Democratizing Wellness

By Anisha Chandra

When you think of wellness, what do you think of? What images and thoughts pop into your head? And who do you think of? 

Maybe it’s green smoothies.

Waking up early, putting on Lululemons, and doing yoga.

Your local soccer mom stopping at Whole Foods on the way back from Barry’s Bootcamp.

The superfoods aisle of the grocery store. 

Maybe those images align with what you imagine and maybe they don’t. Either way, they contribute to the stereotype of wellness that our society tends to have: thin and fit people, expensive items, and typical health foods like smoothies and salads.

Early Morning - UCLA Total Wellness

But not everyone lives to get stronger, has the money to purchase specialty items, or enjoys replacing their meals with a smoothie. That’s why when people don’t enjoy the practices that tend to dominate the health and wellness scene, they end up thinking that living healthfully isn’t for them and they aren’t the “type” to do so—which is clearly an issue. 

So if you want to learn whether it’s possible to be healthy without yoga or kombucha, this article is for you. Just kidding—for the record, it is possible. It’s about time that we stop associating health and wellness with a certain type of person or an exclusive set of products and practices. It’s about time that we rethink what wellness means for every individual.

So if you want to reflect on accessibility and inclusivity within the wellness scene and find out what you can do to combat an industry that seems to prevent access based on wealth and often lacks diversity, this article is for you. 

Lunges on the Beach - UCLA Total Wellness

What is wellness?

According to the Global Wellness Institute, wellness is “the active pursuit of activities, choices and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health.” [1] It’s all about making intentional choices as we strive for a state of optimal holistic health. Nothing about this definition favors a specific type of person, so why is it that some individuals feel like the wellness space isn’t for them? 

The fact that the stereotypes intertwined with health and wellness are problematic first dawned on me at the beginning of June, when the Black Lives Matter movement was at its height and conversations about race and identity were occurring at dining tables across the nation.

Some of the challenges being discussed online included the portrayal of wellness as financially inaccessible to certain groups, the cultural diversity of the community, and the identities that intersect to form everyone’s individual circumstances. There is plenty to unpack here, but the bottom line is this: wellness should be attainable by anyone and represented in a more welcoming way. Debunking the stereotypes and ideas society tends to believe about health and wellness won’t be easy, so let’s discuss the challenges we face and what we can do to approach them. 

Challenge #1: Money

The most glaring issue when you hear the words “accessibility” and “wellness” in the same sentence is the fact that health is so expensive––or at least that’s what it often seems like. Organic produce often costs more than regular produce. Some healthy recipes call for protein powders and other specialty items that aren’t in most households. And attending fitness classes at the trendiest studios may carry costs that are difficult to justify. 

There is no doubt that such items will stay expensive and the wellness industry will continue to market them as necessary for achieving good health. Yet while we can’t change prices, we can change our perspectives. Maybe you want to spend your money on spin classes and the wellness shots at your local juicery, but if you don’t, that’s fine too. There is always an alternative. 

Supermarket - UCLA Total Wellness

Did you know…  

contrary to what a glance at your local specialty health store may tell you, a diet based on whole foods is actually quite affordable. There are many foods at any grocery store that are both inexpensive and affordable—especially if you buy in bulk. Instead of buying protein powder, buy eggs and beans. Instead of trying to buy fresh organic produce all the time, try frozen fruits and veggies. Even if they don’t carry the same price tag, these alternatives can be just as nutritious! [2]

The takeaway: Make healthy choices, but don’t be hard on yourself for not being able to splurge on the latest wellness trends. Work with what you have and what you can do.

Challenge #2: Culture 

To me, part of wellness is being comfortable with your cultural identity and owning it, but the wellness scene in America doesn’t seem to have captured the diversity of this country yet.

In kindergarten, I often opened up my lunch box to see aloo paratha—jealous of my classmates’ classic PBJs and lunchables. Like many first-generation immigrants, I wanted to conform to what was considered a typical American lunch, but couldn’t deny that I enjoyed my mom’s food.

This classic school yard story is only the beginning of what many BIPOC individuals face again and again when they look for healthy recipes or receive health advice only to find themselves exploring a space that highlights people who don’t look like them and ideas that don’t take their background or traditions into account.

