Hey, I’m Kris. For those of you that don’t know me, I have been a public health professional for the past six years. Currently, I am the director of wellness services at a prestigious college in the Northeast and a wellness consultant for colleges, businesses and startups. Contrary to popular belief, one does not become a wellness director by getting a degree in eating kale, and/or reaching the heights of nirvana. Wellness programming has a basis in public health theory and should always be based in evidence, not the most current health fad.
In my department, we pride ourselves in being holistic; by integrating general medical services with acupuncture, nutrition and one-on-one consultations. We also provide health education and conduct research so that young people have the tools and information to make their own decisions about their health. To the general public, however, the term wellness professional is synonymous with being a yoga doing, smoothie drinking, pizza-hating chick; which is the farthest thing from the truth.
When did the concept of wellness become so pigeonholed, so commercial, so acculturated and main stream?
Every time I try to design marketing material for a new campaign, I type in “#wellness” and scroll through the first 100 photos to see the newest images that pop up.
Despite the search medium, the images, without fail, are always the same !!! :
White chicks doing yoga, Bros lifting weight, acai berry yogurt bowls, protein shakes, fancy salads, supplement ads, and before and after weight loss photos. Gross! & Incredibly Predictable!
NEWSFLASH PEOPLE: FITNESS AND NUTRITION ARE NOT WELLNESS!
Fitness and nutrition are components of wellness, but they do not define the wellness field.
Guess what else? Wellness is inherently intersectional because every individual defines wellness for themselves and has the right to choose the practices that best fit their lifestyles, cultures and beliefs. Some of the oldest wellness practices, such as meditation and yoga, originated and existed as a part of the cultural framework of the global majority. So why is it that when I type yoga into google images: the first 50–60 images are of white women?
The lack of POC representation in the wellness field, creates an exclusionary, and one-dimensional standard of wellness. Too often I encounter students and/or clients of color that feel that wellness is inaccessible to them for a variety of reasons. Some of the most common are as follows:
- Practicing wellness or self care is selfish.
- Practicing wellness or self care is a luxury that people of color cannot afford. (It’s expensive or takes away time from self improvement such as work or school.)
- STIGMA .
Tribe, wellness is for everyone. Putting your body and mind first is the key to a successful career and a long, healthful life.
The definition of wellness is going to vary depending on where you are in the world. The snack that uplifts a person’s spirit in the Caribbean may not be a $ 6.00 bottle of kombutcha, but instead a slice or two of plantain. Just because plantains are not being advertised by some social media influencer as the right food choice, does it make it less of a wellness food?
Also, why does there seem to be a hierarchy of wellness activities that one can participate in? My wellness activity of choice may not be yoga or soul cycle but instead walking, dancing, or fellowshipping over a meal while netflix binging.
Just because my definition of wellness differs from yours, does not make it wrong. So stop inviting me to yoga class. I don’t want to go, I just don’t like it. I can still be a A-1 wellness professional and still hate yoga. End of story.
While everyone can have their own definitions of wellness, one of my favorites is by John Valenty (CEO of wellness.com): “Wellness is the result of personal initiative, seeking a more optimal, holistic and balanced state of health and well-being across multiple dimensions.”
No one achieves wellness, if they are not SEEKING a more BALANCED STATE OF HEALTH AND WELL-BEING.
Thus, wellness can not be lazy. It is an action, a state of being that we actively strive to achieve everyday. You don’t wake up one morning and decide, “I am going to be well today” and that’s that. No. The journey isn’t going to be beautiful everyday, just like you don’t get perfect hair days everyday, despite your efforts. Each day you make a choice to try. Sometimes you may fall, or fail but when you do, pick yourself back up, be kind to yourself, and try again.
Wellness is diverse. It is global and it is respectful of people, culture and beliefs. No two bodies need the same type of wellness in their lives, but everyone does need a few things: a little movement, food in proportion, time to breathe and relax, healthy sleep, companionship and leisure. Stop limiting wellness to the commercialized crunchy, fitness and body shaming definitions that exist. Expand it to include activities that make you happy and optimizes your definition of a happy, healthy lifestyle. All things in moderation of course. Eating a perfectly baked chocolate chip cookie might make you happy, but ten might be pushing it out of the wellness zone into a “well-less” one.
Coming full circle, the issue with commercialized wellness is that it is just a snapshot of the bigger picture, a means to an end, mainly focusing on the external and superficial. Wellness is not supposed to be a qualifier or a judgment on life or try to fit you into a box. It should not focus on what you put into your body or how it looks but rather how you exist and find purpose and joy in your daily life. This is wholeness rather than wellness. A full discussion of wholeness is a whole other post but to quickly summarize: Wholeness is maintaining balance in all aspects of our physical, mental, spiritual and financial well-being while maximizing joy and fulfillment.
It doesn’t matter who you are, what your waist size is, or what color skin you may have: Each and every one of you is WORTHY OF FEELING WHOLE, PRACTICING SELF-CARE & BEING PHYSICALLY, MENTALLY AND SPIRITUALLY WELL.
GO out, LIVE your life, ENJOY good food and Be Happy in ways that make sense to you.