Learn Their Names: These Leaders Are Creating an Equity Movement Around the Way We Move
Think fast: What does a “fit body” look like? It’s a trick question—there is, of course, no single body type that represents or conveys a level of physicality or an active lifestyle. But for decades, we’ve been fed a limited diet of thin, able-bodied—and, more often than not, white—people in images meant to represent health and wellness.
It’s time we make an update. “Bodies don’t just look one way,” points out 2023 Well+Good Changemaker Tiffany Yu, founder of Diversability, a nonprofit working to elevate disability pride. She is one of several Changemakers on a mission to empower all people to celebrate the body they live in—and to have fun doing it. Even if you don’t look like one of the extras in your mom’s Jane Fonda workout videos, you should feel welcome to take up space in the fitness industry, in the outdoors, and anywhere else in the world. These Changemakers are creating communities for people who have for too long either been passively ignored or actively shut out.
Well+Good Changemaker Martinus Evans, for instance, tells Well+Good that he founded Slow AF Run Club with one vision: “To empower every person on this planet to become a runner in the body they have right now,” he says. “It’s helping people get active without the pressure of weight loss.” As he points out, it’s all too often assumed that when people with larger bodies exercise, they do so in order to get smaller. Why can’t we just enjoy movement the way we are, no matter our size or shape?
“Our society needs to stop thinking that we have to change—our bodies, minds, habits—in order to have a worthy life,” says Well+Good Changemaker Raquel Vélez, founder and CEO of Alpine Parrot, which designs adventure clothing for sizes 14 to 30. “So many people put off trying something new or doing the things they love simply because they feel a need to change themselves to fit someone else’s definition of who is allowed to participate in those activities. Let’s give ourselves permission to step into the world, as we currently are, and go have fun in it!”
With that goal in mind, Vélez adds that while Alpine Parrot might appear to be an outdoor apparel company, she really thinks of it as an “opportunities-for-joy company.” She says: “We want people to be living their most joyful lives outside, and having clothing that fits is a crucial piece of that mission.”
Unfortunately, systemic inequities like discrimination and income gaps have long created barriers that keep many of us from being able to live our most joyful, healthy lives, no matter how badly we might want to. “Wellness has been seen as the responsibility of the individual: You have to take care of yourself, you have to create these routines, your health and wellness is in your hands. And that’s untrue,” says Changemaker Alison Mariella Désir, author and founder of Harlem Run. “Historical trauma, systemic racism have made it difficult for Black people to access [well-being] resources, including outdoor space. It has made it difficult for Black people to feel a sense of psychological safety, physical safety, and belonging.”
That’s why, through a range of projects, like a documentary PBS show (Out & Back) and a nationwide series of community runs, Désir is doing everything she can to build a world “where Black and brown people can freely move through space and enjoy the transformational power of a long run,” she says.
As activists do what they can to help more people find more psychological comfort in movement, innovators are finding new ways to bring us better physical comfort. Take Well+Good Changemaker Stephen Liu, MD, an orthopedic surgeon who co-founded Forme, which designs posture-correcting clothing that helps with muscle activation and proper alignment. He originally created the garments to help his mother battle poor posture and compressed lungs during late-stage cancer. Now, through Forme, he’s created a sustainable solution to help us feel better in our everyday lives, and comfortably take part in the activities that bring us happiness. Because we should all be allowed to find play, fun, and joy, no matter the bodies we live in.
As they work to welcome more people into wellness and fitness spaces, these Well+Good Changemakers are declaring: We all deserve to move through the world confidently and comfortably.
—By Jennifer Heimlich, Well+Good Senior Fitness Editor
Alison Mariella Désir
Founder of Harlem Run and Author of Running While Black
Alison Mariella Désir identifies herself as a “disrupter, author, community builder, and mother.” As the founder of Harlem Run and Run 4 All Women, and a co-founder of the Running Industry Diversity Coalition, she is dedicated to providing opportunities for Black and brown people to experience the transformative power of a long run. And in the process, she’s rewriting the narrative of who can be a runner.
NPR called Désir’s 2022 book Running While Black a “searing indictment of the ways in which the running industry perpetuates white supremacy and the marginalization of non-white voices.” Today, she is the producer and host of the PBS TV show Out & Back With Alison Mariella Désir—currently in its first season—as well as its companion podcast.
“I’m most looking forward to the day that the wellness and fitness industry is truly inclusive. And this means that no matter your body shape or size, your ability, your race, you can show up and move your body and feel a sense of belonging and that you matter.”
—Alison Mariella Désir
Leaning on her background in counseling psychology, in which she holds a master’s degree from Columbia University, Désir also leads a nationwide series of events called Meaning Thru Movement, which pairs community runs with honest conversations about topics like body image and how running can impact our mental health. Désir ultimately aims to create a world where Black and brown people can safely and freely move through space.
What do you think most needs to change in the wellness industry for people to be well?
