Tonya Lewis Lee is on A Mission to Promote Women's Health
There is multitasking, and then there is multitasking. Tonya Lewis Lee certainly falls into the latter category. Through Movita, her wellness platform, she is creating a conversation and educating women about health and wellness, and working to bridge that gap for black women. She is also launching beauty products for all, but particularly for women of color. And then there’s her work in entertainment, working alongside her husband, director Spike Lee, as the executive producer of the TV show She’s Gotta Have It, plus producing the film All Rise, which will be released in theaters this fall. The entrepreneur, lawyer and mom tells us all why all of her work is dedicated to advocating for women’s health and wellness.
Why did you decide to found your wellness platform, Movita Organics? I had been working with the Office of Minority Health for 10 years, raising awareness about high rates of infant mortality in the United States. When you’re talking about infant health, ultimately you’re talking about women’s health. Through that work I became passionate about inspiring women to live their healthiest lives for the sake of a healthy community. Movita to me is a tool for women to use to pursue that lifestyle, a way for me to continue the conversation about health.
What do you hope to accomplish with Movita? Whenever we’re talking about women’s health, the disparity here in the U.S. between black and white women is nonsensical. It’s important to me, as a black woman, to inspire and also get the information I’m hearing from experts to the general public and to remind people that it’s hard to achieve, but it’s not impossible. Movita is a way to show that a healthy lifestyle is accessible, but it’s also about being mindful about it. The other part is the blog. I like to highlight women who are living the Movita life.
What products are you launching with Movita? The first product we launched was a multivitamin a couple of years ago. We’re just launching beauty — hair, skin, nails — and prenatal products. I’m really excited about those. With my work in infant mortality, I wanted to provide a good, clean, quality prenatal vitamin. We are planning on talking to scientists and chemists now about coming out with more products.
How do you view the link between beauty and wellness? When people talk about beauty, it can be about health and wellness — it is an inside out thing. What you put into your body does ultimately show up on your skin; it does have an impact. I will be the first person to say that no one pill is going to do it. Our product can be part of a healthy lifestyle and wellness, which is ultimately beauty. I don’t talk about weight; I am really not interested in weight and what people physically look like — it’s more like are you getting that baseline nutrition. The beauty product, if you are really looking to grow your hair and nails or want to strengthen them, is about being part of a lifestyle. If you take that beauty tablet, it has biotin to help hair and nails grow. We encourage people to take it with a full glass of water to start drinking more water throughout your day. That’s how I really like to frame what we’re doing at Movita, getting women to live a lifestyle of health and wellness by using these products first thing in the morning as good choice.
With so much on your plate, how do you practice wellness and self-care? First it starts with good sleep. I am very much a believer in getting my rest. I try to go to the gym at least four times a week. I am currently vegan, but sometimes I go back and eat fish. I meditate and I’m really careful about the people that I have around me, because I work very hard to have a positive outlook in life — it matters.
Why are you dedicated to the cause of women’s health, sexuality, and wellness? I was a chubby kid and from a young age had to be aware of what I was eating. I’ve been on every single diet that’s out there. I’ve starved myself and always worried about a size, but I finally got to a point 15 years ago where I can’t go on another diet. I started really paying attention to my lifestyle and what food really means and then I started feeling better. I started working with the Department of Health and Human Services, and then it just all came together. I realized being healthy is everything. Health is the new luxury — to have good health, to be able to have the time and the safe space to work out is a luxury. To be able to get good food full of nutrients is expensive, and it’s something I think everyone should have access to. I realize how complicated it all is. There are so many variables we are not even aware of, in terms of how the government supports dairy farmers and how that leads to lots of cheese on our plate. Having my own issues, I was just so worried about weight and that’s not the answer. I really want to get that across as much as possible to people: If you are heathy and strong then your weight will fall into place. I really believe that.
Why were you drawn to the story of the film you produced, All Rise? It is based on the book Monster by Walter Dean Myers. What’s great about the book is it’s written as a screenplay, about a 17-year-old high school film student who wrote a screenplay to cope with being on trial for a robbery that goes wrong. Because he’s pressured to do so, in a split second he makes a decision, and that one second can change your life forever. It also explores the over-incarceration of youth and what it means in U.S., how we deal with young people, and the power of art to express and heal, when people have gone through something traumatic. All of these things made the book ripe for a great adaptation. It’s known for a being a top young adult book of all time. It took some time to develop because adapting a book written as a screenplay is not as simple as it sounds. We have a great cast and script, and I’m really excited for people to see it.
How do you hope to move the conversation outside of the screen? That was one of the reasons for doing the film. Number one I would hope that it gets young people talking about how to navigate tough situations for themselves. One reason we asked John Legend to come on as a producer is because of his platform of over-incarceration of young people; I hope the film contributes there as well. And finally, I hope people come away from the film seeing how they can use art to express what they see happening in their lives.
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