Wellness and White Feminism

It's no surprise that health disparities exist in the U.S. among different races considering institutionalized racism. Gentrification, food deserts, climate change, and lack of access to healthcare disproportionately affect people of color. These problems are deep with historical roots and numerous other intersections that make them hard to understand. In fact, researchers often excuse the complexity of institutionalized racism as a cop-out

Let me start out by checking my privilege. My nationality, citizenship, skin color, socioeconomic status, health, sexuality, and more put me in a position of privilege especially when talking about wellness. I am doing my best to learn and challenge my own biases and blind spots every day. I also know that I cannot and will not speak for others whose experiences I cannot understand. What I do want to say is that the health and fitness industry is not diverse, nor inclusive, and we need to do better.  

Search "fitness" on Google images. 

What do you see? White women. Try it for yourself and keep scrolling. You'll notice that it's also generally one body type. Advertisements suggest that "good bodies" - represented by healthy, able-bodied white women - are earned. There are so many topics to breakdown here, but I want to start with the one I come across most often with other fitness professionals - white feminism.

What is white feminism, you ask? 

White feminism is a set of beliefs that allows for the exclusion of issues that specifically affect women of color. It is "one size-fits all" feminism, where middle class white women are the mould that others must fit.  It is a method of practicing feminism, not an indictment of every individual white feminist, everywhere, always. (Battymamzelle

This idea that every woman can be fit if they just work harder, eat these foods, and invest more money is commonplace even in the body positivity community. It ignores the institutionalized oppression coming from so many different directions. 

How often do you see women of color on the cover of health and fitness magazines? What about gym advertisements? We often fail to see how food is a political issue, how access to healthcare is unequal, and how women of color are excluded from the body positivity movement

Body-positivity is about understanding that we need a basis of knowledge for how ableism, racism, colorism, cissexism, and heterosexism play into our concept of beauty and how those forms of oppression deeply affect the way that we experience our bodies. (Everyday Feminism)

As a fitness professional - especially one with white privilege - it is important to understand service provider privilege. As service providers, we have access to information and skills that we used at our discretion. In order to provide the best guidance for a client, we must be constantly checking our biases and privilege. We also have to be more representative in our marketing and resources. These are the images we share with the world, and we have to think about what we want them to say about the services we provide. 

When I say "we," I'm hella including myself. I will continue to educate myself, but I also ask that you please let me know if you see something I can improve upon or if you feel something is off. Also, if you just want to talk about this stuff, I want to talk too

Further reading: 

Learning, Moving, FeedingErin Thomas