Last week, Kimberly Spreen-Glick, an innovator and change agent in the fitness industry – and someone who I consider a huge mentor (though we’ve never met in person) – made this post:
“To all the beautiful souls out there, this message is from my heart to yours…take a deep breath but please do dive into this one…I think it’s important.
In the image on the left, you’ll see a message I received this week when grabbing my iPhone for a quick check on my email. And after feeling so blessed to have had another year as a presenter at the AAAI/ISMA One World Conference…ah well…
I blocked the person’s name for a reason. It’s because I’m not posting this message for the purpose of blasting her (yes, her – a fellow woman felt the need to send me this) or lashing out in some way nor am I asking you to do so. While the perspective of the person who sent me this note is very different from mine, “hating back” will get us nowhere.
Instead, the purpose of this message is to say YES, this is me (see image on the right). I am imperfect and I am beautiful. This body has survived and carried me through a lot. It survived the trauma of over 15 years of anorexia and bulimia. It survived severe pneumonia at age 19 which led to life-long daily management of asthma ever since. This body even built a very special human who calls me Mommy and still thinks I’m pretty cool. It survived the open-abdominal surgery when it turned out I had to have a c-section, the additional wound care required when the incision came open 9 days after AND the additional surgery 5 months later when they had to cut out part of my cervix.
This body has served me well. It has had the strength to support my crazy passion for jumping up and down for a living for over 25 years (maybe I don’t teach high impact classes 15x a week anymore, but I can still burpee when I need to ). I have presented at 100s of conferences across the US and far beyond for over 15 yrs. I’ve led over 30 well reviewed consumer workout videos. And guess what – even at the height of my teaching/presenting/video career, this body was so far from “perfect”. It has always had cellulite and moles and stretch marks. And I used to judge myself severely for this. I almost stopped presenting after my very first year because, when I looked around, I just didn’t look like the other “ripped, toned, muscular” presenters. I looked like me…ugh. And although I was striving to be the best possible version of me so I could help others unveil the best version of themselves, this physical vessel has never been “magazine cover ready” based on our culture’s standards.
But when I really think about it, I’ve actually never wanted to be “ripped”(unless I’m hanging out with my friends, Terry & Tina, of course) or “shredded”. These soft curves I used to judge and even hate? Well, I’ve actually come to love them…a lot. And beyond that, I realized the best version of me was something I brought to the world from the inside out. And the best version of YOU is something you bring from the inside out, too.
No disrespect to those out their striving to change their bodies – I honor you; but, make no mistake – the world does not need your belly or hips to shrink nor does it need your muscles to expand. The world just needs you to let your light shine. Yes, this does require being healthy…but it’s an inside job more than an outside job; so, how about we at least start there…by loving and accepting ourselves 100%, unapologetically?
I always thought it was interesting that a girl like me, who had such severe lack of self-esteem and body issues as a pre-teen and beyond, was drawn to an industry that puts so much weight (pun intended) on physical appearance. But I continued to show up, do my best and be a good role model with what I knew. Then I realized I needed to know more…about myself. So, for over 10 years now, in addition to fitness, wellness and yoga, I’ve studied positive psychology, personal development, happiness research, various wisdom traditions and spirituality.
And now I know I continue to be so drawn to this industry I love because I, arm in arm with all of YOU, have an opportunity to CHANGE it in the way it needs to change. We need to realize that we are not just our physical bodies; that we are whole beings…and SO ARE THE CLIENTS AND STUDENTS WE SERVE. If we’re really going to make a difference in this world, we must understand how necessary it is to show up fully and authentically, without judgment, so we can meet people where they are and support them on all levels – physical, mental, emotional…and yes, even spiritual. We need to accept them 100% for who they are, from the inside out…and it starts with accepting and caring for ourselves in the same way. Because pushups and squats can make your body stronger but they can’t heal your heart or suddenly make you feel worthy in the way you should feel…the way you honestly should have felt your entire life.
Let’s be willing to move through the fear of being judged and choose to be vulnerable enough to show up in this way…for ourselves, for our clients and students, for our family and friends, for all those we may positively impact with our courage.
From one of my favorite Marianne Williamson books, A Return to Love: “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
If you’re with me on this, please share this post AND/or share an authentic selfie of you in the comments. No need to wear makeup or find the perfect angle or flex or “suck it in”, etc. Just share the REAL you, declaring your REAL beauty.
Enough of the judgment, the criticism, the doubt, the comparison, the pettiness. Let’s send a message to the world that we are imperfect yet we are beautiful…and we are madly in love with ourselves…100% of ourselves. Let’s be the example that gives others permission to love themselves, too.”
Reading her post left me feeling disheartened on many levels. But beyond the sadness, this topic was not something I could ignore and stay silent about.
