Most Meditation Apps Are Voiced by White People, but the Founders of ‘Shine’ Are Changing That
Between the global pandemic, keeping up with the news and the ongoing mistreatment of Black and Brown people on my social feed, self-care has felt more important than ever. But I barely have time for it, and when I do take that rare moment, I feel guilty—why should I practice self-care when so many others don’t have the privilege of time, access or resources to do the same?
Plus, there’s the depressing numbers of it all. BIPOC make up around 15 percent of psychologists (and I didn’t even break this percentage down between Black, Latinx and Asian communities). So, when I hear about any BIPOC-owned mental health resource, I jump at the opportunity to learn more and add it to my self-care tool kit.
In this case, I’m talking about Shine, a mental health app from masterminds Marah Lidey and Naomi Hirabayashi. The founders used their own personal experiences dealing with anxiety, depression and stress to create a platform that bridges the gap in the wellness sector especially when it came to the lack of resources for BIPOC.
Deeply inspired by their mission to provide free and accessible mental health care to BIPOC, I jumped at the opportunity to speak with Lidey and Hirabayashi. Here’s what they told me.
What inspired you both to start Shine?
Lidey: “My co-founder and I started Shine because we needed it. We didn’t see ourselves—a Black woman and a half-Japanese woman—and our experiences represented in mainstream ‘wellness.’ Our bodies, our skin color, our financial access, our past traumas—it all often felt otherized. We came to understand that our experiences with stress, anxiety and other mental health challenges all had a unique intersection with our identity and our past experiences and that we needed daily support that recognized that.”
How does Shine help Black, Indigenous and POC’s mental health?
Hirabayashi: “We have built our content from the ground up to be both representative and inclusive. Representation starts with us. We built Shine with a focus on underrepresented groups—which means our team is majority BIPOC, almost all of our content is created by Black womxn and our themes are sourced from our community that over-indexes in both of those categories.”
Hirabayashi: “Our BIPOC content follows a ‘Care, Act, Educate framework.’ We use our platform, which has a reach across 189 countries, to support Black mental health by educating our non-Black members about their part in dismantling racism and providing anti-racist actions they can take. We care for Black members by adding more specificity to our offering, creating content that’s specific to Black experiences like racial trauma, connecting with your ancestors, and resilience burnout. We also offer a free collection of Shine meditations specific to Black wellbeing and mental health in the app in addition to using the Daily Shine to elevate topics specific to Black mental health.”
How are you providing information on these specific subjects: representation burnout, race-based trauma, news fatigue and allyship?
Lidey: “Each day, Shine members that use our app can listen to the Daily Shine—our meditation-meets-podcasts that helps our community center themselves around what’s happening in their world. Given our country’s long-overdue awakening to racial injustice, Tiffany Walker, our incredible Daily Shine host and producer, is covering these issues each day and sharing her perspective on them as a Black woman in America. Also, of our 800+ meditations, 90 percent are voiced by Black women—and topics range from representation burnout, to combatting news fatigue to dealing with race-based trauma.”
Do you follow a specific process when developing inclusive content?
Hirabayashi: “We run all Shine content through the ‘privilege filter’ to make sure we’re never preachy, pricey or presumptuous in our tone. We’re never preachy: We’re never talking to our community from soapbox or taking a top-down ‘guru’ approach. We’re never pricey: We’re cognizant of access through affordability, which is why we have the most affordable freemium subscription in our category. Members can access Shine for free, or if they have the disposable income to make a deeper investment for Shine premium, that’s an option that supports our ability to continue creating free content. We’re never presumptuous: Our free, daily meditation is for everyone. So, we’re never going to make assumptions about our members: their access, their family dynamics, their education, their employment, etc.”
Why is it important to put an emphasis on your ‘Shine Squad’ community?
Lidey: “We believe community is key. As a consumer business, the relationship we build with our members is just the first step in building long-term loyalty. It’s the relationships they build with one another, and Shine’s ability to facilitate, support and grow those relationships, that will ultimately lead to life-changing impact.”
Lidey: “Most importantly, Shine is helping people from underrepresented groups see themselves reflected in a product like ours, often for the first time. While not measurable by a KPI, feedback like that is how we know we’re on the right track towards our mission of fundamentally shifting representation and inclusion in mental health.”
How can the wellness space in general be more inclusive to BIPOC and other marginalized communities?
Hirabayashi: “Build inclusion from the ground up. From valuing and incorporating different experiences and backgrounds on your team, to thinking about how every touchpoint with your brand or product can be more inclusive, to the types of partners, or vendors you work with. One of the biggest disservices to true inclusion is when companies view creating a more representative and inclusive culture as a side project or separate lane. To really do the work, leadership has to view, and act on, inclusion being at the core of your company culture and mission.”
Shine has publicly supported the Black Lives Matter movement, why is this important right now?
Lidey: “To us, saying Black Lives Matter or supporting the movement is not a political statement, it’s not a point of view and it’s not a campaign. As a company that’s fought for representation and inclusion since our founding, and a team that’s 80 percent BIPOC and 30 percent Black— supporting BLM is about using our platform and our privilege to fight for our lives, and the lives of our community.
How has the Shine community reacted to this support?
Lidey: “As a community that over-indexes for Black women, our members often share with us how much it means that we are speaking specifically to Black mental health challenges. In an industry where less than 5 percent of therapists are Black, almost all meditation apps are voiced by white people, and most media still perpetuates a largely Eurocentric view of wellness—it’s no wonder that we are tired of not seeing our stories and experiences represented.”
Lidey: “We believe that to change the global mental health landscape, the single most important thing we can do is be specific about the intersectionalities of mental health, and right now there needs to be more of a focus than ever on Black mental health.”
While the founders strive to showcase representation on their app and work culture, they also work to highlight others that want to provide fair and accessible mental health care to the BIPOC community too. In honor of BIPOC Mental Health month, Shine is donating 20 percent of all premium subscriptions and gift cards to four non-profit organizations—Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective (BEAM), National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network, Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness and Sista Afya Community Mental Wellness. It gives these non-profits a chance to bridge the gap Lidey and Hirabayashi have been working on for four years now.
The app is free to download. But, if you want to tap into more stories, sounds and meditations, they do offer two subscription options—$12 per month or $54 per year—to give you unlimited access.