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The fitness, wellness, and beauty industries pride themselves on helping people look and feel their best, but they can often create environments that do not feel welcoming and inclusive to all. Our goal is to amplify Black voices in the wellness community and draw attention to any moments of discomfort that can help lead to positive changes.
We wanted to find out how business owners, fitness instructors, stylists, wellness practitioners, and community members alike can help improve these industries by highlighting real stories—both negative and positive—to provide perspective into marginalized experiences in wellness. We reached out to MBUnited, a diverse council of minority and allied team members dedicated to promoting intercultural dialogue, awareness, and opportunity for minorities.
Here, three team members share their stories.
The lack of representation in mainstream media has been a longstanding battle against inclusivity. Many beauty advertisements, social media accounts, and magazines depict photos of blonde, thin, white women with long, straight hair. This is an issue for many reasons, as it sets a false standard of beauty that neglects most people in this country and seems to exclude them from the beauty market.
Not only that, but many women with textured hair have trouble finding a properly trained stylist who is respectful and inclusive in their practice. Antoinette Little, Technical Business Analyst at Mindbody, shared:
Hair shrinkage is natural for women with textured hair, and the tighter the curl, the more shrinkage you will have. For many years, images of white women with long, straightened hair have dominated, causing insecurity amongst black women. Being a black woman with long curly hair, I've experienced going to busy salons where I've been told ‘we don't service people with your type of hair’ while running fingers through my hair with disgust. As a result, causing me to be extremely self-conscious about the maintenance of my hair and the people I choose to service it.
Walking into a salon should be an exciting and comforting experience. These businesses and stylists exist to help us look and feel beautiful. If they are up-charging or turning some of us away, they are contributing to the false standard of beauty represented in the media and creating an environment that not only excludes but creates longstanding insecurities in Black women.
Group fitness is also often associated with one type of person. We see images of super-fit men with big biceps and six-packs, or skinny, blonde yogis in expensive athletic wear. Many have walked into fitness studios and felt out of place, whether because of their weight, age, skin color, background, or even clothing. This feeling can be reinforced—or diminished—by the type of instructors working in these businesses.
If a business is owned or operated by a diverse staff, it can provide an environment that is welcoming to all types of people. According to Nicole Ely, QA Analyst IV at Mindbody, “If you don't have a diverse staff, the chances your staff will have bias issues are WAY stronger.”
When asked about a wellness experience that stood out as welcoming and inclusive amongst the rest, many of our MBUnited team members mentioned diversity among staff, clientele, and social media.
I took a pole/aerial silk fitness class in New Jersey. The studio has since been closed, but it was the most welcoming experience I'd ever had. The studio was run and operated by black women. I'd never been to a studio run by black women, so the novelty appealed to me. The fact that they were so welcoming, patient, and encouraging made me feel like aerial silks weren't so scary and that they could be for me, a plus-sized black woman.
In classes, I noticed there were women of all different shapes, sizes, and backgrounds, which made the class fun and interactive. Instructors never brought attention to any particular group or individual and played music that wasn't tailored to any specific genre. Oftentimes, I've attended workout sessions when instructors see too many Black faces, and they assume Rap is the type of music the group wants to work out to.
And Derelle Davis, Business Operations Specialist at Mindbody, said, “I love seeing fitness studios whose advertisements and social media looks like a melting pot.”
From diversity and inclusivity of staff, instructors, and clientele, to music played and images on social media accounts, there are so many ways businesses can contribute to a more inclusive environment for all.
If you’re an instructor, stylist, or business owner, be aware of these issues. Whether it’s remembering to encourage everyone equally, educating yourself on unconscious bias and how to eliminate it, or training on how to be a better ally, every step counts toward making positive change in the wellness industry.
When asked how businesses can do better, Ely suggested, "Hire external trainers to talk about bias. Study up about issues in wellness concerning black people and people of color. AND LISTEN when people of color are talking about what they want from their experience.”
Davis specifically mentioned giving each member of fitness classes direct eye contact and encouragement: “Saying something kind and simple like, ‘We're happy to have you, enjoy the class!’ can go a long way.”
If you’re a client at salons, spas, or fitness studios, you can also do your part to increase inclusivity and create a more welcoming environment for all.
