• Tshepang Pooe

Why representation in wellness matters + free journaling prompt guide

Hey sis!

I just wanted to start by holding space for you. I'd like for you to take a moment to ask yourself how you're feeling. Are you overwhelmed? Are you angry? Are you content, or even happy? Regardless of the global circumstances, whatever you're feeling is valid.

It is a difficult time right now. The world seems to be reaching some sort of climax - it's as though the collective unconscious is about to experience a breakthrough. This can come with heavy emotions for all of us and part of being well is processing those emotions. So in addition to talking about the importance of representation in wellness, I'll also be putting together some journaling prompts that you can use to unpack everything that's going on for you internally.

In this post we'll discuss...

. what representation is + why it matters

. access for women of colour to wellness spaces

. why it's important for us to be represented in wellness

What is representation?

I thought I would start just by defining representation. The term 'representation' is used in the context of giving a platform to disadvantaged groups of people. This could be the representation of black people and people of colour, women and women of colour and disabled people, to name a few.

Typically, disadvantaged groups of people are under-represented, or are completely un-represented, in mass media. Think about most of the movies you grew up watching - seldom was there a black person in the cast. Think about the toys you played with as a child, or if you're like me the number of black children who were in your classes at school. Like I mentioned, representation isn't just about race. But for the purpose of this post we'll be focussing on the inclusion of black women and women of colour in wellness spaces.

Why does representation matter?

Everything in society is intimately connected. The fact that women of colour are under-represented in the media is actually just a symptom of a much larger social issue. If our lives were valued to begin with, then we would see our faces in the media we consume just as much as we see white women's faces.

I consider representation to be important because it's kind of like a factor that really determines the extent to which you truly feel like you belong. If I'm paging through a magazine and all I see is white women with bodies that don't look like mine, then it feels to me that I was not considered in the creation of that edition. It's kind of like "well they didn't think of me, so clearly I don't matter to them." Just one instance of this is not really a big deal, but the issue is that as a woman of colour, or a member of any other disadvantaged group, this characterises the bulk of your experience. All these experiences that were created without considering the interaction of your identity with the particular experience accumulates to a lifetime of being told that your presence is not valued.

It's these smaller-scale interactions that point to a larger system of discrimination against us, and which perpetuate that very discrimination. Lack of representation happens because the powers that be of society have collectively decided to erase our existence; this mindset trickles down into pretty much all corners of our experience.

Access to wellness for women of colour, now and historically

Personally, I find it frustrating and disheartening that there a very little women of colour operating in this space.

Firstly, I think it would do well to ask why things are like this to begin with. My assumption is that as black people, wellness is something that became a luxury, by virtue of circumstance. The legacy of racism is poverty and sticky (untrue) beliefs about ourselves, among other things. With poverty it means that money can only be spent on essentials. With remnants of the oppressor in our unconscious mind, we may have internalised false beliefs that we don't deserve to be taken care of, or to take care of ourselves.

This comes up particularly strongly for me in the whole narrative of the strong black woman. Inasmuch as it admirable that black women are so strong, I think it's also important to look at why our mothers and grandmothers, and through generational inheritance, we might also hold onto the need to be a pillar of strength. I mean, I think it's safe to say that black women have gone through a lot these past couple of centuries. And it's not like we're in a particular shortage of discrimination against us in the present day.

I also like to think of how we, as young women of colour, might be affected by the historic struggle that our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers have endured. I believe that unresolved trauma gets passed down generationally. In this sense, all of the beliefs about needing to be strong to survive also live within us, despite the fact that we haven't necessarily lived through some of the things that they did. So I think that when to comes to wellness and self care, we also need to ask ourselves the extent to which we believe that we are worthy of being taken care of. Especially in this current political environment, where general trauma and unresolved pain are being re-awakened, we are provided with the opportunity to reflect on how we can better show up for our wellness and validate our overall existence.

Why are we not being included in these spaces?

I made the point of thinking about why wellness may not be accessible to us, presently and historically. But, there is also the question of why the industry is not trying harder to include us. This brings us back to looking at the importance of representation in wellness.

I can only go so far as to think that privilege is debilitating. In the sense that comfort doesn't beg you to step outside of your comfort zone and consider the experiences of other people. Practically speaking, many of the wellness podcasts that I listen to are hosted by white women, and they mostly have white guests on their shows. Now, I love the work that these women are doing because it delivers incredible value to me. But that doesn't negate the facts - diversity is an afterthought for many players in this industry, if it is even a thought at all.

We shouldn't be afraid to raise concerns such as this, because sometimes people just aren't aware of how they're contributing to the success of systems of oppression. Although it shouldn't always be our job to point these things out, as the ones who have the shorter end of the stick, if we feel compelled to speak, we should. My personal stance is that when we do raise our voices we should first try to speak with love and compassion. That being said, I do get that sometimes things need to get a bit more lit for change to come into effect. It's contextual, and we should use our discernment wisely if we choose to take a stand.

Why is it important for us to be represented in wellness?

Just as much as not being represented in wellness can have the effect of making black women feel like wellness is not for them, I think that the opposite can also hold true. Have you ever been to a yoga class and been the only black person there? It's really uncomfortable and makes you feel like crawling into your skin. You might choose not even to return to that class because of how out of place you felt the first time. But imagine if when you walked in you were met with a black female instructor, and there were some other students in the class who looked like you. Wouldn't you feel so much calmer? Wouldn't you feel like that space was created with you in mind? I imagine that you'd be way more likely to return to that class, because you felt comfortable and your presence was validated.

I think it's important to dismantle the idea that a black woman's lot in life is to be strong and endure suffering. Self care and wellness are for us too. Strength is a beautiful quality which is essential for all of us to possess. Yet gentleness and the need to have our cups filled is also equally valid. When we don't hear voices that sound like our own and see faces that look like ours coming from wellness spaces, we feel excluded. It feels like yet another space that has been occupied by whiteness and where we are not welcome. And if we do put on our brave faces and valiantly declare that we also deserve a seat at the table, we can't relax and just breathe. Our presence in that space is a form of protest, whether or not we want it to be. And at some level, conscious or unconscious, we are aware of this. I firmly believe that we deserve spaces where we can just breathe. Where we can walk in and take off the masks that we sometimes have to wear to get by in the world. This is why I think it's important that we see more women of colour in wellness, because our beings matter and we too deserve to be well. Seeing other black women taking care of themselves lets you know that it's okay for you to pause...that it's okay for you to unlearn that your strength is all there is to you.

The mission here at Hey sis

This is why I've taken it upon myself to create this space for us. We aren't educated about wellness in our communities; in fact it can sometimes be quite a taboo. But this doesn't have to be the case and it takes only a few of us showing up for ourselves to show others that it's safe for them to follow suit.

As much as I want to create a space in which all women feel welcome, I feel like it's important for me to be deliberate about holding space for women of colour. Because there aren't many places where we can go and simply feel like our presence is ackowleged and valued. And where we feel like we are being spoken to, and our needs are being catered for intentionally rather than as an afterthought.

So yeah, my hope is to create a community where we can grow and become better, healthier versions of ourselves together. The more of us join in, the greater the magnitude of the ripple effect that we can create on transforming perceptions of wellness in our communities.

Thank you so much for showing up and hearing me out sis. I hope you have a lovely weekend full of rest + self care. I would love it if you could share this post with one or two sisters in your circle. That will be so helpful to get the Hey sis community growing.

Remember those journal prompts I mentioned at the beginning of the post? You can get them by clicking right over here.

All my love

#wellness #wellnessforwomenofcolour #representation

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