There Then.
Here Now.

Mainstream wellness has long lacked diversity, so little that, in 2017, it birthed a hashtag, #WellnessSoWhite. The reality: Black women are not just creating spaces for themselves; they’re reclaiming them. Consider this past-present mash-up of influencers.

By Kailyn Brown


Marie Maynard Daly, Ph.D., biochemist

Marie Maynard Daly may be best known as the first Black woman to receive a Ph.D. in chemistry in the United States, but her impact was far greater than a degree. After graduating from Columbia University in 1947, Daly went on to conduct groundbreaking research that identified the link between high cholesterol and clogged arteries. Her work unlocked a whole new understanding of how diet can impact the body’s most critical organs—and it paved the way for understanding the risk of heart attack and the effects that sugar and smoking have on cardiovascular health.

Photo credit: Archives of Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Ted Burrows, photographer

Jasmine Westbrooks and Ashley Carter, registered dietitians and founders of EatWell Exchange

Seventy years after Daly broke ground, Jasmine Westbrooks and Ashley Carter are uncovering new links between nutrition and culture. While working as dietitians at a Florida healthcare center, they noticed that many clients—people of color, mostly, often from immigrant communities—were not sticking with the healthy-eating plans they were given. “Healthcare professionals in the same position as us were educating clients on how to ‘eat healthy,’ but clients were being told to eat foods they weren’t accustomed to,” Westbrooks says. “There was no understanding of participants’ backgrounds or culinary traditions.”

And so, in 2017, the duo started EatWell Exchange. A winner of WW’s Wellness Impact Award, the nonprofit based in Miami Gardens, Florida, offers after-school culinary programming for kids and personalized nutrition counseling—this ladders up to the group’s core aim: fighting dietary discrimination. “For most people we meet, we’re the first Black dietitians they’ve ever seen,” says Carter. “As healthcare providers, we’re creating a space where patients feel comfortable enough to say things like ‘I eat Hoppin’ John.’ Until you do that, they just assume their foods are wrong, their foods are bad.”

Every interaction, says Westbrooks, should begin with building a sense of personal worth. “I say, ‘Let’s start with self-esteem and confidence, because you are valuable, you deserve to eat healthy.”


Audre Lorde, poet, author, feminist, and civil rights activist

Long before acts of self-care conjured bubble baths and lounging around in sheet masks, Audre Lorde put forth a far more sweeping vision: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

That single line, from her 1988 collection of essays, A Burst of Light, has become a rallying cry, particularly for those who are minimized by society because of race, gender, sexual orientation, or disability. It was a revolutionary notion that self-care, civil rights, and community are inextricably linked—as it’s only when people have mental and physical energy, and talk openly about their struggles, that they can help tackle societal issues and empower others to do the same.

Alex Elle, author, writing teacher,
and certified breathwork coach

If Lorde’s oft-quoted proclamation will forever live on the printed page, then Alex Elle has amplified that message digitally—through her site, via email and audio, and across social media. Deeply inspired by Lorde (so much so, Elle gave her daughter the middle name Lorde), Elle uses the written word not just as self-care but also as a means to “true healing, vulnerability, and showing up on the page to see yourself,” she tells WW.

To support her 1.3 million–strong community on Instagram, Elle’s handwritten “Note to Self” posts offer honest, hopeful reflections and intentions. Her meditations can be found on the app Ritual: Wellbeing; her candid interviews with inspiring women, through her podcast, Hey, Girl; and her discussions on gratitude for both sweet and tough life moments—from making memories to self-doubt—in your inbox through her “Gratitude Weekly” newsletter.

For Elle, self-care as a Black woman means “not carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders.” She continues: “We need one another in this life—and I think Black folks are conditioned to think that we always have to be strong. That we don’t need anybody. And that is not healthy. So, for me, self-care is about dismantling that lie, and it requires trust of self and trust of others.”

In addition to authoring four books—with a fifth, How We Heal, due out later this year—Elle leads four-week “Writing to Heal” online courses at Including audio check-ins with Elle, weekly group Zoom discussions, and access to a virtual community, the courses help people develop a self-care practice through writing.


Katherine Dunham, dancer, choreographer,
anthropologist, and activist

Known as the Matriarch of Black Dance, Katherine Dunham transformed the art form in the 1930s by incorporating African rituals, African-American rhythms, and Caribbean dances into her choreography. In doing so, she was one of the first to infuse the traditionally European-centric space with such influences. With the start of the Dunham Company, America’s first self-supporting Black modern dance troupe, she opened the eyes of global audiences to the historical roots of Black dance. But Dunham’s fight for respect and racial equality didn’t stop on the stage or in her dance studios. She refused to perform at segregated venues, used her books and many interviews to speak out against injustices around the world, and, at age 82, staged a 47-day hunger strike to protest the U.S. government’s repatriation policy for Haitian immigrants.

