Many hopeful article concepts land unsolicited in my inbox, sent by representatives of everything from supplement brands to fitness apps to beauty products. If they’re bulk mailers, the greetings are always, "Hey ladies," or something similar. As someone who writes about wellness, the products I’m pitched on are usually by women, and they are nearly always, with rare exceptions, exclusively for women. Why is an industry all people need only marketed to one gender, and what can be done about it? Ahead, I unpack the glaring lack of gender inclusivity in wellness and highlight some of the brands actually getting it right.
Gendered Wellness Excludes Trans People
Never was the cis-women-only paradigm in wellness more apparent than when I was informed about a new wellness app for "womxn." I found the idea of an app centering an assigned-female-at-birth body part while simultaneously claiming inclusivity via an x in the spelling of women infuriating. The site states they "don’t tolerate transphobia." However, they use a transphobic moniker. I replied with a message detailing how the name is exclusionary and harmful to trans women and nonbinary people. I also pointed out that the supposed inclusivity by way of altering the spelling of women-only made that even more problematic, as the word "womxn" notoriously serves to exclude trans women—by way of titling them as something separate and different from women. Of course, I didn’t receive a reply. This was not a new occurrence for me.
Lack of Gender Inclusivity Isn’t New
The wellness space is predominantly inhabited by upper-class cis white women. The more press releases I receive about what’s new and next in wellness, the clearer it becomes nonbinary people, men, and trans people are just about fully excluded from an industry they have an equal need for. Is anyone giving wellness the inclusive treatment it deserves, and how can exclusionary brands do better?
The more press releases I receive about what’s new and next in wellness, the clearer it becomes nonbinary people, men, and trans people are just about fully excluded.
Who's Doing It Right?
Thankfully, there are indeed numerous brands that offer a gender-inclusive take on wellness. Here are a few the majority of the industry could stand to take a cue from.
A Black-owned natural, gender-neutral skincare company, Lyoba's line includes probiotic deodorants, artisan soaps, body butters, and hair creams. From curl enhancers to bath bombs, there simply isn’t mention of gender in the product descriptions. This lack of mention serves to seamlessly make their products viable for all people, without concern over if one is the right gender for any particular item's use. Lyoba isn’t doing anything specific to be inclusive. Rather, it's what they don’t do that makes their products exactly that.
Makers of a CBG fitness hydration powder, Off Field’s site features imagery of men and women equally, with no specific focus on either. The site centers around their product and what it does, not on targeting it to a specifically gendered market. While historically weightlifting and bodybuilding have been associated with men, and cardio fitness has been associated with women, they cast an image of athleticism at large instead. Off Field’s laid-back approach makes their product appealing to anyone looking for a way to enhance their fitness, gender aside.
While it may be somewhat easy to skirt around the mention of gender in skincare and fitness hydration, it’s a much more complex task when it comes to personal intimacy. Pleasure toy company Dame manages to do exactly that, though. While the brand name obviously references women, they remove the gender focus in several ways. Their toys and lubes reference the body parts they are designed for, using anatomically based words such as vagina and vulva, but the site completely eschews references to men and women, even in their couples section.
The logo is an "O" face that is drawn simply enough to have no gendered features, and that logo is featured on products like arousal serum. They have an online questionnaire to help consumers find the perfect toy, and on the page asking about which body parts a consumer has, they offer the options of "a penis," "a vulva," and "either/both." This serves to include not only trans and nonbinary people but intersex consumers as well.
How Everyone Else Can Do Better
There are several ways the above brands provide strong examples of gender-inclusive wellness. For existing brands not currently following their lead, here’s how they can be inclusive of more genders.
The most straightforward step a brand can take is, no shock here, to not only serve cis women with their branding. All of the above companies serve as examples of gender-neutral branding. They don’t employ any standard pastels for women or muted earth tones for men. They don’t use soft "feminine" fonts or strong "masculine" ones. They appear to simply be products or services for consumers to use. They choose colors that aren’t associated only with men or women, readable fonts that aren’t either, and they avoid icons that invoke sex or gender.
Imagery Of More Genders
Nothing says "this product is for cis women" like photos of cis women. This is all so far from rocket science: If a brand wants to be inclusive, they need to model inclusivity. They can use nonbinary people, men, and trans people in their materials, including social media, to clearly convey that message.
Be Mindful of Terminology
There is no shortage of terminology that doesn’t call attention to gender available in our language. Companies should never assume the person they’re emailing is a "lady," and should consider not excluding men and nonbinary people from feeling safe and comfortable wearing or using their products.
The Bottom Line
We have so far to go when it comes to gender equality in our society, and in far more important ways (hello, pay gap!) than the fonts and colors on deodorant labels. But with every step the wellness industry takes to be more gender-inclusive, we help further the larger, greater cause of equality for all. Wanting others to be well and to feel better is a noble cause. Actually doing the work to ensure we aren’t causing harm while attempting to do that is the first step to accomplishing that goal.