For example, only 1 in 5 registered dietitians are persons of color. So whenever another person of color asks for health assistance, it is likely that they’ll receive recommendations that don’t align with their cultural backgrounds. [3]

Buddhist Yoga - UCLA Total Wellness

Wendy Lopez, registered dietitian from Food Heaven, puts it perfectly: “When wellness is constantly marketed as a white woman who is eating really exclusive food, people don’t see themselves represented in that.” [4] When people see a landscape full of others nothing like them, it’s understandable that they may feel discouraged. By increasing the diversity in the landscape as well as encouraging everyone to honor the traditions and culture they’ve grown up loving, wellness can appear more attainable. 

Did you know...

If you search for certain key terms, like “healthy,” “vegetarian", or “vegan,” recipes and blogs by White content creators dominate Google search results. [5] This remains true even when the searched dish is from a non-White culture. Contrary to the representation of plant-based diets in the media, a larger percentage of persons of color identify as vegan or vegetarian, both in the USA and the world. [6] In fact, several cultural dishes are already inherently healthy, but this is often not highlighted in the media portrayal of healthy diets. 

The takeaway: Be proud of your heritage and make an effort to learn about other cultures. Pay attention to the people your food and ingredients come from. Find ways to make popular wellness concepts fit your identity rather than reluctantly changing your identity to conform to the trends. 

Challenge #3: Everything Else

Beyond socioeconomic status and ethnicity, we all carry multiple identities that affect the way we experience the world. Not everyone can thrive under the stereotypical, mainstream idea of health perpetuated by society. 

Someone’s neighborhood may be too dangerous to walk or run outside. Someone else may be balancing multiple jobs and school work, with little time left for much else. And someone else may be struggling with their mental health, body image, or relationships. We all carry different identities and have unique circumstances, so what we do to become the healthiest version of ourselves depends on that. 

Hand - UCLA Total Wellness

Did you know...

The definition of wellness by the Global Wellness Institute includes six dimensions: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, and environmental. [1] While wellness is often thought of in terms of nutrition and fitness, physical health is only one of the six dimensions that are key to wellness. Given our individual circumstances, we may feel the need to prioritize some of the dimensions of wellness over the others.

The takeaway: Everyone has the agency to find what feels healthy for them and should do what they feel works best. Doing yoga or drinking kombucha may help some people, but ultimately, we are all the writers of our own steps to optimal wellbeing. 

What do I do?

There are aspects of this issue we can’t control. We aren’t setting the prices of products nor can we reverse a stereotype that has been built over decades in one day. However, there are some small things we can do:

  1. Be active instead of passive. If you attend a fitness class and notice a lack of diversity amongst the staff and attendees, don’t shrug it off––bring it to the attention of the higher-ups. 

  2. Recognize your privilege. This may be uncomfortable if you identify as part of a marginalized community, but we all have some form of privilege. By recognizing it, you are paying attention to what you can access rather than what you can’t. 

  3. Understand that there is always an alternative to acai bowls, expensive workout clothes, and everything else. A healthy lifestyle is not always an expensive lifestyle.

  4. Seek out diverse perspectives. If you get all your wellness information from people who look a certain way and eat similar foods, it is likely that your perception of wellness is shaped by them. By exploring the websites, influencers, or podcasts you look to for recipes or other healthspo, you may encounter perspectives you resonate with better than those highlighted in the mainstream. 

  5. Support businesses that promote diversity and inclusion. In a country where consumer culture is prominent and attitudes are shaped by the way businesses market themselves, it couldn't be more important to support businesses that are making strides towards a more diverse and inclusive society. 

Bottom Line

So when you think of wellness, what do you think of? What images and thoughts pop into your head? And who do you think of? Maybe your answer has changed, maybe it hasn’t. Regardless, the wellness landscape has to change to better reflect our increasingly diverse society and we can all be a part of making that happen. So let’s do it together.


  1. “What is Wellness?” (n.d.).

  2. “19 Clever Ways to Eat Healthy on a Tight Budget.” (2017).

  3. “Registered Dietitian (RD) and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) by Demographics.” (2020).

  4. “Dietitians Wendy Lopez And Jessica Jones Are Making Health And Wellness Accessible.” (2019).

  5. “Dear White Vegans, Stop Appropriating Food.” (2020).

  6. “What Percentage of Americans Are Vegetarian?” (2019).

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