Amanda Morgan, dancer, choreographer, and activist

When Amanda Morgan joined the Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) in 2016, she was the only Black woman in the company. She immediately pushed back against the lack of representation, both within her own company and the ballet world as a whole. “The pieces that we dance to are often composed and choreographed by straight white men, and so that’s the only perspective that we get to see onstage,” she tells WW. In her six years with PNB, she has crashed through multiple barriers. Recently, for her role as Dewdrop in choreographer George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, she fought to wear skin-colored tights instead of traditional pink—“it’s a uniform look, but it’s also the closest to white skin; it’s pretty evident it’s a sign of racism”—and she won. That move was a first for Balanchine’s production on any stage, and today, multiple women of color dance alongside Morgan in the PNB. “The diversity reflects what you’d see on the street,” she says. “It’s wonderful.”

Morgan also created the Seattle Project in 2019. The artist collaborative works to uplift both BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ dancers and other creatives while making art more accessible through free in-person and online performances. “For the most part, unless you have a lot of money, you can’t just go into a theater and see a ballet or an opera,” Morgan says. “It’s so exciting to look out into an audience and see a diverse crowd of all ages.” Her dance films and choreography have drawn from her own life experiences, the injustices she fights against, and the protests she frequented after George Floyd’s murder: “By making my own pieces, I’ve been able to fully tell my stories and decide what I want to show to an audience.”


At the doctor’s office

From reception-greeting to vitals-screening, Black women often do not feel welcome at healthcare visits, says Dr. Joy Cooper, M.D., an ob-gyn in Oakland, California. “By the time they see a provider, so much bias can accumulate that they shut down.” Research bears this out, as Black women are less likely to advocate for themselves compared to white and Hispanic women. But advocate, you must: Black women’s symptoms are too often dismissed; in fact, a recent study by Johns Hopkins Medicine showed that doctors were more likely to use words like “claims” and “insists” in their appointment notes for Black patients compared with white patients.

Your move: “If you feel uncomfortable, unheard, or made to feel ashamed, get a new doctor—I repeat: get a new doctor,” says Dr. Kristamarie Collman, M.D., a family medicine physician in Orlando, Florida. The onus, of course, is on the healthcare system to address its deeply rooted racism, but there are options to find the right doctor. Online platforms like HUED connect patients of color to medical professionals of color, helping to ensure you’ll get care that meets your physical and cultural needs. Similarly, Dr. Cooper created Culture Care, a telemedicine service that connects Black women with Black doctors in her practicing state of California. If switching providers is out of the question due to your insurance or location, Cooper suggests bringing a friend or a loved one to the doctor to help advocate for you. “Sometimes, a family member can lend strength and perspective to your lived experience,” she says. “They can also help you get the answers you need.”


At Work

If white women experience a glass ceiling, Black women have to break through concrete. Women of color are often held to a higher standard than their white and male peers and presumed to be less qualified, despite their achievements—all of which can damage a career trajectory. Indeed, per a 2020 report by the organization Lean In, 49% of Black women feel that their ethnicity will make it more difficult to get a raise or promotion compared to 3% of white women and 11% of women overall.

Your move: Microaggressions, bias, and double standards are, of course, real, so it’s important to have a network to lean on. That could be an at-work racial affinity group, something that’s becoming more commonplace. One 2021 report found that 40% of companies had affinity groups (also known as employee resource groups), up 9% since 2020. Find a group to share experiences, support, and advice. Not employed by one of the 40%? Pinpoint a mentor who can help guide you through your career and to your goals. One 2020 survey by the organization Black Girls Ventures found that Black women experienced a 37.4% increase in salary with mentorship. If you’re not sure who to approach, ask yourself, “Whose job would I like to have in 5 to 10 years?”



Being watched more closely by a grocery store clerk…or completely ignored at a high-end boutique. Such microaggressions are all too common: Nearly one in seven Black adults reports experiencing worse service at stores and restaurants—more than any other racial group. It can feel humiliating in the moment, and over time, it can have an indelible impact on stress levels and your mental health.

Your move: Three moves, actually. Report discrimination in retail locations; go to Spend your money where you get the service and respect you deserve; check out to discover retailers that have committed to dedicating at least 15% of shelf space to Black-owned businesses and their products. And, perhaps most crucially, tap into your support system to help manage race-related stress, says the American Psychological Association. Bottling up those emotions can negatively affect well-being. Consider this: One 2016 study in the journal Psychological Trauma showed that people who kept feelings of racial discrimination to themselves reported higher levels of dissociation—when you feel disconnected from the people and environment around you and even your own body—than those who talked to others.

Black Women and the Pandemic Headline:
CNN. (2021.) “A crisis within a crisis.”

Black Women Have Much Shorter Life Expectancies: The Washington Post. (2016.) “Black women defy trend of declining life expectancies. What explains this miracle?”

