In today’s image-obsessed world, the pressure from celebrities, beauty brands and pop culture toward changing and manipulating one’s body can be overwhelming. How can we cultivate joy and wellness within ourselves and the world of fitness and movement? In this week’s episode, Farai Chideya speaks with two guests who are helping their clients connect the dots between physical health and mental health; who are building their communities and businesses; and who are aging not with grace but with vigor. Plus, we answer questions from you, our listeners!
Farai Chideya [00:00:03] Hi, folks. We are so glad that you're listening to Our Body Politic. If you haven't yet, remember to follow this podcast on your podcatcher of choice like Apple or Spotify or wherever you get your podcast. And if you have time, please leave us a review. It helps other listeners find us and we read them for your feedback. You can also reach out to us on Instagram and Twitter @OurBodyPolitic. We are here for you with you and because of you, so keep letting us know what's on your mind. We'd also love for you to join in financially supporting the show if you are able. You can find out more at OurBodyPolitic.com/donate. Thanks for listening.
This is Our Body Politic. I'm creator and host Farai Chideya. There's so much pressure from celebrities, beauty brands and pop culture about how our bodies should look. So when it comes to fitness, how can we cultivate joy and wellness in our bodies? I talk with two incredible guests who help clients connect the dots between physical health and mental health and how to stay committed to both. First, I'll talk to each guest on her own about how her personal journey of loss and reflection got her to where she is today. Then we'll bring them together in our roundtable to explore how they're building their communities and businesses and the challenges they see their clients facing. Plus, they'll answer questions from you, our listeners. To kick us off. I'm joined by Dionne C. Monsanto, Chief Joy Connector and founder of Joyous Ocean, which aims to connect people to their joy. She's also a passionate mental health advocate. We'll be talking about suicide, so please take care of yourself. Welcome to the show, Dionne.
Dionne C. Monsanto [00:01:48] Thank you so much Farai, I'm excited to be here.
Farai Chideya [00:01:51] You have so much complexity. You have this girlish-ness. You have like the sage sister elderhood. Tell us a little bit about how you became who you are and made a turn into fitness.
Dionne C. Monsanto [00:02:06] Thank you. I love that identification with complexity because I see it. I often tell people that I am 56 going on 6, so I really do feel like a 6 year old in my body and in my life and even in the business. And I think a lot of the transformation of moving from financial services into fitness really came through tragic loss. You know, cutting right to the chase. I didn't see myself leaving financial services and then life hit and my daughter died by her own hand by suicide. And then I could not imagine staying in financial services. I had been so deeply changed and transformed that I couldn't live in the way that I was living before and really wanted to take hold of what was left of my years and my life and really passionately, aggressively actively living a life that I had not lived before. And yoga was something that kept me relatively sane while I was going through so much trauma. There were court cases, there was sexual violence. There were so many things that had happened to my poor baby before she died at 15, and I'd gained a good 80 pounds trying to deal with the weight of it all while I was in corporate America. And I just didn't feel like myself and I wanted to get back to me.
Farai Chideya [00:03:38] And we've talked about your daughter Siwe. So tell me about who she was as an individual and what you honor. And when you honor her, what you do on a regular basis.
Dionne C. Monsanto [00:03:49] Thank you for that. I love talking about Siwe. She was an amazing human from conception until death. Her due date was March 8th, which is International Working Women's Day, and she came exactly on that day. So it should have been letting me know from before she got here she was intentional and brilliant child. She had finished a children's book. She played violin, cello. She danced. She was on scholarship with Ailey. She was tutoring people in math at seven. So just an amazing human and fun to be around until she was crying for 45 minutes at a time. You kind of didn't know what was going to show up on any given day and her bouts with tears. What I later found out was depression and anxiety disorder started when she was in kindergarten, and I would even ask the teacher like, did she cry at school because she cries a lot at home? I don't understand what's happening.
Farai Chideya [00:04:47] Mm hmm. So what do you do now to give back? Because you are someone who gives in the mental health space, as well as the physical health space.
Dionne C. Monsanto [00:04:57] Thank you. I, I have been volunteering with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention since a couple of years before she passed. So since 2009, I was a volunteer. I am currently on a National Committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, as well as do a lot of public speaking around mental health advocacy and particularly in the Black community. Because when my daughter died and I looked to my right and my left and people are whispering about mental health challenges, it's like, I know I'm not alone. I know my family is dealing with things that every other family is dealing with. So, much to my family's chagrin, I took the position that I was going to talk about it and allow other people to talk about it. And as I was learning, there still is so much shame associated with having any mental health diagnosis and getting help for that. And I wanted to normalize it in the Black community and be able to tell my story because as I traveled the world in certain countries, if somebody dies by suicide or they have a mental health diagnosis, they're embarrassed by them and they don't talk about them anymore. It's as though they're erased from history. And I couldn't bear to have my daughter's life for 15 years erased. So I do talk about it a lot, letting people know there is help available and there's nothing wrong if you need medication long term, short term, if you're getting support. I'm not currently seeing a therapist, but even saying that at that point in time, 12 years ago, people still looked at you a little funny. Now it does seem to be more of a commonplace conversation and helping people understand signs to look for and just talking to bring this out of the darkness and understanding that certain memories and trauma get stuck in your body. So you need to move your body to help heal your body.
Farai Chideya [00:06:54] Yeah, that's really what you have done. Like you were your first, I want to say patient, but that's not really the right…
Dionne C. Monsanto [00:07:02] Yeah, client, I was my first client.
Farai Chideya [00:07:04] But you're a healer. You healed yourself first. So what did you do to take that mind body connection that had been so stressed by your daughter's death and begin to reshape yourself physically as well as mentally?
