The Definition of Health & Wellness from Women of Color
Written by: Ashley Corr
Though health and wellness is an integral part of all human lives, regardless of one’s gender, race, or sex, there are certain disparities in health and wellness that make perspectives on health unique to one’s identity. Not everyone has had the same experience with healthcare, available nutrition, and exercise. Not everyone has been told the same things about body image, mental health, and stress management. Therefore, depending on your community and your identity, you’re bound to have a definition of health and wellness that is true to you—a definition that illuminates personal hardships and developed wisdom.
When people hear the word “disparity” they often jump to the conclusion that it is referring to differences in racial or ethnic groups. However, NCBI affirms that it also applies to differences in “gender, sexual orientation, age, disability status, socioeconomic status, and geographic location.” That means, to get the full picture you have to take in as many perspectives as you can find from different walks of life—all kinds of different minority groups.
To start, we can look towards familiar figures to tune into how they discuss health. Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama, for example, are two illustrious black women who have used their platform to explore and promote health and wellness.
While announcing her 2020 tour, Oprah made the statement: “We can all come together to support a stronger, healthier, more abundant life—focused on what makes us feel energized, connected and empowered.” Her definition of health here extends beyond typical messages to “eat right” and “exercise.” She emphasizes that we need to feel strong, energized, and empowered—all things that make life more full and bright. She also adds that the first step is focusing on “what makes us well.” Oprah recognizes that being well is a precedent to being healthy—it’s the means to achieving our goals. Not to mention, she knocks down unhealthy body image definitions with one saying: “healthy is the new skinny!” As a woman who pioneers for eliminating self-doubt, she creates a new, restorative way for women to approach health and wellness.
Michelle Obama also has much wisdom on health and wellness and has some very concrete ideas of how to start achieving our goals on a daily basis. She explains that when it comes to health, “It’s multifaceted. It’s physical, it’s internal, it’s my diet and my emotional state—it’s all tied in together.” She, too, has an expansive scope on health, exploring how many elements health encompasses and how interconnected each facet is. The focus on the “emotional” and “internal” really fleshes out what it means to feel truly healthy and where to start. She explains how exercise is “therapeutic” for her and how emotions such as “feeling tense or stressed” or as though she were on the verge of a “meltdown” lead her to “head to the gym or out on a bike ride with the girls.” The way that Michelle Obama eases in these helpful suggestions or situations, helps define when in life you can create your own solutions. Her unique perspective really gets at what the root of what health is: managing yourself and your life by practicing self-care.
Collecting perspectives from women of color helps paint a more wholesome picture of health. There is a special angle that highlights the inclusion of personal fulfillment, emotion, and empowerment. But there is also an overarching theme of “coming together” and finding a community. Instagram blogger Yasmine Cheyenne shares that, “As a woman of color in wellness, I think it's important to be a part of the conversation of self-care and create a space where women can grow and build community.” When disparities have caused great rifts in health equality, it only makes sense that communication and connection through a community plays a huge part in reparations. She continues, saying, “With the community I've built, I share my journey and through that, we all feel connected in the discovery of navigating our individual lives as we realize we're not that different.” Health is utterly personal, but it’s easier to understand that all experiences have intersections when we find that community that will listen and make health a priority. “And that awareness,” she concludes, “helps us all heal.”