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SELF's #RACEANDWELLNESS Panel Discussion in New York

SELF, an online publication focused on health and wellness, beauty and style, hosted a panel discussion on “Race and Wellness” on January 30, 2018. Despite the windy and freezing temperature, wellness enthusiasts travelled to the Conde Nast building at One World Trade Center in New York.

While waiting for the event to start, I was talking to one of the attendees and exchanged reasons on what brought us to this event. We were both addressing our renewed focus on our own health and wellness and wanted to learn how to engage the communities we work with to do the same. I mentioned that it was difficult for me to practice meditation on a daily basis because I preferred praying, and lately, my mind kept wandering off when I tried to meditate.  We also exchanged our opinions of the meditation app, headspace, and agreed that it’s one of the best meditation app because it’s all about clearing your mind without getting spiritual – now, if I can only make my mind not wander for 3 minutes!

Editor-in-chief, Carolyn Kylstra, welcomed the attendees including the executives of Conde Nast’s Diversity Council led by British-American journalist and editor, Ana Wintour.

In Kylstra’s opening statement she said,
“Wellness has a race problem.  From inexcusable racial disparity and health outcomes to booming wellness industry that caters almost exclusively to white wealthy people, health and wellness should be accessible to everyone but far too often are not.

I am actually in a unique position to do something about it. I have the responsibility to use my privilege and platform to bring awareness to this issue while not speaking over people of color. SELF reaches millions of people every month and our mission is “Wellness You Can Trust”.  Our goal is to help people feel better.

But in order to help most people we need to make sure that they see themselves in the stories that we tell and the information that we share and the events that we host. “

A brief 15-minute guided meditation led by Jessica of Mindful, a meditation studio in New York City, provided a little breather to calm the minds and relax the bodies.

The #RACEANDWELLNESS moderator was Leta Shy,  SELF’s Executive Editor.

The panelists were:
  •          Wendy Lopez ,  nutritionist and co-creator of “Food Heaven Made Easy”
  •          Amanda Young, L.C.S.W. , Certified Group Fitness Instructor, Lead Instructor at Shape Up NYC
  •          Loren Robinson, M.D., Pennsylvania deputy secretary for health promotion and disease prevention
  •          Ibtihaj Muhammad, American sabre fencer, Olympic bronze medalist

      How do you deal being the "first" or "one of the few"?

Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first Muslim American woman to wear a hijab while competing for the United States in the Olympics, shared how she coped about being different:

I’ve always been a confident person. I noticed that my skin color and me being a Muslim has affected how other people treated me but it never really affected how I felt about myself.  I am not sure if I attribute that to my parents.

When told she’s not able to think tactically because she doesn’t have the ability as a black woman:

“I think having the mental fortitude to push through and for me, honestly, I’ve chosen happiness throughout my career and I think that having this epiphany before the Olympics and made this conscious decision to not care whether what people have to say about me and the misconceptions they may have about me as an athlete I think helped me qualify for the team."

What do you tell to people who don’t feel represented in the wellness industry?

 Wendy Lopez, registered Dietician and co-founder of Food Heaven Made Easy, replied:

"Health wellness was an image of a skinny white woman with a smoothie bowl.
This is a little ridiculous  - we need to change it up!

Being color blind is not helpful for anyone, especially when it comes to health and wellness. Research shows that having a culturally relevant approach especially when it comes to health, leads to a better health outcome.

As a provider or someone in health and wellness, we should be mindful of the language that we all use – so people know what you’re talking about.

Nutritionists should be mindful of being inclusive of people who are often left out of these conversations - whether people that aren’t skinny or people with bigger bodies or disabled,  undocumented, or people who are poor - because in speaking health and wellness, we sometimes speak in a certain way that leaves out a lot of people from this conversation – people that can really use our services the most."

When Lopez addressed the issues of the undocumented, I was reminded of my struggles as a new immigrant in America. I was in my 20's and health and wellness wasn't on my radar. My life's purpose was to survive and help support my family's basic needs. It wasn't until 14 years ago, when I was about to turn 40, that I first attempted to do bicep curls. 

How do you cope with chronic illness?
Social worker and certified group fitness instructor, Amanda Young, was asked on how she dealt with chronic illness:

In addressing one’s illness, Young listed 3 things to remember:
1)      Know and seek knowledge We have a responsibility to know and learn our own illnesses. Reach out to online support sites that are well versed on your particular condition – a lot of time, when you talk to other people from different places, they are given different treatments that your doctors probably haven’t suggested.
2)      Recognize your own self-care. When you focus on self-care you have that opportunity to control one piece of your life even for just 5 minutes.
3)      Do not deal with your illness in isolation. When you open yourself up for help, you allow yourself to be helped and when you create that vulnerability, you will be amazed at how many people may show up.

Young also talked about the free fitness programs offered by Shape Up NYC . Yes, it's FREE and it's in about 200 locations across the 5 boroughs of New York, offering over 200 classes. I couldn't believe it! How come no one in my community knew about this? Or is it possible, that the Filipino-American community in New York knows about it but fitness just isn't their priority? What about the senior citizens or those with disabilities, are there fitness programs designed just for them?

What do you want people to know about the medical system to help them navigate it to get the health care that they need and deserve?

Dr. Loren RobinsonPennsylvania deputy secretary for health promotion and disease prevention, talked about doctor-patient relationship and "choosing to be human".

 If doctors remember that they are doctors first then they will not talk the way they do. It’s all about choosing to be human. I guess years and years of medical school tells the brain, you’re a doctor.

Patient-doctor relationship is important.  You, as a patient, should always have questions every time you go to the doctor. Sometimes when the doctor asks, “anything else?” and you don’t reply, doctors are gone right away, and you feel like you can’t ask anything.

Even if you google something, that opens doors to conversations.

Doctors want to be asked questions. When patients ask questions, doctors stop talking at them and they start to really listen."

Dr. Robinson also pointed out that when talking about “Healthy Communities” ask what healthy means to them. When someone comes to you and asks, “I want to be fit”, you should ask “What does fitness mean to you?”  She also reminded the audience the importance of lifting everyone. So when you see something different online, something that’s not trending, and someone who’s trying to make a change, a simple “like” can lift that person.

with SELF's Executive Editor, Leta Shy.

At the end of the panel discussion, I approached Leta Shy, who is half Korean,  and thanked her for the informative and educational conversations. She recognized that there is no or very little Asian representation in the wellness community and various media platforms.

I hope one day, SELF will find a way to feature the unique qualities of Filipino-Americans.

I didn't get a chance to personally thank (selfie moment) Ms. Muhammad and Dr. Robinson - so if you happen to be reading this, here's a virtual hug and handshake to express my gratitude.

To all the panelists, thank you for sharing your knowledge, opinions and experiences. You definitely have made a difference!

Be happy.  


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