Dionne C. Monsanto [00:07:16] The big thing for me and getting to you know, what I'd like to say is my right-sized, body and right-sized life was just taking stock of what was important to me and what I needed. I'd been an onstage performer, a dancer for many years, and as I was dealing with the trauma of various things in my daughter's life and her mental healthcare and changing paradigms within our health care system and insurance, there was this constant battle with what is there for me? And the biggest step was carving out time for my daily yoga practice. I was physically going to a studio and really noticing, “Wow, I feel so much better when I get off of my map” and I still say it often, that six by two, that yoga mat was my magic carpet. It was a safe space for me to leave whatever was going on. And quite often there were a lot of tears shed on my mat. So it was a lot of unearthing and releasing and reconnecting to myself. What made me happy? How did I heal my sadness? What are the songs that brought me joy? What are the places and people that bring me joy and and letting go of things that didn't. It was a challenge to decide to leave financial services, but financial challenge. Emotionally, I knew it was the right thing to do and it was really scary, but I couldn't live in that way anymore. So taking time for myself was a really big first step. And as a Black female and a mom, single parent been trained that you don't do that, your life is for others, your life is for the kids, for the job. You take care of everything else. You pour out your cup and you get the scraps that are left over. So I essentially started putting myself first.
Farai Chideya [00:09:12] Yeah, I have struggled with that. Does putting yourself first mean treating yourself like I'm going to have a Sunday that I know will give me all sorts of gastrointestinal distress, but I'm going to have it because I want it or is treating yourself going for that walk. And I know that you're someone who preaches about that a lot. You know, how do you deal with your impulses, you know?
Dionne C. Monsanto [00:09:33] That's such a good question. I still balance it and it's still a daily conversation with myself and what's going to make me feel better. Real talk: This past weekend, I was away and I'm at this fabulous retreat and my body has decided I'm gluten free, which means if I consume gluten, I have these rashes. But even though I knew that, I had a piece of bread and the next day there was this rash on my neck and I'm like, Uhhh. So sometimes I do it well and sometimes I don't. But the thing is, the recovery. Like if you're running a race and we're all running this race in life, we're going to go get to the same finish line ultimately. I'm going to stumble and fall and giving myself grace to get back up. And knowing what I need to get back up is more water, more movement, more fun. Doing the work, but making it fun work. So it's a lot of conversations with myself and I love snacks and finding the healthier snacks nuts won't bother me. Water, kombucha, the gluten free cookie that's honey sweetened and just feeling it out. The anniversary of my daughter's death, June, I'm generally not good. I allow myself that I'm not going to have any discipline around this anniversary because I'm going to have the comfort foods and allow that. And then I kind of come back into myself in July. But giving myself grace and not being harsh going, you know what? I'm human and it happens and I'll balance it out, but not deprivation.
Farai Chideya [00:11:10] Do you ever feel shamed for being joyful? Because I think sometimes people, they cut eyes like, “what did they have to laugh about?”
Dionne C. Monsanto [00:11:17] Now, it's funny you say that. I also learned early on that my joy is something worth stealing because people would they poke at you to try to make you unhappy. And I do get shamed for that. Like even a friend of mine said to me, I'm so sick of her happy behind. Like she's always around here running and laughing. And I was like, it's a choice that I've made during yoga teacher training we had long days. Like some days there were 20 hour days with 290 minute classes and 105 degree heat, you know, Bikram yoga. And people were like, How are you happy? Now, my daughter had already passed and I said, You know what? If the worst thing about my day is that I'm really hot and I'm around a bunch of strangers and I'm cooking in a hotel room, it's still a great day. I'm not trying to keep anybody alive. It's a shift in perspective of, “Oh my God, things could be so much worse.” And inviting gratitude, I'm thankful for this opportunity to do this. I didn't know a whole lot of Black yoga teachers. I didn’t know a lot of moms that danced and were in financial services. Like all of these experiences, as challenging as they are, like, I get to forge a new path and I'm going to find a way to enjoy whatever I'm doing.
Farai Chideya [00:12:33] Dionne, you released your book in 2022. You actually published it on the day of your daughter's Siwe’s birth, and I was lucky enough to write the foreword. So the title is 101 Ways to Live Life INJoy, which is spelled INJoy enjoy rather than ENJoy. So what's the meaning behind the title?
Dionne C. Monsanto [00:12:51] Thank you for that. There are so many paths to joy and I'm always hoping that things will be direct, but they're quite often bumpy and the spelling “INJoy” came from a quote that just blew my mind. It was a Joseph Campbell quote, and it was participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy. So those last few words: we can choose to live in joy really got me. And it felt like, yes, joy can be a completely immersive experience, that it can be the adverb, as I say, that modifies my life. I'm going to look at the lens and even in the horrific sadness of my daughter's passing, you know, some years later to look at, I'm thankful I can experience the memories joyfully. I had 15 amazing years with her of being fully present and captivated by her wisdom, by her lessons. You know being a parent, you learn and I’m still learning from my sons, but I had that. So it's been a lifelong goal of mine to be happy. And this quote seems like it gave me full permission to jump into a pool of joy and creating my life as that pool. Hope that makes sense.
Farai Chideya [00:14:15] Oh, it very much does. Since I'm 53 years old, I'm turning to the section, uh the little Chapter 53, and you have this quote from Paulo Coelho. “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve. The fear of failure.” What does that call up for you?
