14 Wellness Influencers Making the Industry More Inclusive
These athletes, coaches, and yogis are a middle finger to the oppressively homogenous wellness world.
Courtesy of Kajuan Douglas
Not everyone sees themselves in the super-cut, elitist, irkingly enthusiastic #FitSpo influencers that dominate the health and wellness space on social media. So, if you’re looking for new perspectives on what it means to live a well-balanced life—whether that involves eating vegan, learning proper deadlift form, practicing yoga naked, or strengthening your pelvic floor during pregnancy—check out the 14 influencers below.
While I might not agree with every single thing they post, I'm glad they're each pushing conversations integral to their communities into the mainstream.
This collective aims to make veganism and wellness more accessible, especially to people of color. Along with recipes, the Spanish-English account arranges meet-ups, organizes volunteer opportunities, and offers advice on how to live sustainably. To join the collective or find out what Veggie Mijas is up to (they’ve hosted events in over a dozen cities), check out their website.
Nutrition can get very complicated very quickly, but E.C. Synkowski keeps it as simple as possible with her 800 Gram Challenge. Instead of mandating a certain ratio of fats, carbs, and protein or advocating a specific type of diet, Synkowski suggests including 800 grams of fruits and vegetables a day in your diet (fresh, cooked, frozen, or canned in water and drained). That’s it. No demonizing certain foods or needlessly adding in probiotics, supplements, or powders. A note for the body positive: E.C. occasionally references weight loss and “aesthetic goals.”
Ilya Parker—a coach, physical therapist assistant, and self-identified “fat, black non-binary trans masculine person”—is aiming to “make fitness more affirming and accessible to all bodies.” Parker’s company, Decolonizing Fitness, is owned and operated exclusively by trans and queer people of color, and they’re currently raising money to teach fitness professionals how to better support diverse bodies, like not exploiting disabled and fat people for the sake of #fitspo motivation. For longer-form content and testimonials, check out the DF blog.
Flexibility / Mobility
The #BodyWeightWarrior used to be a traditional weightlifting gym bro, but he now specializes in calisthenics, mobility, and stretching. On his Instagram, he’s in the middle of a handstand phase, but on his YouTube, he has loads of videos, from a beginner push-up tutorial to stretching mistakes to follow-along flexibility videos (I’m currently using his PNF routine for the middle splits). Unlike other trainers in the space who make sensational claims, Merrick’s upfront about the fact that this work takes time—gym miracles are unrealistic and dangerous—and he’s generally responsive if you tag him on Instagram.
At 13, Logan lost his left arm in a wakeboarding accident, and since then, he’s committed to fitness. He’s a member of CrossFit’s seminar staff, a source of one-arm fitness hacks, and a Guinness World Record Holder for the most weight lifted using a single-arm barbell clean in a minute. Sometimes Aldridge relies on implements that allow him to use both arms, sometimes he modifies with props, and sometimes he trains unassisted, showing a wide range of adaptive athlete fitness.
Annie is a disabled, queer, Latinx intersectional activist based in Miami. Because of their Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, the same condition as RuPaul's Drag Race queen Yvie Oddly has, Annie’s mobility is constantly in flux. Often, they need the security and stability of a wheelchair. But, if an environment is flat, well-lit, and uncrowded, they may be able to walk with their cane (#AmbulatoryWheelchairUsersExist). On their YouTube channel, Annie goes deeper into aspects of their life that non-wheelchair users may not consider, like how that asshole whose car is taking up two spaces may actually be someone who couldn’t find accessible parking and needed the extra space for their wheelchair.
Maraliz has taken her sonic healing to the streets, performing on subways and in airports to help combat noise pollution. However, she’s quick to point out that her sound practice is “so much more than playing bowls, gongs, or tuning forks.” She sees it as a way to process her physical, mental, and emotional state, similar to writing in a stream of consciousness. Along those lines, she de-emphasizes the importance of accessories, like crystals and candles, and avoids the vague abstractions that are so common in the industry.
Sonalee is, in her words, “a non-binary, queer bisexual social worker and sex therapist specialized in treating sexual trauma and body image issues while using anti-oppression and anti-diet lenses.” Through her account, Sonalee argues that occupying space is a political act, body positivity is sometimes overrun by white privilege, and putting children on non-medically-necessary diets may violate their consent. Along the way, she shares her own struggle with internalized fatphobia.
After years of teaching yoga, Douglas wanted a way to address how studios are sometimes unfamiliar and unwelcoming for people of color and queer folks. He founded his own “self discovery” studio, Merge New York, which offers conventional vinyasa classes, HIIT-inspired workouts, sound baths, mindfulness workshops, and a “biomechanics-based movement practice blending Hatha, Vinyasa, and Stretching with the lyricism of dance.” For all the courses, Douglas attempts to create a welcoming space for everyone who's ever felt "other'd."
Dean is a yoga instructor at Naked! in Motion, which has studios in Boston and New York that use a nude practice to promote feminism, queer and trans visibility, and body acceptance. Before each class, you must agree to the studio’s cruising and consent policies and remove all your clothes (trans, cis womxn, and people assigned female at birth can wear bottoms, and gender-affirming implements such as chest-binder are welcome.) Naked! in Motion offers a sliding scale for its fees, and in New York, Dean regularly teaches the queer-only class and queer acroyoga.
An Olympic bronze medalist in gymnastics, Nile is, perhaps, the zaniest elite athlete on Instagram. In between six-hour training sessions, he’s up to antics like backflipping out of his shorts and trying to break the world record for the longest bar to bar transfer. In February, he had surgery on his neck, but his comeback is likely to be more motivating than even his most outrageous gymnastics feats. For longer videos, check out his YouTube, where he documents his latest shenanigans, like accidentally leaking diver Tom Daley’s personal cell phone number to his million-plus subscribers.
Pregnant and Postpartum
Brianna, the founder of Pregnancy & Postpartum Athleticism™️, has little patience for coaches who, by virtue of having a child, consider themselves experts in postpartum fitness. The strength and conditioning specialist rejects generic recommendations and stresses that each person must consider their own specific needs. While some fitness communities laud expectant mothers for lifting heavy throughout a pregnancy, Battles emphasizes that “your worth is not dictated by how much you can deadlift at eight months pregnant.”
Rachel, a professor of philosophy and world-champion cyclist, rides under the tenets of the International Olympic Committee’s fourth fundamental principle: “The practice of sport is a human right." While advocating for trans inclusion, Rachel points out that “the range of differences within a sex category are much larger than the differences between sex categories.” For those who argue that trans athletes have an unfair advantage, she likes to point out that, since trans athletes were officially allowed to participate in the Olympics in 2004, none have qualified to do so, not even after the policy was relaxed in 2015.
Angie, the first black woman in the UFC, trains year-round and as a result, takes no prisoners—but that doesn’t mean she isn’t also a great sportswoman (and gamer: You can follow her on Twitch @angieoverkill). Come for the cosplay and cannabis references and stay for the head kicks. If you're looking for inside analysis in the world of MMA, check out 2Straws, the YouTube show she hosts with fellow fighter Jessica Penne.
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