In Individual of Interest, we speak to individuals catching our eye right now about what they’re doing, consuming, reading, and caring. Next up is Cleopatra Lee, health and health influencer and founder of the Cleopatra’s Army physical fitness studio and clothes brand.
Even through small little Instagram squares, fitness influencer Cleopatra Lee‘s energy is absolutely transmittable. In a video post from September 2020, she’s dancing around her new Los Angeles apartment to Chloe x Halle’s “Do It,” doing high kicks in the mirror and twerking atop a cardboard shipping box. “From Harlem to Hollywood,” she writes in the caption. “You’re experiencing the takeover.” It’s this palpable happiness that makes Lee so difficult to ignore– she’s a #CareFreeBlackGirl and she totally owns it.
As the founder of Cleopatra’s Army— a virtual fitness studio and clothing company influenced by a need for holistic health education in her home town of Harlem– the 24- year-old Lee brings this vibe to her neighborhood as she supports fellow ladies of color in building mind-body connection. She discovered firsthand the psychological and physical benefits of movement growing up, when her daddy, an individual trainer and U.S. Marine, motivated her to use up sports like track, swimming, and kung fu. Now, in between teaching workout classes and managing her organization, Lee also contributes health items to women experiencing houselessness in New York City, Los Angeles, and Atlanta, offering much needed assistance to a frequently neglected community.
Earlier in May, Lee partnered with Unfortunate Ladies Club, a psychological health not-for-profit supporting ladies of color, to host their very first in-person event in over a year: the Love Ya From a Distance Hike in Los Angeles. Aimed towards those looking for an open space, literally, to share their worries and anticipations of going back to “typical” life, the walking kicked off Sad Girls Club’s Mental Health Awareness Month, which is happening throughout May. I got a chance to talk with the effervescent Lee ahead of the walking about the significance of movement, her own post-pandemic stress and anxieties, and breaking down wellness barriers.
Why is it so important for you to empower women, and particularly ladies of color, through health and health?
As a woman of color, I’ve seen firsthand the distinctions in care between women of color and others, and the difference in health education. Insufficient of us are finding out about their health and their bodies, and it’s important to me to give that to the more youthful generation. I only have that education since my father worked in the health and health industry. It is very important, especially in Black neighborhoods, because we matured in neighborhoods that do not use the resources– like holistic education and exercises beyond school sports– that we are worthy of.
What are you attempting to alter for your community?
Through my work, I’m trying to produce more activities that can keep people active and use various type of health and wellness that we don’t see all the time in the neighborhood, such as hikes, recreational sports, and even meditation classes. I want to create more access to them in safe spaces where ladies of all various body types are welcome. There’s a specific sort of stigma and a certain expectation when you go to the health club– that you exist to raise weights and get ripped. However Cleopatra’s Army is a place where everyone can feel comfy at all different levels of fitness due to the fact that we’re here for the same reason: We want to be healthy.
How did you get involved with Sad Girls Club, and how does its objective to combat mental health stigma align with yours?
I met Elyse Fox[Sad Girls Club’s founder] through shared friends, and I just liked how nothing about mental health is taboo with them. I was like, “Wow, I need to belong of this!” Cleopatra’s Army concentrates on linking the body and the mind. I attempt not to say that we’re a physical fitness brand name too much due to the fact that when people hear physical fitness, they think only about the gym and lifting weights, however your body is currently capable of so much. It’s so often your mind that needs a workout.
What are a few of your stress and anxieties about going back to “regular” life, and how are you working through them?
I definitely had a little bit of social anxiety simply being around people once again, but I miss out on being around people’s energies, so I’m kind of simply relying on that as long as I’m safe, I’ll get through it. I believe gradually we’ll begin to get better to get back to a “normal” sort of way of life. Simply do what feels comfortable for you.
I understand one of my personal fears about things opening up again is this idea that we need to go back to an old “typical,” and forget all of the important things the previous year has taught us about making our health a top priority. Do you have any advice for getting rid of those pandemic blues while still prioritizing wellness?
Be safe by wearing your mask! Taking immune boosters will also help. I have actually been heavy on my vitamin C, my elderberries, and even doing respiratory workouts where I breathe in deep for 4 counts, hold my breath for 4 counts, and breathe out deep for four counts a minimum of 10 times. I likewise pour boiling water over [dried] herbs– like chamomile, thyme, lavender, oregano, and bay leaf– and simply take in the steam to keep my air passages clear and open.
I’m taking extra safety measures to ensure I’m physically healthy while still attempting to be comfy adequate to go to places where I understand I won’t need to connect with a lot of people. Hikes in general are excellent, because one method to shake the anxiety is to head out in a public space that’s not too public. I believe being someplace where you can still be separate from people, but be around them and feel their energy, is a great location to begin.
Are there ways that our environments can impact our mental health?
Totally! I was residing in New York for so long and I required a change of landscapes, so I moved to L.A. and it shifted my whole life in such a way that helped me work on my company much better. It helped me deal with everything better. Often you require to change your space in order to change your mentality. If you stay in that exact same box that you’ve been residing in forever, you will not see a change. So, even doing something as simple as hiking to the top of the mountain will give you more mental clearness and point of view.
Do you have any individual routines or rituals that get you out into nature regularly?
I try to be outdoors as much as possible. Even during the pandemic I would take my yoga to the park, and I go hiking a lot now that I moved to L.A., most likely once a week. When I travel, I like to go on hikes too. I try to go out into the wilderness and to the beach whenever I can to get in tune with nature and be by myself. I don’t truly have a set regimen, however I make time at least once a week.
How has movement and remaining active helped you personally browse the psychological and psychological challenges of the past year?
It’s kept me sane; movement is my medication. I need to be moving around in order to feel good, and it releases endorphins too. It’s not simply a personal thing, it’s science! Even if I’m by myself in the mirror or acting a fool with my friends, I’m getting motion in somehow. I believe, due to the fact that the fitness industry is unattainable to numerous, that some individuals don’t understand your healthy way of life does not have to look like everyone else’s. You do not have to be in a fitness center every day; even something as simple as meditation is a stride forward. There are many methods to fit health and health into your life. It doesn’t have to look like a lot of weights in the gym.
I have actually also seen a lot of gatekeeping in the health and health neighborhood that keeps it inaccessible to females of color. Why do you believe this is?
I believe these areas are so susceptible to keeping females of color out because we see racism all throughout the board in the health market. Period. The mortality rate with Black ladies providing birth–[Black women are three times as likely to die during childbirth as their white counterparts]– we see data like that all the time. I simply seem like it’s history’s earliest story. We see the gatekeeping due to the fact that we see it in all other areas of life. This is just another location where we need to break down those doors– which is precisely what I’m attempting to do through the neighborhood that Cleopatra’s Army has actually developed.