Dionne C. Monsanto [00:14:33] For me, it's always thinking about just trying and the playfulness of children. It's like that knowing that I know what I'll be able to do, but I'm just going to do it. I feel like I'm a slow starter and I need support for completion. But, I’m like, if the book flopped and I only sold ten copies, I feel good that I did it. But it was a bestseller, self-published on Amazon and still getting such rave reviews about it. But for me, it's like I'm only failing if I don't try is what I tell myself. If I don't try, that's when I failed. So I'm like, I'm going to try. And I am scared a lot. I have a sticker on the wall that says scared, but doing it anyway and always leaning into that going, okay, there's going to be something good on the other side of this. The people I met along the way, the learnings that I've had, and even inspiring other people to publish, I know so many people that had written their books already but hadn't published them and I'm like, I don't know what I'm doing, but I'm going to give it a try. And creating this playfulness around it helps me to lean in. Because I think I fail a lot, but I learn. So is it really failure?
Farai Chideya [00:15:50] Yeah, exactly. And sometimes, you know, a failure is just a delay. And I am hoping that that is part of my fitness journey. I could talk to you all day. Dionne Monsanto, thank you so much.
Dionne C. Monsanto [00:16:02] Thank you so much, Farai. This has been a pleasure.
Farai Chideya [00:16:05] That was Dionne C Monsanto Chief Joy Connector and founder of the wellness firm Joyous Ocean. We'll hear from her again a little later on the show in our roundtable.
We turn next to another woman making waves in health and fitness. Renata Joy is the founder of Pure Joy Wellness, a lifestyle brand devoted to helping women take charge of their health. Renata spent years as an Emmy-nominated TV producer, but she pivoted her career to a lifelong love: wellness. Now her mission is to help give women the tools they need to live healthier lifestyles, no matter their age or schedule. Thanks for joining us, Renata.
Renata Joy [00:16:43] Thank you for having me Farai, I'm really happy to be here.
Farai Chideya [00:16:46] Yeah, likewise. It's good to see you. And you're someone who inspires me with your practice. But let's start with your origin story. So tell me about the house and the family you grew up in.
Renata Joy [00:16:59] I grew up in a family where I like to say, if you ever saw the movie The Sixth Sense, and they said, I see dead people, I saw sick people. My mom had polio when she was younger, learned how to walk again, but she had arthritis really badly and she died of ovarian cancer. My father was on dialysis forever, had kidney failure. I have a brother who died of congestive heart failure and a brother who passed away of lung cancer. Now, what I noticed during those times when I was younger is I drew a line from their lifestyle to their illnesses. Now, how I knew that at three years old, I have absolutely no idea. But I decided I was going to live the opposite of the way that they lived. So I only ate fruits and vegetables. I moved as much as I could. And although I went on a career of television, I still live that lifestyle, when I was at television.
Farai Chideya [00:18:00] Wow. It's amazing. Like, the television business is such a pressure cooker. So you were able to just kind of hold space for yourself?
Renata Joy [00:18:09] Well, my schedule was like, I'd get up at 4:00 in the morning, go into the office. At six I go to the gym, I'd go home, take a shower, make my food, come back to the office, and then do my day. When I left television to start Pure Joy Wellness like, no one was surprised. I was working at The View at the time. And, you know, I got this lovely note from Barbara Walters saying, we're sad to see you go, but we understand that this is your passion, this is what you do, and you need to put that out to the world. So that's how that started.
Farai Chideya [00:18:46] That's beautiful. But what you know, what was the thought process right before you decided to quit? Was there a moment where you had that “Aha”?
Renata Joy [00:18:55] What I learned about television was I felt like you are working all the time. And television at that time, if they had been like the tech industry, like if you go into Google, they have a cafeteria, they have a gym, they have, they make sure that their employees are going to be there all the time. Okay. Well, we we got daycare. We got we make sure that you have breaks … television, it wasn't like that. And I felt like television was a very, very unhealthy business. It was highly stressed. You got hardly any sleep. One of the times I was watching the Daytime Emmy Awards and the Dr. Oz show was on, and they had won for best informational talk show. And so everybody is applauding and they walk up on the stage and I'm looking at the producers. Now, Dr. Oz show is supposed to be about… these were the most unhealthy people I know. I was like, there's a disconnect because you're, you know, So I said, I really want to get out and I want to teach women the importance of taking care of yourself, because women of my generation did not learn that. Like we didn't play sports. And, you know, we had home economics. You know, we learned the best way to wash dishes. You know, we learned how to sell a skirt, you know, but we weren't learning how to take care of ourselves. We were groomed to be housewives.
Farai Chideya [00:20:25] As you're talking, I mean, it is fascinating to think about the changes in society. And even though women have more freedom, in some ways, we are also losing ground in others. And I think that the stress of the era is really dragging down people's health. How do you see, you know, what are your tips on how to deal with stress as part of dealing with your mind body wellness?
Renata Joy [00:20:51] I always say to women in terms of stress, one, pay attention to your breathing, right? When you are stressed, what happens is your body starts creating a lot of cortisone and all this… if you take a deep breath inand do a slow exhale. It'll start calming your system down. I also believe walking. Walking is so amazing. Getting out of fresh air will help de-stress you. I work with a lot of women who are over 50 who have high powered careers. They're traveling all the time. They're trying to juggle family. They're trying to juggle being a spouse, their kids, all of that and keep this high powered career. So it's extremely stressful. I like to take a moment for myself. I like to say, I close my bathroom door. I put a sign on there, Do not disturb. And for that moment, I remember that well, it was a Calgon take me away.
Farai Chideya [00:21:53] Yes, Calgon, take me away.
Renata Joy [00:21:54] Yeah. I love baths. I love those. I get in a bath and just take that moment for yourself? I think you have to carve out some time for you.
Farai Chideya [00:22:03] Yeah, I couldn't agree more. I actually have a funny assignment from my therapist. I just got a new therapist, which is all part of the mind body stuff. And she was like, I want you to take an hour and just be. Like your assignment is to not do anything, plan anything, achieve anything. You know, just be.
