White, solely English-speaking people have been holding the wellness microphone in America for far too long. Whether you’re listening to a meditation on your phone, hitting up your local Pilates studio, or going to therapy, you’re probably accustomed to hearing the same types of voices on repeat. But in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement’s resurgence in 2020, wellness-focused platforms are reaching traditionally underserved communities by increasing the racial diversity of their instructors and experts and making their services available in languages other than English.As a result, these well-being-focused apps, services, and courses will be folding new audiences into the conversation about what it means to be well (because “easy listening” doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone).
Many fitness, well-being, and therapy-centered apps began prioritizing language and voice diversity in recent years to reach a larger group of listeners. Since Spanish is the second most common language spoken in the U.S. after English (almost 14 percent of Americans speak it at home), and the Latinx community (many of whom are Spanish speakers) accounts for 11 percent of economic buying power in the U.S., many wellness platforms have added offerings in this language to their rosters.
Teletherapy startup Ginger made all of its on-demand mental health offerings available in Spanish this year. And at-home cycling giant Peloton—which first launched Spanish classes in 2021—made it possible for users to set their default language to Spanish this year, with plans to make customer support available in Spanish by the end of 2022. Fitness app CardioCast launched Spanish-speaking indoor cycling classes in May of this year. Next year, global fitness platform Les Mills has Spanish-led teacher trainings on the books, and Alo Moves—the on-demand fitness arm of the yoga brand—also plans to include classes in Spanish in its offerings. “In 2023, we will release our first-ever Spanish exclusive class, continuing our efforts to evolve the Alo Moves experience and bring new and diverse perspectives to the platform,” says Natasha Trindall, general manager of Alo Moves.
Chief Social Impact and Diversity Officer, Headspace Health
"Everyone's mental health can be heavily impacted by the environment that surrounds them in everyday life, and over the last few years, our internal teams [at Headspace] have been working hard to support groups who don't feel safe, don't feel heard, and don't feel seen. We acknowledge that our member community is diverse and should feel included and represented in the content we provide and in the voices that we promote."
Spanish speakers won’t be the only ones hearing their languages on their favorite wellness apps. In 2019, Peloton began offering classes by German-speaking instructors, while Headspace has been steadily rolling out non-English language meditations on the app (it currently offers meditations in English, French, German, Spanish, and Portuguese). While the former doesn’t currently have plans to add new languages in 2023, the brand is exploring how to make language translation easier in the future. “We’re considering ways in which we can create classes with different [voiceovers] that would allow us to expand our content library more quickly in each of our languages,” says Jennifer Cotter, chief content officer at Peloton. “We typically launch new modalities…in English and then later adapt them to German and/or Spanish. But now, we’re assessing how we might be able to produce content in a way that can be quickly modified by the market so that all of our members get the same access to the same content in close proximity.”
People in the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities—for whom audio content isn’t always accessible—will also benefit from more offerings in 2023. In May, Apple introduced Live Captions for iPhone, iPad, and Mac to ensure that folks with hearing loss can more easily follow along with audio content, including Apple Fitness+ workouts. Meanwhile, Alma, a mental-health platform that already allows you to seek out therapists, yoga teachers, and dietitians who speak over 35 languages, including American Sign Language (ASL), plans to continue adding more voices to its robust directory next year based on user feedback.
"I think we heal better when we hear things in our own voice." Nicole Cardoza, founder of Reclamation Ventures and Anti-Racism Daily
But language is more than just words communicated in a particular way; it’s culture and heritage. "Whenever we are stressed, we want to go back to something familiar that has been comforting to us in the past,” cultural psychiatrist Farha Abbasi, MD, previously told Well+Good. "I think we heal better when we hear things in our own voice," added Nicole Cardoza, a yoga teacher and founder of Anti-Racism Daily and Wellemental, an inclusive meditation and movement app for children that makes all offerings available in English and Spanish.
Thus, another aim of voice inclusivity is to encourage a sense of cultural belonging within wellness by increasing diversity among instructors, says Trends Advisor Wizdom Powell, PhD, MPH, chief social impact and diversity officer at Headspace. “That’s why we are continuing to scale our roster of teachers and have expanded our new teacher search with the addition of Rosie Acosta, a world-renowned meditation teacher, to reach Latinx/Hispanic audiences and work towards servicing new and existing Latinx members,” she tells Well+Good. “Most recently, we released two new meditation singles for Hispanic Heritage Month with Rosie titled ‘Honoring our Identity’ and ‘Connecting with Community.’” (These classes are currently offered in English.)
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In 2022, Headspace Health acquired Shine, a mental wellness app founded by Marah Lidey and Naomi Hirabayashi (a Black woman and a half-Japanese woman) “because we didn’t see ourselves…and our experiences represented in mainstream ‘wellness,’” as it says on the Shine website. “Our bodies, our skin color, our financial access, our past traumas—it all often felt otherized.”
"People who identify as Black, Asian, Native American, Hispanic, and/or LGBTQIA+ have higher rates of anxiety and depression and fewer options for inclusive care,” says Dr. Powell. “Shine has made tremendous strides in closing that gap and has emerged as a meaningful leader in the movement for inclusive mental health…Through this partnership, we’ll be able to collectively grow the diversity of offerings and experiences that we can bring to our members.”
Representation is at the core of founder Sinikiwe Stephanie Dhliwayo’s work with Naaya, a suite of well-being offerings (including consulting, corporate wellness programs, and classes) that seeks to “disrupt the narrative of what it looks like and feels like to be well and to include folks who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color,” says Dhliwayo. According to the Naaya website: “We aim to root you in your well-being by making you feel seen and—most importantly, heard.” In 2023, Dhliwayo aims to advance this mission with the launch of an inclusive fitness app called Ilanga.
“I want to make moving your body less arduous and more joyous,” says Dhliwayo. “It is imperative for me that we create content on the platform that will allow anyone, regardless of physical ability, to move their body in a way that feels good for them. Additionally, folks with visual and hearing impairments must be able to access our content.” In order to accomplish these goals, Dhliwayo intends to hire bilingual teachers and, ideally, an instructor who can offer classes in ASL.
While more companies are working to include different voices and communities in their offerings, Dhliwayo says it’s important to keep the pressure up on brands to stick to their commitments. “What would bring me deep joy in 2023 and beyond is to see folks hold brands accountable with the same fervor that occurred in 2020,” she says. But when wellness in America becomes a universal language, it will be a mic-drop moment indeed. ✙
Opening Photo Credit: Stocksy/Javier Diez, Hero Photo Credit: Stocksy/Jimena Roquero
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