The wellness industry has historically catered to white, affluent women — in the businesses and CEOs it champions, in the customers it caters to, and in its prohibitive price points. For women of color, carving out space within this exclusionary framework has typically been a self-driven undertaking — one that centers on expanding the idea of what caring for your mental and physical wellbeing can look like. That’s why, in partnership with Clorox, we’re shining the spotlight on three women who are redefining fitness to be more inclusive, accepting, and representative of everybody.
As a society, we’re championing diversity more than ever before, and yet, women of color are still heavily underrepresented in the fitness world, with popular workout accounts obstinately continuing to feature the same type of woman: thin and white. This reality is what has prompted Monica Jones, co-owner and Peak Performance Coach at BASH Boxing in Arlington, Va., to use her platform for challenging the outdated and unrealistic images and messaging in the wellness and fitness industries. “The most fulfilling thing I’ve done was look wellness in the eye and open my mouth about the lack of color, opportunity, and representation,” she says.
After spending her early years struggling with her own self-image and confidence, Jones is now steadfast in her belief every woman has an inner athlete that needs to be awakened, respected, and empowered — and that there’s no one-size-fits all approach to getting there.
As a kid growing up in Anne Arundel County, Md., Jones played intramural soccer and indoor track; but despite being excited by sports, she didn’t feel “good enough” to play at a college level. She struggled with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and low self-esteem in the last years of high school. “I was basically trying to decide how I could find passion or I was hoping that passion would find me.”
After finishing community college, Jones transferred to two different universities, but financial challenges ultimately led her to leave school completely. However, there was a pivotal moment in her final semester that changed her outlook on her future. Her anatomy and physiology course had her go to a local YMCA and create fitness and nutrition programs for various groups of people, and it instantly clicked for her. “I was finally inspired by a course and the opportunity to help others solve problems and discover what health truly is with movement,” she says. “That was the moment I decided I wanted to become a personal trainer.”
Jones got her certification in 2012, but as excited as she was by her personal training business, she wasn’t immune to physical and financial challenges — including fracturing her hip in a car accident and needing to pick up an additional stream of income as a nutrition specialist. “Getting injured and falling on financial difficulties have definitely been the toughest in this career, but it’s also taught me how to become the woman I am now,” Jones reflects. She also credits her mentor, who showed her how to make training a career despite the lack of opportunity in corporate gyms for Black women.
In 2014, Jones had an epiphany — she wanted to see more visuals of women of color being fit and healthy. “I had an image in my head of what I wanted to be, and that image evolved the more that I started to discover and love myself,” she says. At the time, she was exploring a newfound love of boxing, and launched a blog to chronicle her journey in that space. She was also coaching at a popular fitness studio, where she was approached to partner on a new boxing brand and studio, which would eventually become BASH. She immediately jumped at the opportunity, creating programming for the studio.
By 2015, Jones’ social media following was steadily growing, and she started posting post-workout selfies for motivation and mutual encouragement between her and her friends. Eventually, her content evolved to exercise videos and posts documenting her fitness goals, as well as personal anecdotes about her injuries and struggles with self-love. Now, BASH has two locations in the Arlington area, and Jones has a following of nearly 20K on Instagram, where she continues to encourage self-love and motivate her community to embrace their inner athlete. “It’s been beautiful to relate to more and more women as I’ve shared my growth in wellness, activism, and now, even business.”
One of her greatest accomplishments thus far has been fulfilling her desire to be a brand ambassador and sponsored athlete; three years ago, she signed with a major sports apparel brand, and today, she works with a number of brands, doing campaigns that promote self-love and an inclusive approach to fitness.
“I need more women who look like me and can relate to me to feel like they can speak up for themselves and step into the room and know that they have a seat at the table or that they can make their own table,” she says. “[These brands] align on empowering women of all walks of life and showing them that they can perform at their best, that they are worthy of happiness and wellness, and that there is space for them.”
Jones says she wants “women of color, especially Black women, to know that they deserve to make time for themselves.” That doesn’t just mean committing to physically taking care of their bodies, but also nurturing their emotional health. “You have to show up every day and consistently express gratitude for your body and for all the other areas of your life. Start with, ‘I’m so thankful for this’ physical capability and then start to expand on that by asking, ‘what can I do to treat myself better?’ ‘What can I do to perform better?’”
She also wants women to feel free to shed the “superwoman” trope (the idea of “having it all,” and doing it all on your own) and to not be afraid to ask for help. “Asking for help is a challenge a lot of us have because we feel we’re not worthy of it or feel like it’s a sign of weakness. But it is absolutely imperative. If you want to be successful, you have to ask for help.”
A cause that’s newly close to Jones’ heart is promoting better brain health. She recently lost her grandfather to brain disease and hopes to host an event that will raise awareness for Alzheimer’s. On top of that, she’s continuously committed to finding new ways of making fitness accessible to everyone. “I realize that everyday when I get to speak to a large community, that someone as ‘ordinary’ or ‘minor’ as me can be a powerful leader and representative of love and purpose,” Jones says. “I prove that women like me can add value, bring culture to this industry, and are more than worthy of respect, equity, celebration, and support.”