Renata Joy [00:22:24] And how has it been? How hard is that for you?
Farai Chideya [00:22:27] Oh, that's going to be… I haven't even attempted it yet. I might not last 5 minutes.
Renata Joy [00:22:35] I think that's crucially important. You know what it does? It gets you in touch with yourself. It gets you in touch with what you want. It's hard for people to just sit in it. I tell them when you're going through a hard... just sit in it, feel what's happening. Feel the emotions roll over you. Most of the time we want to run away from it and it's hard to sit in it. So I agree with your therapist taking an hour and just do nothing and see what comes up.
Farai Chideya [00:23:03] And definitely for me, like I love… I love outdoor sports. I do work out in a gym as well. And, you know, sometimes it does seem Sisyphean. But thinking about you stepping away from this TV career, TV is also a very image based business, you know, so a lot of people end up, frankly, developing eating disorders or, you know, body dysmorphia, not just women, but, you know, the men of TV's, some of them now, too. But I have to read you this quote. So hopefully this wasn't what your workplace was like. And I worked in TV pretty briefly. But this is a Hunter S. Thompson quote, “The TV business is uglier than most things. It is normally perceived as some kind of cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the journalism industry, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs for no good reason.”
Renata Joy [00:24:01] Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. It's funny. I used to produce E. Jean Carroll, and she was Hunter Thompson's biographer.
Farai Chideya [00:24:08] Oh, wow. Yeah, I didn't realize that.
Renata Joy [00:24:11] Yeah, I did. Matter of fact, that was the reason I came to New York to work on America's Talking, which was… Which is now MSNBC. And I was E. Jean Carroll's producer on Ask E Jean.
Farai Chideya [00:24:25] So nothing going on in E. Jean Carroll's life, isn't there?
Renata Joy [00:24:27] No, but I think that was going on during the time we were producing that show. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Farai Chideya [00:24:33] So, but I mean, she has made an incredible journey. I mean, are you surprised knowing, you know, since you knew her years ago, are you surprised that she went to this length to go through the justice system?
Renata Joy [00:24:46] No, I'm not. I think one of the things that I knew about her or know about her is, you know, she took her job and what she did very seriously. And she worked really, really hard to climb that ladder to get where she was and to have somebody come out and, you know, embarrass you and tell you that you're a liar and then lose your job because of it. Hmm. You know, her main thing was to get her reputation back. Absolutely. For people to understand that she was not a liar. And if she's going to, you know, make him accountable at the same time, you know, more power to that.
Farai Chideya [00:25:24] Yeah. And unfortunately, you know, powerful women sometimes do have to deal with reputational assaults. You know, there's whisper campaigns.
Renata Joy [00:25:34] It's a way of knocking us down. Right? I was very thrilled to see her standing up for herself and for a lot of other women to show them the way. You know, at 79 years old, you know, she's still out there fighting the fight. And I think that has a lot to say about women, the power you get as you get older and to spin back to... I look at her and I'm like, wow, she maintains she took care of herself. You know, she's powerful. She's exerting her power not just for her, but as an example for other women to follow. And so I applaud her for that.
Farai Chideya [00:26:15] Yeah, absolutely. And it's certainly been a wild season in politics and life, but I do feel like our country is in a very tight spot right now. You know, in terms of the decreasing life expectancy and all of the health stressors of the pandemic that still are with us. Many people developed anxiety disorders during the pandemic, which then affects your ability to take care of yourself. And so as we wrap up here, we're going to have you back for a roundtable. But how do you think we kind of rebuild after a very tumultuous time in society?
Renata Joy [00:26:51] Well, you know, what struck me about the pandemic and when I was hearing the case is that the majority of people that were dying were African-Americans that had preexisting conditions. And what struck me really hard about that was I was like, that was my family. If my family were not already deceased, they would have been a tragedy of COVID. I think that it's crucially important at this point in time for people to do a check in on their mental health, like check in. You know, what did COVID and being isolated, what has that done for you? What did it do to you? And kind of take a mental check on what those things are and to slowly, if you have it started getting out and moving to slowly start doing that? I started during the pandemic, a walking challenge.
Farai Chideya Oh, that's great.
Renata Joy And what the walking challenge was is all I wanted women to do was to walk for 30 minutes, 30 days straight. That's it. Oh, wow. And I'm thinking people are going to go that that, you know, what did she talk about? But I needed something that people could socially distance, they could get outside. They could do it by themselves, but with a community of other women. So what I had them do was I had them prove that they walk. They had to post, they had post videos, they had to post photos they had, and then they started communicating with each other. And all of a sudden I was like, wow. I started seeing the landscape of the country. And what struck me during that time is cause I'm in New York City, So walking in New York City is a walking city. I walk everywhere. I was hearing from women like in Chicago, that couldn't walk half a block.
Farai Chideya [00:28:37] Yeah.
Renata Joy [00:28:39] That couldn't climb stairs, that couldn't. And so something that I took for granted because I've been moved my entire life, I realized that there was an enormous women across the country, that that wasn't their thing. And so the walking challenge has grown. Now it's international and women are walking from Iceland and they're walking from the UK and they're walking… But just that little thing of of getting out every day and just walking. Yeah. If people start with just that, not only does it help you physically, but it also clears your mind. And anyone can do it.
Farai Chideya [00:29:19] Yeah, I love my outdoors, I love a good city walk, but there's nothing to me like walking in a forest.
Renata Joy [00:29:27] I agree. But during COVID, you know, it was like, you got to go where you got to go. But that's what I would say.