If you walk into an establishment, and you see a person of color waiting, and the practitioner calls you up first, ask if you're in line after that other person. Call attention to the fact that someone isn't being seen. Don't support businesses that have race issues. Just because they're comfortable or familiar to you, let them know with your dollars that they need to be comfortable and familiar to everyone in the community.
And while your personal interaction with an establishment can go a long way towards promoting inclusivity, it also helps to marshal the support of friends—and the World Wide Web.
“Invite your friends to help add to the diversity, and write reviews not only explaining the service but including your ethnicity," encouraged Davis. "Personally, if I see Jane's Salon has a stylist that knows how to style African American hair, and they have a great review, I'm going to give them try.”
Over and over again, the message from our respondents was clear: sustained, intentional change from businesses requires sustained, intentional action from its clientele. Being clear about what you’d like to see from a business, leaving reviews about what you have seen, and voting with your wallet can all make a huge difference. As Little put it:
1. Engage with the business and its owners by providing ideas for improvement and feedback on the service you received.
2. Promote the business to your friends and social media groups. If business owners start to see a diverse group of recurring customers, they'll be more prone to expand the quality of service they're providing.
3. Don't give up easily! Once changes are made, business owners will sustain if forced to.
Overall, the wellness industry is supposed to exist to help everyone look and feel beautiful, safe, healthy, and welcomed. At Mindbody, our goal is connecting the world to wellness—not just the blonde yogi or shampoo model.
We all want to be well. And we all want each other to be well. But, in order for the wellness industry to feel attainable and inclusive to all, some changes need to be made. And these changes start with all of us.
In the words of Ely,
I want to support your business. I want to feel beautiful and fit. I want to have an amazing experience at your business! If you don't see people of color at your establishment, if they aren't coming back after coming in once, DO THE DEEP DIVE AND ASK WHY! Look at your staff. Look at your products. Look at your fitness plans. Do your homework and figure out if you can build the same experience for white people AND people of color with the tools and staff that you have. If the answer is no, fix it, and don't just write POC off as a ‘not our target clientele.’
Wellness transcends physical fitness. It’s a dedication to social, emotional, spiritual, and environmental well-being—everything that makes each of us and our communities whole. True wellness cannot be achieved while Black people face ongoing injustice. This is why we fight for Black lives.
Kyle House Fitness is Chattanooga’s premier fitness program offering group fitness classes and personal training with the best-certified instructors and trainers in the area. Located on Chattanooga’s thriving Southside, Kyle House Fitness is more than a gym, they pride themselves on building a welcoming and inclusive community. The owners of this gym, Kyle House and Kyle Miller (AKA The Kyles), may sound familiar to you since they recently wrote a blog post for us on how to be an LGBTQIA+ ally in the fitness space.
Since they happen to be one of the most influential duos in the fitness industry, we were eager to sit down and learn more about what wellness means to them. Ready to get to know The Kyles better? Let’s dive in.
We have always had a love for fitness. From an early age, we were both very athletic (swimming, gymnastics, and cheerleading). Once we graduated, we slowly transitioned into training young athletes and then later started working on our careers. Kyle House started personal training at a large gym and began building a solid career as a personal trainer and groups fitness instructor. Kyle Miller started working in marketing and communications ranging from politics, law enforcement, and tech becoming a leading public relations professional. After working in their fields for about 10 years they decided to combine their love of fitness with their experience and built one of the most successful fitness facilities in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
During our time working at other gyms and visiting other facilities that many were either missing qualified and motivating trainers, topnotch customer service, or a workout that was balanced and would lead to results for everyone whether they were casual fitness enthusiasts or hardcore athletes. We are motivated on a day-to-day basis by the idea that we can always be better. The experience can get better, the community can grow stronger, and we can continue to show people that fitness is more than just a way to look good, it's therapy.
Wellness to us has always been about leading a life that is balanced. It's not all fitness, it's not all work, it's not all fun... it's not all healthy food, it's not just junk food—it's about finding a way to reach your own personal goals while still having a healthy relationship with fitness, friends, family, and food—otherwise known as the four Fs.
If you're in the Chattanooga area, you should definitely check out Kyle House Fitness to take your wellness routine to the next level. You can book classes on the Mindbody app or through their KHF app.