Hello dear friends!
This topic has been on my mind for a while now...okay, a few years, tbh, and I’ve put off writing a blog about it simply because it’s so hard to find the words. It’s hard to talk about privilege. Especially when it requires you to examine your own privileges, and call out those in your community on theirs. But here we are. I couldn’t put it off any longer.
I want to talk about privilege. Specifically as it pertains to the health and wellness industry, and healing from chronic illness. Because there is a lot of it. And it’s negatively impacting people who genuinely need help.
It’s important to note, if you didn't know this already, that I’m writing this as a relatively privileged white, cisgendered, educated, middle-class person. My struggles are not the same as those who are overtly affected by the dynamics I want to talk about in this post. But as someone who benefits from current power structures at play in our culture, I felt that it’s part of my responsibility, as a coach, a healer, a writer, to talk about this stuff.
So here goes.
We have a problem in the health and wellness industry. Our practitioners, our conferences, even our imagery, is overrun with one certain type of person and experience. It’s overwhelmingly white. Cisgendered. Able-bodied. Wealthy. Thin and toned. Educated. You get the idea. You’ve probably noticed this too. And maybe you’re upset about it, as I am.
Thanks to the circumstances of my birth and upbringing, the color of my skin, and the schools I attended, I had, and continue to have, options. Yes, I’ve experienced my own struggles, through debilitating illness, divorce, unemployment, and bankruptcy, but overall, my privileges have remained intact. And even though I am part of several discriminated groups, my participation in the wellness industry is only made possible because of my privilege. I have access to holistic practitioners and education on natural healing methods like herbs, essential oils, and energy work. I have access to fresh produce, to clean water, to adequate medical care. I have access to safe housing and buildings and facilities that I can maneuver with ease.
I have access to quality cannabis products, without fear of criminal charges or legal trouble. (permit me a quick aside on this topic itself…) I personally use cannabis for managing pain, anxiety, and inflammation. It is a powerful medicine, and I recommend it to many of my clients. However, not everyone has access to this medicine, and many people are left out of a booming cannabis industry because of the color of their skin, the way they talk, the neighborhood they live in, etc...People of color are being locked up in DROVES over marijuana charges, while good-looking white people are able to flaunt their cannabis use all over the internet. This needs to stop. Okay? Okay. Now, where was I...
I cannot even imagine what my healing path would have looked like, had I not been so privileged. There are WAY too many (probably well-meaning) practitioners who shame clients for taking prescription medications, or eating cheap, processed food, without even considering that that may be the only things they have access to. I’ve been on food stamps, and I can tell you, it’s hella difficult to eat fresh, healthy food on that kind of budget. Healing is not cheap. It is not convenient. And often, it doesn’t fit into lifestyles that include working multiple jobs, raising children, caretaking aging parents, navigating abusive relationships, or other difficulties. Millions of people live in food deserts here in the U.S., without the ability to find fresh, healthy food. Many people don’t even have holistic practitioners in their towns, and probably couldn’t afford them if they did. Meanwhile, tons of moneyed white people are buying $15 superfood smoothies, and complaining about the fit of their $100 yoga pants. Sigh.
Personally, I’m tired of listening to podcasts, watching interviews, and going to health conferences where white, cis, male, and otherwise privileged people dominate the conversation. I’m tired of going to yoga class and not seeing a single person of color, nor a single body over a size 10. I’m tired of being a part of an overwhelming majority in the wellness industry. I’m tired of scrolling through Instagram and seeing thin white girl after thin white girl, documenting their expensive medical treatments, or openly smoking weed, or showing off an impressive yoga pose. Meanwhile, our disabled, queer, fat, black, brown, trans, and poor sisters are....where? I don’t see them in the pages of health magazines. I don’t see them invited to the stage of major health conferences. I don’t see their work published in journals, or on the shelves of my local bookstores. I don’t see their pictures blowing up on wellness-related social media channels. And it’s damned well time for this to change. (Obviously, I know these people are out there. It's just that they're not featured equally in the industry)
You may be wondering why on earth I care about this stuff. Why does it matter to me? Aren’t I comfortable in a system that blatantly favors my appearance, my education, my skin color? Aren’t I more at ease in an industry where most people look like me? Yes and no. Obviously, privilege comes with some amount of comfort. Yes, the system benefits me on the whole. But upholding this “tradition” isn’t serving any of us in the end. And speaking of tradition…
It’s time for more of us white, European-descendant people to acknowledge the healing wisdom we’ve learned, and where it comes from. Especially any of us who work with herbal medicine, aromatherapy, acupuncture, or energy medicine, it’s important that we honor the cultures that we have borrowed these techniques from. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t the wealthy white elite that discovered that ingesting certain plants can cure disease, or learned how to distill oils from flowers, or mapped the body’s energy systems. This truth comes despite the fact that most herbal companies, essential oil companies, and other natural health product companies are run by able-bodied white people. One of the many effects of colonialism.
It’s also time for those who work in advertising and design to bring some diversity to the wellness industry. We want to see a larger swath of people represented in commercials, in print, in social media, that are promoting health-related stuff. And can we PLEASE stop with the sexist, ableist, racist stock imagery??? Seriously, I have such a hard time finding photos to use for my blogs and posts that aren’t of conventionally pretty, young, subtly sexualized white women. But that could be a whole other blog post...
In the end, I truly believe that the vast majority of us in the wellness fields have good intentions. We want to help. We want to serve. We want to heal. But it’s time to take a wider view, and check our privileges. It’s time that we really examine how our words and our actions may be contributing to a culture of exclusion, and upholding current power structures, even if those things may benefit us. It’s time to cast our nets wider, when looking for clients, for people to interview on our podcasts, for people to feature in our magazines. It’s time to lobby to decriminalize marijuana, for more comprehensive disabled access, and to end food deserts.
We all have a voice. And until ALL voices are heard equally, those of us who are at the front of the line need to do better. Because if we don’t, health, vitality, and optimal wellbeing will only belong to the privileged few, when really, it should belong to everyone.
What are your thoughts, friends? Have you made similar observations of the health industry? What are some ways we can all do better?
To a more inclusive future...
~ Hoping you feel as well as possible ~