Farai Chideya [00:29:31] Absolutely.
Renata Joy [00:29:31] Have people get out and just start. Just start walking. Yeah, Get in nature.
Farai Chideya [00:29:36] I love it. Renata. Many good things that I have learned from you about fitness and how to center ourselves as we get older and as we grow into our power. So, Renata, thanks so much.
Renata Joy [00:29:49] Thank you, Farai. I enjoyed being here.
Farai Chideya [00:29:51] That was Renata Joy, entrepreneur and founder of Pure Joy Wellness.
Farai Chideya [00:30:12] This is Our Body Politic. I'm Farai Chideya. Each week on the show, we bring you a roundtable called Sippin’ the Political Tea. Joining me this week is Renata Joy, founder of Pure Joy Wellness. Welcome, Renata.
Renata Joy [00:30:22] Hi, Farai. How are you?
Farai Chideya [00:30:24] I'm good. It's really good to see you. And we've also got Dionne, C. Monsanto, Chief Joy Connector and founder of Joyous Ocean. Hey, Dionne.
Dionne C. Monsanto [00:30:32] Hey there. Good to see you. And good to meet you, Renata.
Renata Joy [00:30:35] Oh, nice to meet you too, Dionne.
Farai Chideya [00:30:38] I have a very loving, but still sometimes aspirational desperational. Or is desperational in the word because it needs to be. Sometimes my attitude about my fitness is desperational sisters.
Renata Joy [00:30:54] It can be.
Dionne C. Monsanto [00:30:55] It can be. I agree with Renata.
Farai Chideya [00:31:00] Because both of you are some of the most, you know, intense, accomplished women. And I've worked with both of you. And somehow I'm still not Halle Berry. You know.
Renata Joy [00:31:10] You know. But you know what, right? You're not supposed to be Halle Berry, you're supposed to Farai, right?
Dionne C. Monsanto [00:31:16] That's right.
Farai Chideya [00:31:16] Yes, exactly. So, yeah, we've talked to both of you about your careers and you are some of the most amazing fitness professionals and mind body healers around. And yet sometimes I do feel desperational, all because I just haven't achieved what I think my body is meant to be. And sometimes it's hard to keep the faith. So especially for women in their fifties and sixties. How do you keep refocusing on physical health?
Renata Joy [00:31:48] Well for me I am going to be 67 this year, so.
Farai Chideya [00:31:53] Oh my gosh.
Renata Joy [00:31:54] Yeah, yeah. So I find that for me, it has to be a priority and I think a lot of times when I'm working with women, they're in desperation too, and it's like they're chasing their tail, they're going round around and thinking that it's a lot more complicated than it actually is. So what I have found is I find the things that I absolutely love to do, like for me, I love to jump rope. And the reason I like to jump rope is because it reminds me of the joy I had and the laughter I had with my friends when I was a kid. And so I don't ever want to forget what that feels like. So what I like to tell my clients: find that thing that you love, that it doesn't feel like exercise and do that. If you find the thing that you really love, you'll have more tendency to do that than trying to fit into a box of what you think you're supposed to do.
Dionne C. Monsanto [00:32:53] I 100% agree with that. I love that, Renata. And what's funny is I just spent some time jumping rope with friends over the weekend and right back into teenage mode. I was like, oh, the weight of this rope, it's not heavy enough. We're going to have to figure this out if we're going to do double jumps jumping in and and it was so much fun. So. Absolutely right. Yeah. And I'm 56, so I get it. You look amazing.
Farai Chideya [00:33:20] Yeah, both of you are. Both of you look completely amazing. You know, like fantastic skin. And I know that that's not just from sweating it out. What do you put in your body to achieve the results you want with your body? I'll start with you, Dionne.
Dionne C. Monsanto [00:33:37] I like to say I'm a flexitarian. I'm not really stringent about things. I'm mostly vegan. I will have occasional eggs, maybe ghee. But that's something that felt good for me. I was a raw foodist at one point in time, and I love food prep, but just noticing how my body responds to certain things. So I tend not to have a lot of white product. I mean, if I go out and what they have is white rice, I’ll have white rice. If I'm going somewhere and it's fresh caught fish, I'm comfortable with having fish. So I really say I'm flexible. But at home it's mostly gluten free, soy-free vegan, and I do a lot of my own food prep. I love green juices and wheatgrass and yeah, I'm kind of a little Black hippie and the things that I choose to eat quinoa and greens and lots of fun with flavor, lots of fun spices and still very Caribbean, lots of plantains, whether they're green or black, whether it's the sweet or boiled banana, whichever one. But lots of fun in the kitchen.
Farai Chideya [00:34:44] Yeah, and I've had your food and it's delicious. And Renata, what about you? What do you put in your body?
Renata Joy [00:34:51] Well, I always start my morning out with hot lemon water because I think it's really important to start off with hydration. Hydration is really important. And I find that most people are not hydrated enough. I am of the theory because so many people have so many different kind of eating habits that the less ingredients it has, the better it is for you. And if it was made in a plant, probably not so good. If it's made from a plant is probably really good for you. So that's been my philosophy. So when I'm working with people, I always say if you live by the 80%, 20% rule. 80% of the time, I'm on point. Then that 20% of the time say you have to go to an event or say you got to go to a birthday party, there's the cake and all that, then enjoy it. I say, if you're going to have it, savor that moment, enjoy that cake. And then the other 80% of the time, make sure that you're eating things that less ingredient it has for you, the better it is for you. An Apple is only an apple. Rice is only rice. It's when we get caught up with all those additives and additional things where we get caught up. So I think that's the philosophy that I live by.
Dionne C. Monsanto [00:36:10] I love that. And I echo that too. Starting with water.
