Peloton's Emma Lovewell On How Being Biracial Shaped Her Approach to Wellness
When Peloton instructor Emma Lovewell was growing up on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, her parents prioritized their wellness "before wellness was even a thing," she tells Shape. Both were artists, eager to foster an appreciation for nature in Lovewell and her brother. So they gardened, went fishing, and harvested shellfish, and the fresh ingredients they collected would become an array of Asian dishes prepared by the athlete's Taiwan-born mom. "I'm so glad that I like to cook. My brother loves to cook. We're definitely food people," says Lovewell. (Related: Peloton's Tunde Oyeneyin On the Power of Letting Go)
When she's cooking, Lovewell considers taste first and foremost, but she also keeps in mind how a dish will make her feel. If she has a day full of classes ahead of her, fried food will be off the table the night before. Instead, she'll create something nutritious inspired by the modern wellness world as well as her mom's home cooking. "I have a great recipe I did with Now [a health brand Lovewell is currently partnering with as a wellness expert], where I use their quinoa pasta and a bunch of spring veggies to make a big primavera," she says. "I love adding an Asian flair; I use liquid aminos and fish sauce and soy sauce and sesame oil in so many of my dishes too."
For Lovewell, family gatherings growing up — including Lunar New Year and Harvest moon celebrations — came with an abundance of delicious food, some of which came directly from someone's backyard. While she didn't love gardening as a kid, she appreciates the benefits of growing her own food in her home outside New York today. "Now I have a garden of my own, and I love it. It's actually a luxury that I have space, and I can grow my own food," she says. She even created the hashtag #lovewellgarden to document her passion.
Cooking with fresh ingredients isn't the only wellness lesson Lovewell took from her upbringing. "My mom is a Buddhist and very into meditation, which she taught me at a young age," she explains. Though she embraces the practice now, as a child, Lovewell thought meditation was "boring" and "like a punishment." Still, she remembers seeing its benefits as a kid — even though she might not have admitted it at the time. (Related: The Best Meditation Apps for Beginners)
"There were so many moments where I'd come home from school really upset about something, and my mom would be like, 'Just go meditate for 10 minutes and then let's talk about it,'" she recalls. "I would come out of the room and be like, 'Wow, I'm not that mad.'"
Lovewell also learned the importance of slowing down from her parents, she tells Shape. She regularly does self-massage with Now essential oils, listens to relaxing music, journals, and talks to a therapist to take care of her mind as well as her body.
Although Lovewell is deeply grateful for her culture, growing up biracial in an area where most people were white wasn't easy, she says. "My mom was different from all of my friends' moms, and there was part of me that resented her for it a little bit as a kid," she says. When she went away to college, she was faced with different challenges. "People would say, 'What are you?'" she recalls. "That was really hard, because I would find myself being like, 'What am I?'"
College is also where people began reminding Lovewell that she doesn't "look Asian." While she recognizes the privilege that comes with looking white, seeing her Asian identity get erased was painful. And it still happens today, specifically on social media, where Lovewell has hundreds of thousands of followers. "I showed a dumpling video on Instagram once, and people were like, 'Aw, now all these white people are making dumplings,'" she says. "I was like, 'First of all, there's nothing wrong with white people making dumplings; second of all, I'm Asian, and I can't believe I have to prove this to you in order to share my dumpling recipe.'" (Related: The Misappropriation of Asian Culture In Wellness and Food Is Doing More Harm Than You May Realize)
Lovewell doesn't seem to let the comments get her down. "I think I'm one of three Asian instructors at Peloton, and I was the first Asian instructor," she says. It's a platform that allows her to share more about her heritage and upbringing. "There are a lot of biracial people, a lot of Asian people, who reach out to me and say, 'Thank you so much for representing the Asian community in fitness,'" she says. "I love hearing that, because it encourages me to keep doing what I'm doing, not only during [Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month] but in many of my classes."
Lovewell brings some of her heritage into each one of her Peloton classes. "I show up as myself, and part of myself is Asian, so a lot of my culture and who I am shows up in every class I teach," she says. Additionally, every year during AAPI Heritage Month, she looks forward to putting together playlists full of artists across a range of genres, who she says people often don't realize are actually Asian. "When you think of Asian music, you're not thinking of EDM and house music," she says. For example, Lovewell plays songs by Bruno Mars, Gryffin, ZHU, and Steve Aoki. "I kind of just like breaking stereotypes in that way or giving a spotlight to people that don't normally get a spotlight," she says.
Although Asian people are still underrepresented both in the arts and in athletics, Lovewell wants everyone to know they are capable of breaking down barriers. "We are creating new lanes for ourselves all the time. A Peloton instructor job didn't exist when I was a kid," she points out. "There are new careers and new paths that can be created, so don't be discouraged if you can't find anybody that looks like you, but do find people that have jobs you aspire to have or to be like."