Anouska. The movement in emotional intelligence, work-life balance, and self-care are hard to digest for many of us who were raised to people please, to work until you drop, and to be grateful for anything.
Panelists discussed their experiences as women of color in the wellness and fitness industries, including the challenges they faced as well as the strategies they used to make these spaces more joyful and inclusive. Panelist Heather White shared her perspective on the fitness and wellness industries’ systemic and capitalistic structures, which have historically focused on a very specific and unattainable standard of beauty, usually centered on White able bodies.
Heather and her partner Mel co-founded TrillFit with the goal of bringing different communities together and creating a safe space where everyone can be themselves without judgment. TrillFit has been described as “forging a new kind of industry” and “using capitalism to undo capitalism,” as Heather puts it. Heather, a Black woman and the daughter of immigrants, did not even refer to herself as a fitness professional or business owner, instead categorizing her work as social justice and liberation, something her other panelists resonated with well.
Check out a recording from The City Talks: Equity in Wellness
Fitness, sports, and wellness have all played important roles in Ashley Mitchell‘s life as co-founder and CEO of the Courage Campaign and Director of the Movement School at Down Under Yoga. Ashley previously worked for Soul Cycle but left because it felt too exclusive. Ashley’s description of her initial trepidation about speaking up about an industry that promised to do better but consistently let people of color down was a powerful moment during the panel. Ashley cited a recent quote from musician Lizzo, who stated that she realized there was no representation for people like her in this space and concluded, “It’s going to have to be you!” Ashley wrote about the topic back in 2020 for Boston Magazine, Boston Wellness Is White Washed, Now Is the Time to Be Better.
Incorporating equity into your everyday practice is something we can all commit to as managers, leaders, businesses, and employees. Anouska Bhattacharyya spoke to this from their perspective as a Vice President of Programs at YW Boston but also as a queer, immigrant, leader of color in Boston. “Eliminating racism behooves all of us but it upsets people because this system we live in has been built so that a sense of power is predicated on diminishing others. We should build a system that is not so fragile.” Anouska defines wellness as authenticity; wellness is equity and equity is wellness. In addition to highlighting inequities, Anouska also hopes to see more Black and Brown joy represented in the wellness industry. Every day, Anouska incorporates these practices into YW Boston’s programming and curriculum as we continue to amplify the voices of those whose stories have been ignored or shrouded in trauma.
As YW Boston works to eliminate racism and empower women, we expand our programs and mission of amplifying the voices of those who have historically been marginalized in the workplace. This winter, we will release a report on Workplace Inclusivity, which will be led by our Engagement Fellow, Aminata Kaba. The report is based on data gathered from surveys and focus groups of people of color who work as hourly-wage employees. The findings of this report will be used to inform our program curricula and will be a useful resource for anyone looking to advance workplace inclusion.
As Anouska’s work and words highlight, wellness is not just about fitness but about community and acceptance as well. Lisa Simmons spoke to these ideas during our panel discussion from her perspective as the Director of the Roxbury International Film Festival and the Color of Film Collaborative. Lisa is a fourth-generation Bostonian who spoke about the amazing initiatives she has seen come out of the mayor’s office, which has the most diverse cabinet this city has ever seen. Lisa’s point of view as a Bostonian is one we’ve all heard: this city was built on immigration and families settling here rather than being transient. Being an outsider is especially difficult. Tribalism and community, on the other hand, can be a powerful tool for collaboration and support. As a mother, Ashley echoed the importance of community and knowing when to lean on others and find your tribe. Lisa highlighted that as a Black woman herself, she understands the burden many women of color face to take care of so many people and forget about themselves.
Boston has changed so much in the last 100 years but has always been a place for those to find community. It is with that message, that we should continue this conversation. There are seats at the table and if you’re not getting asked to sit down, it’s time to build your own table.
Interested in exploring this topic? Check out the resources below.
- The Fitness Industry Needs To Confront Its Structural Racism (bustle.com)
The Yoga Journal cover that showed me the wellness industry’s racism — Quartz (qz.com)
- These Fitness Pros Are Making the Workout World More Inclusive (shape.com)
- Ilya Parker (@decolonizing_fitness)
About YW Boston
As the first YWCA in the nation, YW Boston has been at the forefront of advancing equity for over 155 years. Through our DEI Services—such as InclusionBoston and LeadBoston—as well as our advocacy work and F.Y.R.E. Initiative, we help individuals and organizations change policies, practices, attitudes, and behaviors with a goal of creating more inclusive environments where women, people of color, and especially women of color can succeed.