Farai Chideya [00:36:14] Yes. Dionne, you got on me about water. And some days are better than others. My sister girl Marie gave me a huge canteen, like the size of a boombox to carry around. So I don't know. I think it's 64 ounces or something.
Renata Joy [00:36:30] I think the other thing that's really important, especially as we get older, I find, is fiber. Like fiber is crucially important because I myself being 67 and trying to maintain and make sure my hormones are in balance and all of that, fiber plays a crucial role. Your gut health has to do with everything.
Farai Chideya [00:36:52] Yeah. And you know, for both of you, you operate on so many levels, you’re business women, your influencers. You know, we had a little gathering; Our Body Politic hosted a lunch for some women and we asked them what is the future like 15 years from now, and what have you done to influence that future? If you think about your work with all of its different layers of business and mind body wellness, how do you think you're affecting the future?
Renata Joy [00:37:21] I think I'm affecting the future by getting women to understand the importance of movement and why it's important. And a lot of people will say to me, Oh, well, you know, I want to move because I want to get a round booty or I want to move because I want six pack abs. So here's my philosophy. They ask, why do I move? Why do I move? And I'm 67 years old and I want women to really understand that you're moving because you want to be able to carry your groceries. You're moving because you want to be able to lift your luggage up and put it in the overhead bin. You're moving because you want to be able to sit down and stand up without assistance. You want to be able to walk without having to use a cane. You want to be able to climb a flight of stairs. You want to be able to function in life so that your quality of life is not hampered. And so when you're thinking about the way that you're eating, you're thinking about the way that you're moving, think big picture. Big picture is, as I age, I want to still be able to function. And if you do that, the round booty and all that stuff will probably come along. But that's not the focus. So I want women not to focus on the esthetics of how I look, but on how is my body functioning. And that's the message I like to give women.
Dionne C. Monsanto [00:38:48] I love that.
Farai Chideya [00:38:49] Yeah. Dionne, what about you?
Dionne C. Monsanto [00:38:51] I echo what she says. It's not something that I have said verbatim to my clients, but the feeling of less about how you look, but more about how you feel. For me, it's about your moving your body because your brain is a part of your body. And if you want your life to feel good and you want to feel empowered in your body, you need to move it. If you have a Ferrari, you wouldn't leave it sitting parked in front of your house for a year. You would move it, You would drive it. You have to run this phenomenal vehicle that you've been gifted for it to be in optimal health for years to come. And whatever that looks like for you, how your eating, how you're walking and how you're living it when you have that integration of I'm taking care of my body as my home, hopefully for upwards of 90 years and good health and the way you treat it is going to make all the difference in how it looks and feels. You will be healthier, happier and wealthier. Your health is your wealth above and beyond your finances.
Renata Joy [00:40:00] I agree with you. I always say to our bodies are talking to us all the time. Pay attention when you eat a certain food and your body feels bloated or you feel uncomfortable. Pay attention to that because your body's telling you something. When you're under stress and the first thing that you do is you grab for something sweet…pay attention to what your bodies say. Our bodies are talking to us all the time. They're telling us what we need all the time. We just have to start paying attention to her. She’s talking to us all the time.
Farai Chideya [00:40:36] I think that, you know, for me, managing anxiety like I am a pretty classic food addict and I use food to manage anxiety. And I can resist it, but sometimes the call is strong, you know, and Dionne, you've talked about that in your newsletter, the call of the chip aisle or whatever.
Dionne C. Monsanto [00:40:53] It's like the food calls you from the refrigerator, so you just can't have it there. But that call and it could be something to what Renata said, the body talking to you. Does it need comfort? Does it need companionship? Does it need to be soothed? Sometimes we're filling an emotional void with a physical food or a substance.
Farai Chideya [00:41:13] Oh, absolutely.
Dionne C. Monsanto [00:41:14] And looking. And how can you get that other thing? So that for me might be like, I need to find a sister friend to commune with, and it could be a walk with them, it could be a coffee, tea, just just a kiki, you know, used to having some sort of kiki. Somebody would give me that warm, fuzzy feeling instead of chewing on it and then being upset about how I look and feel later, because my body does respond differently to certain food and different things that I consume. So I try to choose carefully because I don't want that feeling after if it's something that doesn’t agree with my body.
Farai Chideya [00:41:55] I want to talk about the business of fitness, but before we do, I wanted to bring up something that I saw in the news that was really stunning. It is a story in The Washington Post that said that Black communities endured wave of excess deaths in past 2 decades, studies find. 1.6 million excess deaths and some of them have been in my family. My grandmother died of medical negligence. It's hard for Black women, especially as we age, I think, to access providers that value Black elders. So how do you deal? You know, you have very specific fitness and wellness practices in terms of your businesses, but how do you look at the big chessboard of what's going on, the trauma in the Black community in particular, but decreasing life expectancy overall?
Dionne C. Monsanto [00:42:51] That's a big one. I would say for me, there's a lot in conversation about the intersectionality for it, because as you know, as Black women and then even looking at Black maternal morbidity and what that is and those numbers being higher. So there's a different level of work ethic we're putting into it to get different results because it's like you're leaning into the wind knowing it's pushing back to see how that can support some of the transformation, the changes that you make. And even in the mental health advocacy space, you know, the numbers for us as a people, women, Black women, are stacked higher, and it's a conversation you have to see like how much you're going to lean into it to change the numbers for your specific line, for your family, for your body, and how you, you know, the individual, myself and the clients can be the change.
Farai Chideya [00:43:44] Mm hmm. Yeah.