The Mental Health Cost of Being a Strong Black Woman Headline: Hogg Foundation for Mental Health. (2019.) “The Mental Health Cost of Being a Strong Black Woman.”

Higher Rates of Chronic Conditions in Black Women: Journal of Women’s Health. (2021.) “Health Equity Among Black Women in the United States.”

Hypertension and Black Women: Journal of the American Heart Association. (2019.) “Association Between High Perceived Stress Over Time and Incident Hypertension in Black Adults: Findings From the Jackson Heart Study.”

Cortisol and Obesity: Obesity. (2017.) “Hair cortisol and adiposity in a population-based sample of 2,527 men and women aged 54 to 87 years.”

Obesity Rate in Black Women vs. White Women: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020.) “Prevalence of Obesity and Severe Obesity Among Adults: United States, 2017-2018.”

Discrimination in a Healthcare Setting: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (2021.) “Perceptions of Discrimination and Unfair Judgment While Seeking Health Care: Findings from September 2021 Coronavirus Tracking Survey.”

Medical Students and Racial Bias: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. (2016.) “Racial bias in pain assessment and treatment recommendations, and false beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites.”

Ethnicity in Health and Fitness Clubs: Statista. (2021.) “Share of health and fitness club members in the United States in 2019, by ethnicity.”


Support and Interpreting Obstacles:
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. (2008). “Social Support and the Perception of Geographical Slant.”

Support and Eating Healthier: Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences. (2016.) “Social Influences on Eating.”

Support and Losing More Weight: Obesity. (2012.) Social support for healthy behaviors: scale psychometrics and prediction of weight loss among women in a behavioral program.”


Colon Cancer Risk Among Black Americans:
Journal of the National Cancer Institute. (2020.) “Racial Disparities in Epigenetic Aging of the Right vs Left Colon.”

Black Women More Likely to Be Breadwinners: The Center for American Progress. (2019.) “Nearly Two-Thirds of Mothers Continue To Be Family Breadwinners, Black Mothers Are Far More Likely To Be Breadwinners.”

Black Women and Physical or Sexual Violence: National Organization for Women. (2018.) “Black Women & Sexual Violence.”

Cumulative Biological Stress and Black Women (1): Human Nature. (2010.) “Do US Black Women Experience Stress-Related Accelerated Biological Aging?”

Cumulative Biological Stress and Black Women (2): Annals Of The New York Academy Of Sciences. (2019.) “Racial discrimination, the superwoman schema, and allostatic load: exploring an integrative stress-coping model among African American women.”

Maternity-Related Complications: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019.) “Racial and Ethnic Disparities Continue in Pregnancy-Related Deaths: Black, American Indian/Alaska Native women most affected.”

Midwife-Delivered Interventions: The Lancet. (2021.) “Potential impact of midwives in preventing and reducing maternal and neonatal mortality and stillbirths: a Lives Saved Tool modelling study.”

Certified Midwives in the U.S. Stat: The City University of New York Graduate Center: Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects. (2014.) “Birthing, Blackness, and the Body: Black Midwives and Experiential Continuities of Institutional Racism.”

Midwives Licensed in 35 States: National Association of Certified Professional Midwives. (2022.) “Legal Recognition of CPMs.”

Medicaid Coverage for Home Births: National Health Law Program. (2021.) “Doula Medicaid Project.” 


Diabetes and People of Color:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020.) “National Diabetes Statistics Report 2020.”


Systemic Inequalities Faced by Marginalized Communities:
Duke Sanford World Food Policy Center. (2020.) “Impact of COVID-19 on Hunger Relief Organizations in the US.”


Black Women and Self-Advocacy:
Medical Care. (2006.) “Self-advocacy during the medical encounter: use of health information and racial/ethnic differences.”

Black Women’s Symptoms Dismissed: Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics. (2021.) “Analysis of Medical Records Finds Physicians Are More Likely to Doubt Black Patients.”

Black Women Held to a Higher Standard: Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. (2012.) Failure is not an option for Black women: Effects of organizational performance on leaders with single versus dual-subordinate identities

Black Women and Promotions Stat: Lean In. (2020.) “The State of Black Women in Corporate America.”

Racial Affinity Groups: Sequoia. (2021.) “Sequoia’s Employee Experience Benchmarking Report Reveals Evolution of Employee Benefits as Workforce Needs Shift: Greater Emphasis on Holistic Wellness and Work-Life Integration.”

Black Women and Mentorship:
Black Girl Ventures. (2020.) “The Importance of Mentorship: Exploring mentorship accessibility and benefits for professional women.”

Black Adults and Microaggressions: Gallup. (2020.) “Black Adults Disproportionately Experience Microaggressions.”

Managing Race-Related Stress: American Psychological Association. (2021.) “Managing your distress in the aftermath of racial trauma and stress.”

Racial Discrimination and Dissociation: Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. (2016.) “Racial discrimination as race-based trauma, coping strategies and dissociative symptoms among emerging adults.”