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Wellness is political in the age of Trump

Fitness instructors of DanceBody, a women-owned boutique exercise program.
By Noël Duan
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

On election night 2016, my friends and I were at a bar in Manhattan where a man ran in screaming. “FAGS! YOU’RE ALL FAGS!” he shouted at us before fleeing, reducing a woman wearing festive patriotic garb to tears. I soon hailed a cab home, not just because I felt unsafe, but because I felt unwell, like I had just come down with the flu while someone pummeled my stomach and broke my heart at the same time. When it emerged that 53% of white women had voted for Donald Trump, I started to feel paranoid about the people around me (I live in one of the most politically conservative neighborhoods in Manhattan). I wanted to know who I could trust, and I wanted them to know that I had their backs, too. I also found myself wanting to support people, corporations, and organizations that promoted values I believed in—especially if they were women-led. So I resolved to take better care of myself and, like many others, have spent the year since trying to find balance between social activism and self-care.

The Wikipedia page for “self-care” is long, in part because self-care is whatever you need to do to nurture your well-being. That could mean making an açaí smoothie bowl after running 5K in the morning, but it could also mean ordering takeout, turning off your phone, and binge-watching Netflix all night (this latter option being less Instagrammable). Often though, lifestyle gurus and influencers characterize self-care as an act of self-indulgence and conspicuous consumption, a sort of “go-ahead, you deserve it” mentality, where “it” is $100 yoga leggings or a pedicure in millennial pink. In that sense, self-care is often framed as mutually exclusive from activism: It’s what you do when you need a breather from being politically engaged, versus a facet of that engagement.

In 2017, that line—between the small activities in our daily lives and the larger aims of our political personas—feels in need of blurring. As Audre Lorde—a self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet”—is oft-quoted as saying: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

“When it comes to the Women’s March and women’s rights—you don’t like women’s rights? Seriously, fuck you. I don’t want you as a customer. I don’t want you as a follower.”

That’s Katia Pryce, founder of DanceBody, a fitness brand that conducts in-person classes in New York and Miami, and streams those classes online to thousands of customers around the US. In the past year, DanceBody has used its social media accounts to post about politically charged topics like Elizabeth Warren’s “nevertheless, she persisted” meme.

Not without consequence. “Some of my clients have told me that they don’t want politics involved with their fitness,” says Pryce, who says she got heat from some customers for posting a video of Barack Obama dancing. Pryce says she’s careful not to post about specific political parties anymore, but still finds creative ways to make a point. For example, DanceBody recently shared a Malcolm X quotation as workout inspiration.

To be sure, alienating advertisers or consumers is a very real concern from brands and bloggers hoping to take a political stand. But again, in 2017 it shouldn’t be—especially if, for example, wellness brands are preaching good health while the federal government tries to strip health care from millions of Americans.

In the interest of taking care of myself while staying involved with the world, I, a woman of color and first-generation American, have been gravitating toward wellness and self-care brands like Pryce’s, that take a political stance. Likewise, I’ve been unfollowing—on Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter—brands, blogs, and “influencers” that hashtag #selfcare and #selflove without taking a stance, or without mentioning the effects of the political climate on one’s health.

I’m not the only women who has done this, of course. In May, Georgetown University professor C. Christine Fair complained to her gym after discovering that neo-Nazi Richard Spencer was a member; his membership was later revoked. “As a white woman, I find his membership at this gym to be unacceptable,” Fair wrote on her Tumblr. “I found his membership at this gym to be an unfair burden upon the women and people of color–and white male allies of the same.”

Since we’re forced to be vulnerable at the gym, it’s fair to expect to have a say when the people in our vicinity threaten our very existence. Another of my favorite examples: The owner of Washington DC-area cult fitness studio Solidcore posted on Facebook about asking Ivanka Trump for a meeting after finding out that Trump had taken one of her classes under an alias.

“A traffic dip would be worth it in order to have an active voice politically and stand up for what we believe in,” says Joanna Goddard, founder of lifestyle blog Cup of Jo. “At the same time, we engage new readers who do want to talk about politics in big and small ways—so, our traffic has actually continued to increase.” In the past year, Jo has published a series of politically engaged stories under topics such as relationships and motherhood. In the wake of the election, when I was desperate to read about self-care and political activism (and tired of wellness blogs claiming to be politically neutral in the face of a very real threat), I became a loyal reader of her blog and newsletters.

At the end of the day, supporting women and minorities (or companies that support them) can come down to a series of small, strategic decisions: what you put in your closet, your medicine cabinet, your laundry machine, your refrigerator. These decisions are a way to make your presence and values known, and to fill your daily routine with your values.

You don’t have to attend rallies every weekend—not everyone is physically or mentally capable of the emotional labor required for public demonstrations, and not everyone can take time and energy away from priority responsibilities (like work or family). But to not take a political stance is a political stance, because millions of lives are at stake when you’re silent. For individuals whose personhood is threatened by the current administration, it’s hard to not feel like self-care and self-love are innately political.

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