Renata Joy [00:43:45] One of the reasons why I'm doing what I do is because I grew up in a family where everybody was sick. I thought to myself as a child, There's something really wrong with this. I think one of the things that's crucially important is, as a community, we've sort of sat back and looked for someone else to lead the way for us. Instead, we have to be in control of our own health. I was astonished when Michelle Obama was first lady and the first thing she did is she wanted to start that garden for kids. And if you notice what they did, they squashed it. And I'm like, why are they squashing it? Because the food industry doesn't want them talking about food. Okay? I go to a lot of different communities and what I do and what I've noticed and minority communities, there are more fast food restaurants. There are more liquor stores, and I'm not talking about gourmet wine shops. I'm talking about hardcore liquor stores. But when I go to more affluent areas, there's… you don't see fast food places very often and you see gourmet wine shops and things like that. So I think there needs to be an educational component that we as African American women that are in the health and fitness industry, we need to start educating our communities and particularly the women, because I think if you educate the women, it trickles down to the family. There are food deserts out there. If I go up to Harlem and you're saying to a group of Black kids, okay, you got to eat healthy. Well, if if produce costs like it's apples costs like $2.59 a pound and you're trying to feed a family of four, but Hamburger Helper is four for a dollar, which one are they going to choose? So there's a lot of economic disparity that's happening. But I think education is really key. And as we get older, you have to have an advocate for you. In the hospital systems, I just recently lost my partner a year ago and I was appalled at our medical system and how they treat people who they don't think have an advocate for them. They will let them die. They will let them die. So I think we have to start educating our own communities on what to do and find advocates for our elderly.
Farai Chideya [00:46:23] Yeah, I've been an advocate for both friends and relatives, and I've had friends and relatives be an advocate for me. And I think also as someone who has mainly been single in my adulthood, my single female friends, we really do take care of each other in terms of like if somebody has a medical procedure or just, you know, needs some connection. One thing that strikes me is that there's this huge beauty industry, and I would assume that, like any industry, Black women are undercapitalized. How do you look at the business side, the equity side of what you do in the fitness space and whether Black women in the fitness space are getting investment or support?
Dionne C. Monsanto [00:47:08] Most of my investment has been from clients. We as consumers are looking for ourselves. So I'm looking for a Renata Joy. I'm looking for a Dionne. I definitely saw that when I first became a yoga teacher. The students of color, whether it was the dark skinned Dominican woman or a Black female, someone coming to me going, Oh my God, seeing you there makes such a big difference to me. And then the studio's advertising that these people are working there so you can understand and have a lot of the conversations in regards to what Renata just said. What is your food source? How are you sourcing your food? How are you preparing your food and getting that balance for yourself as well as your clients? So they're seeing you and referring you to other people to expand your knowledge base and expand your offerings, whether they're online or in-person.
Farai Chideya [00:48:04] Mm hmm. And Renata, what do you think about the business side?
Renata Joy [00:48:07] I think the business side in general for minorities is harder to get funding. You have to prove twice as much in order to get funding. So again, I go back to we have to, as a community, as a group, start funding each other. I think we have to stop looking outside and look within ourselves and become angel investors and like, if I see a small business that's run by a Black company and I believe in that company, you know, put my money there and help them out.
Farai Chideya [00:48:43] Absolutely. So we asked some of our listeners about aging and exercise, and they came back with some interesting questions and responses. So we said, what's most important in your exercise journey? 53% said mobility. So that really gets to what you were saying, Renata, about preserving range of flexibility and ability to do daily tasks. 20% said appearance. What kind of messages do you think that people are getting about wellness and how to balance the like appearance, focus and the functional fitness focus?
Renata Joy [00:49:18] I think on social media it's all about the way somebody looks and that's the message that's out there. So if I'm looking at, you know, here's this woman and she's in her fifties and the whole focus on look, I look this way, the message that you're getting, I believe, is that if you don't look this way, somehow you are failing. Very few people do. I see on social media are focusing on the importance of actually exercising and eating that doesn't have anything to do with the way that you look. So I would say we got to flip that again. Your quality of life is more important, and so I advocate very highly for that and not compare yourself to what you see on social media.
Dionne C. Monsanto [00:50:06] That's a big one. They're also offering the commercialization of your body in that, “Oh, don't worry, if you don't look like that, we can sell you a procedure to help you look like that.” So people are really going hard on how they can change their body through surgeries and that's become normalized. Like you're stopping into a 7-Eleven to do something to your stomach, your breasts or your butt.
Farai Chideya [00:50:30] I have friends who've had plastic surgery for reasons that totally made sense for them, and it has worked out. And then I have friends where it hasn't worked out and there's just a range of outcomes. So we all make our choices. And I think as I talk to you two who I really admire about fitness, I have a sense of shame sometimes that I'm not more kind of on the straight and narrow, like it's like I'm on the salmon and broccoli track. Oh, geez, cheese cheeses over here. I will cross a 12 lane highway to get to some cheese, man, you know?
Renata Joy [00:51:06] But you know what? When you're on the salmon and broccoli phase and you think that's where you're supposed to be, that's where you mentally get caught up, right? You know, I really like salmon and broccoli.
Farai Chideya [00:51:17] I do love salmon and broccoli, but I also love cheese. Anyway, let me get to another question, Dionne. One of our listeners asked about menopause. How does menopause affect your mind, body needs and any advice?