“For a long time, wellness has been seen as something that is just the responsibility of the individual, and that’s untrue. Systemic racism and other inequalities do not leave us with a level playing field. If you’re living in poverty, no matter how much you hope to exercise or take care of yourself, there are structures that make it difficult, if not impossible, for you to access wellness. I think it’s important for the wellness industry to recognize those systemic inequalities and start to address them to make access to fitness and movement more available and more realistic for people.” —Alison Mariella Désir
Stephen Liu, MD
Chairman, Co-founder, and CEO of Forme
Stephen Liu, MD, is the chairman, co-founder, and CEO, of Forme, which launched in 2020 and sells patented FDA-registered posture-correcting wearables, such T-shirts, sports bras, shorts, leggings, and socks. He draws from over 25 years of experience as an academic physician and executive leader. He received a bachelor of arts in biology and psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles, and his medical degree from the University of Southern California. In 2000, he was honored as Humanitarian of the Year by Verdugo Hills Hospital for his contributions to orthopedic surgery.
Dr. Liu’s personal experience with helping his mother combat poor posture and compressed lungs during her battle with late-stage cancer is what inspired the creation of Forme. The innovative product line has since helped thousands of customers improve their posture, physical performance, and recovery, as well as help treat spinal and musculoskeletal disorders.
Forme is trusted by Olympic athletes and professionals from major U.S. sports leagues, including the NBA, and NHL, MLB, and most recently, the PGA. In 2023, Forme partnered with Sports Academy, a facility with locations in California and Texas, that trains youth, amateur, and elite athletes.
What do you hope to accomplish with Forme?
“I hope to improve human posture and everyday performance naturally without sacrificing productivity and incurring excessive health-care costs. I hope to create an easy and sustainable solution to empower individuals in their everyday lives.” —Dr. Stephen Liu
Author and Founder of Slow AF Run Club
Certified running coach, award-winning speaker, author, and proud fat marathon runner Martinus Evans is the founder of the Slow AF Run Club, an online community that launched in 2019 and now connects over 25,000 self-described slow runners and walkers from around the world. His mission is to help people who identify as plus-size get active without the pressure of weight loss being a goal. Slow AF puts the focus on inspiration, motivation, and education, all while celebrating the grit and grind of runners “at the back of the pack,” he says. Evans’s story has since been featured in various publications. He appeared on the cover of Runner’s World magazine in January 2022.
I look forward to when body shaming is not accepted nor tolerated by anyone.”
Evans holds a bachelor of science degree in exercise science from Central Michigan University and a master of science degree in health promotion sciences from the University of Connecticut. He is a board member at the Council on Black Health. In addition to running the Slow AF Run Club, Evans is the host of The 300 Pounds and Running Podcast; co-host of The Long Run With Martinus and Latoya; and creator of the 300 Pounds and Running blog, which launched in 2012. His first book, Slow AF Running Club: The Ultimate Guide For Anyone Who Wants to Run, is due out on June 6.
What’s your wellness philosophy?
“Be ‘active’ regardless of your size. Enjoy your f**king food. Live your life and have fun while doing it.” —Martinus Evans
CEO and Founder of Diversability
At age 9, Tiffany Yu became disabled following a car accident that permanently paralyzed her arm and took her father’s life. Fast-forward to her years as an undergraduate at Georgetown University, and she founded Diversability as a student club. After earning her bachelor’s degree, Yu went on to receive a master’s degree from the London School of Economics. In the following years, Yu helped invest more than $170,000 in disability initiatives, led three TEDx talks, and served on the San Francisco Mayor’s Disability Council.
Today, Diversability is an award-winning social enterprise that elevates disability pride and amplifies the voices of people with disabilities. Diversability connects members of the disability community; hosts community-wide networking events; and provides diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) workshops for businesses. Since its inception, Diversability has grown to serve eight cities, garnering more than 4,700 community members through its events and projects. In 2023, Yu aims to connect more disabled professionals to resources and DEI-led businesses through hiring and networking events across the United States.
What are you trying to change with Diversability?
“What I’m trying to do is change the way that the world sees, views, and defines disability. For over a decade after I became disabled, I felt so much shame around the experience of being in my disabled body, and it’s taken me a long time to understand what it means to be disabled and be proud.” —Tiffany Yu
Founder and CEO of Alpine Parrot
Raquel Vélez is the founder and CEO of Alpine Parrot, an outdoor apparel company launched in 2019 that caters specifically to people of size and people of color. She brings to this venture almost two decades of engineering experience, having received her degree in mechanical engineering from the California Institute of Technology, where she worked and studied as a robotics engineer (and eventually shifted over to software engineering and engineering management). Now, as an apparel engineer, Vélez is creatively tackling one of the oldest (and most polluting) industries by creating comfortable and durable clothing for a market of people who have so often been neglected in the outdoor space.
As a plus-sized Latina who discovered her love of nature later in life, Vélez has put an incredible amount of careful consideration into the design of each Alpine Parrot product, focusing on great fit and quality construction. She was named one of Outside Magazine‘s Outsiders of the Year in 2021. In 2023, Alpine Parrot is working on a few product launches (still under wraps) to push forward the brand’s mission of getting more women outdoors.
What are you most looking forward to in the future when it comes to change in wellness?
“I can’t wait for a future that focuses on lifting us up instead of tearing us down: ‘10 Bird Songs To Listen for on Your Next Hike’ sounds a whole lot better than ‘10 Ways To Lose 10 Pounds,’ don’t you think? I want to live in a world where I’m celebrated, and I know I’m not alone.” —Raquel Vélez