Toxic White Womanhood in the Wellness Industry

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By Jen Gurecki

My future self might wonder why I’m choosing to write this piece given the backlash that’s about to make its way through a fire hose directly into my inbox.

I write this because White women need to hold other White women accountable for their words and actions that not only put communities of color at risk, but continue to marginalize and oppress them. We, White women, hold an immense privilege that beckons us to consider what we do with it.

Some reflection before you begin reading:

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If I’m not talking about you, then I’m not talking about you. Don’t let your defensiveness get in the way of thinking about how you too can show up in a different way.

I’m not writing about any one particular person, but if what I write describes you, then I am 100% talking about you.

When I use the term “we,” I am referring to White women.

I don’t speak for communities of color; they have spoken for themselves. I am simply amplifying what people like Rachel Ricketts, Maisha Z. Johnson, Nisha Ahuja, Susanna Barkataki, Sonya Renee Taylor, Janya Kahn, and others have written and spoken about for years.

One pocket of privilege that is worth examining is the health and wellness “community.” I use the term community to acknowledge the deep and meaningful relationships that have been established between people. We must also recognize that health and wellness as a global industry is significantly larger than the pharmaceutical industry, coming in at a whopping $4.2 trillion as compared to $1.2 trillion. We should not underestimate that power, particularly when we know how money and power can influence public discourse.

As someone who regaularly practices yoga, meditates, carefully considers my diet, buys all my veggies at the local farmer’s market, hasn’t been to a doctor outside of the gynecologist for perhaps my entire adult life, reads my horoscope, and follows astrology like it’s my personal bible, I would consider myself “into” health and wellness. Through my practice of daily social justice learning, I have become aware of toxicity that has permeated the health and wellness community at the hands of White women. (If you have no idea what I’m referring to, specifically read Do Better by Rachel Ricketts; she dedicates chapters to this issue and includes ample resources on her website.)

The problems within the health and wellness community existed long before Covid-19 became a daily topic of conversation. But anti-vax perspectives only stand to amplify the real issue: the toxic behavior of White women in the health and wellness industry who coopt Indigenous, Black, and Asian cultures, while at the same time harming those communities of color.

Many of these White women will tell you that they are against vaccines because they are protecting their community. My question for you, though, is when you say you’re protecting “your community,” who is that exactly? Does it extend outside of your close circle of friends and colleagues? Does it extend into under-resourced areas in your backyard? Have you considered the Indigenous communities whose land you recreate and live on, whose cultural traditions likely contribute your livelihood? What about the communities across the globe that don’t have access to the resources that make your life fundamentally pleasant?

The reality is that the collective “we” and “us” that White women refer to tend to only include other White women with resources. When advocating for “our” community, White women often are not referring to the person washing their dishes of that delicious farm-to-table meal, who may not pay the rent that month if they miss a few days of work because they are sick.

We all know the majority of people will not die from the current, dominant strains of Covid-19. Unfortunately, we know that Black, Latine, and Indigenous communities have a higher likelihood of suffering from serious symptoms, including death. That leaves those of us who have access to resources in a very different position.

We can afford to take the time off work if we get sick. We may set our own hours, perhaps work remotely, or may not work at all. Paying our rent isn’t dependent upon us showing up at a job five days a week that doesn’t include unlimited paid time off. We can homeschool our children or enroll them in private school. We can access cutting edge Western medicine or traditional medicine (that also comes at a very high financial cost). We have always had the time and the resources to prioritize our personal health, putting us in a demographic that is less likely to become seriously ill from Covid-19.

The $4.2 trillion health and wellness industry only exists because of the knowledge and cultural richness of Brown, Black, and Indigenous communities. Publicly sharing anti-vax sentiments, particularly when those sentiments are sponsored and paid for, is yet another way that the White health and wellness community steals wealth from the marginalized communities. We rob people of their futures when families lose primary caregivers or lose their life savings to medical bills or lose their livelihoods.

To be in service to the communities who have enriched our lives so deeply requires us to stop spreading misinformation about the vaccine and acknowledge that what may work for us doesn’t work for everyone because of our privilege. Getting vaccinated isn’t necessarily about protecting ourselves; it’s about protecting other people. And that is the definition of community.

~ Jen Gurecki holds a master’s degree from Prescott College and dropped out of their PhD program when she realized that being a CEO was more productive than being a grad student. She’s been featured in Outside Magazine, Huck Magazine, and Entrepreneur Magazine as one of the top 50 Most Daring Entrepreneurs. She spends her evenings wondering what Joan Jet would do and reminiscing about that time she cycled across Africa.

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