Dionne C. Monsanto [00:51:33] I know for me I noticed a big difference in my skin. Like my body needed different things there. It felt different. It moved differently. I do have great mobility, but just being more gentle with myself and needing more sleep and maybe I'm not going to do the same long workout I did. So really listening to my body as it spoke to me to have different things and drinking more water. I'm big on whole food and what I consume, but I also have supplements and listening to that. I did not need hormone support, you know, during menopause, but I know that is game changing for others. I was using evening primrose oil even before menopause, and that was something that helped even with my daughter and her cycles when her cycles were challenging. So it's keeping it up and knowing that your 16 year old body and your 56 year old body are different and they need different things and not forcing it to be something it's not. So a lot of listening and continuing the movement is where I am with it and I'm okay. I keep a fan with me for the hot sweats, for the flashes when I have them change the sheets, not making my body wrong, just embracing it and going, Oh, this is a sage. I'm moving into this sage part of crone, part of life and appreciating it. Your mental attitude about it makes a difference. I thought it was fascinating. I was like, What science experiment am I? I sweat unexpectedly, you know, and just laughed at. It is like, “Oh, this is a different phase.”
Farai Chideya [00:53:11] Renata I find as I'm getting older, you start seeing people who really have such different physical challenges and physical states. But looking at both of you like, Come on, sisters, you look amazing. And you and you and you know, like you like let's age ain't nothing but a number when it comes to the two of you.
Renata Joy [00:53:36] When I went through menopause, my body went nuts. Okay? It went. And what? When you leave first I gained 12 pounds like that. Oh, wow. By the terms of. Can we talk about a sex life? It went in the toilet. I had no desire whatsoever. And during that time.
Farai Chideya [00:53:56] Dionne's eyes are very big.
Renata Joy [00:53:58] You know, I was just like, I'm having hot flashes. All right. So I go back to my doctor and I'm kind of like, what is going on? And she was saying to me, Oh, you're going through menopause. You just have to eat less and exercise more. And I was like, have you met me? So then I realized that during this time, now again, I'm going to be 67, so no one was talking about menopause and no one was talking about aging, because every time I went to talk to someone about it, it was like, “Shhh You don't want anybody to know that you're aging.” So I decided I was going to go against my doctor. I opted to go on hormone replacement therapy. That was a game changer for me. That's when I made a pivot in my business that says, Oh no, we're going to change this conversation around aging. We're going to talk about what women go through when you're 50 plus, we're going to talk about menopause. We're going to give you options. And as a result, your body is going to change. There's no question about it. But you can maintain and come out on the other side and be really happy with the way your body functions. I did have to eat a little bit differently, though. I had to change up my diet.
Farai Chideya [00:55:15] You know, Dionne, you talked about the body making requests. You know what my body requests definitely changes like milk products, sadly, not so good right now. You know, it's like the lactose intolerance thing. I could really keep going deeper and deeper, but I think that I'm just going to leave it with a question that we asked about joy. So we asked our audience, how important is joy in your movement and fitness practice? 50% said top priority, 33% said equal to other factors and 17% reported it wasn't relevant. So, Renata, since Joy is your last name and we are since your company is, INJoy, what do you think of the joyless worker-outers? The 17%?
Renata Joy [00:56:01] I would say the 17% is joyless because they're trying to force themselves to do something that doesn't feel right for them. Find that thing that brings you joy, that doesn't feel like exercise, and then do that. And then come back on your show and have them tell you how they feel.
Farai Chideya [00:56:16] Yep, Yep.
Dionne C. Monsanto [00:56:16] I agree with her. I would definitely say because everything that I'm doing, I absolutely love doing. What I found with some clients recently as dance breaks have been game changing, so I don't want to exercise. Well, you like going out to dance, You like music, you know, creating your playlists. That is your go to like what is your jam? What's the song? If you're sitting down, you're like, Oh, you know, there's some passion that connects you. That song that will pull you out of your chair that you know, everybody's been in the club somewhere where you be like, “Oh, that’s my jam,” where you can hear them.
Renata Joy [00:56:53] Yeah, yeah.
Dionne C. Monsanto [00:56:54] So having that dance break could be game changing for someone that finds no joy in it, because then you'll do it. It's like, Oh, I'm going to put on my song, I'm going to play my favorite song three times and that's going to be a 15 minute workout. And then I might do that twice a day. So it becomes normalized as a part of your life. And I would dare say the 17%, they may still be searching for themselves and joy in their life because their periods in your life where you're just not sure who you are, what makes you happy, what doesn't make you happy. So you need to know yourself well enough to know what makes you happy. And I think Renata has nailed that and I have nailed that. So we share that with our clients and the world because it makes it accessible long term.
Renata Joy [00:57:40] Yeah.
Farai Chideya [00:57:41] Yeah. Well, this has been great. Dionne, thank you so much.
Dionne C. Monsanto [00:57:44] Thank you.
Farai Chideya [00:57:45] And Renata, thank you so much.
Renata Joy [00:57:47] Oh it's a pleasure. Farai. Thank you for having me.
Farai Chideya [00:57:51] That was Renata Joy, entrepreneur and founder of Pure Joy Wellness and Dionne C. Monsanto, chief Joy Connector and founder of Joyous Ocean.
Thanks for listening to Our Body Politic. We're on the air each week and everywhere you listen to podcasts. You can also find us on Instagram and Twitter @OurBodyPolitic. Our Body Politic is produced by Diaspora Farms and Rococo Punch.
I'm host and executive producer Farai Chideya. Nina Spensley is also executive producer. Emily J. Daly is our senior producer. Bridget McAllister is our booking producer. Natyna Bean and Emily Ho are our associate producers. Monica Morales-Garcia is our fact checker. This episode was produced by Emily Ho and Mona Hassan. It was engineered by Mike Garth and Mike Gaylor.
This program is produced with support from the Luce Foundation, Open Society Foundation, Ford Foundation, Craig Newmark Philanthropies, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, Democracy Fund, The Harnisch Foundation, Compton Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the BMe Community, Katie McGrath & JJ Abrams Family Foundation, and from generous contributions from listeners like you.