You see, 11 years ago I was caught up in that same conversation. 11 years ago, I was struggling with an eating disorder, working out for 8 hours a day and starving myself to hit some ideal I believed would make me “enough”. At the time, I wasn’t even teaching fitness. I was simply caught up in what the fitness industry sells. But no matter how much weight I lost, no matter how much I bought into the conversation about what I needed to “fix”, it was never enough. I hated my body and I criticized it, somehow thinking I could hate myself a few sizes smaller, at which point I could actually love myself.
Body-shaming, whether we are criticizing ourselves or the appearance of others, leads to a vicious cycle of judgement and criticism, one that is incredibly hard to break.
The loathing I carried for my own body became the lens through which I saw the world around me and while I wasn’t sending emails and texts to let other people know how I felt, I carried thoughts no different that the email Kim received.
11 years ago, that person was me – and since then, it’s been a long road learning how to love myself.
Flash forward a few years from the height of my eating disorder and I began my teaching career in fitness. My friends were concerned asking, “Are you going to be OK teaching classes? You know you won’t be getting your workout while you are teaching – are you OK with that? How will you manage your thoughts around working out? Will teaching classes trigger you?”
They were worried, and rightfully so. As someone who struggled with self-esteem and body issues it was concerning that I was entering an industry that puts so much focus on physical appearance. Heck, when I entered this industry, even though I was “out of” what would medically be defined as my ED, the conversation was still around my body and how I looked. In my mind, as a newly minted instructor, that was the whole point in going to the gym right? – work out, burn calories, look good.
6 years ago, my conversation around fitness was heavily focused on the body and that was what I was “selling” to my clients and students. What we practice is what we promote.
Quantum Law states that our outer world is an extension of our inner world. Only when we change our inner world can our outer world change.
Sounds easy, but if you’ve ever tried to break an old habit, recover from an addiction or transform an old belief, you know how difficult it can be to change the inner world.
For most of us, it’s not until we hit some rock bottom or have the kind of wake-up call that cuts us to our core that we don’t just “want” to change – we realize we must change. Our why becomes stronger than any want and that why becomes our will.
My wake-up call only came a few years ago, almost 4 years ago to be exact. It was during a time where I wasn’t engaging in the ED habits (i.e. cutting calories and working out excessively), but I was still consumed with my thoughts around how I looked, and I was constantly evaluating my worth in the mirror. My enoughness varied on a daily – sometimes hourly – basis depending on how thin and fit I thought I looked. Yes, it was draining and yes, I wanted to change and be done with this story. Deep down I knew there was more to the conversation than 6-pack abs and a lifted backside. But knowing there was more to this conversation didn’t matter. No amount of wanting or hours spent life-coaching mattered because my why was still to be thin at any cost. My worth was tied to a number and a shaming conversation.
“My belly is sticking out”. I look over to see my son (then 5 ½) looking at himself in the mirror sideways, poking out his stomach.
I will never forget that gut-wrenching feeling, the pang of going, This is what I’m passing onto my son? This is the legacy I’m leaving behind? Amy, get your fucking shit together.
I was horrified, ashamed and pissed with myself. All the work I had done and was still doing and yet not only was I deeply in this conversation of body-shaming myself, I was passing that conversation, unintentionally, onto my son.
It was a wake-up call I couldn’t ignore.
Today, I don’t take the work I do lightly. As a mother, fitness influencer and writer, I know my words and actions carry weight. Being on stage 10-12 classes a week, I’m in contact with hundreds of people and what I say, how I approach this body conversation matters. Being a mother means my son is always listening – not when I’m asking him to do something 😉 but in how I talk to myself, how I treat others, in all the small and subtle ways. Being a writer, I’m always moved (and shocked) by how many people read what I write – all the more reason to be aligned with my purpose and use my stage to create positive impact.
You have a stage too.
Every day you wake up as a mother, father, caregiver, you are stepping onto stage and the people you care for are listening. Every day you walk into the office or business you run, you are stepping onto your stage and your employees are watching and listening. In the various roles you take on, in all that you do, you are stepping onto your stage and it’s on the great stage of life that we have the ability to create lasting, positive impact – that we can start a conversation that matters, one around positive self-image and acceptance.
You may not think you have the ability to create impact or that what you say and do in regard to yourself matters.
to the child who’s watching how you speak to your body
to the class that being told how many calories they’ll burn in today’s workout
to the audience who watches your edited and filtered life through social media
and it matters now.
Not 5 lbs thinner
Not a jean size down
Not more muscular or more toned
The antidote to shame is unconditional love – and it always starts with ourselves. As we are. In the body we are currently in.
How we feel about ourselves, unknowingly becomes the mirror and lens by which we view and treat others.
The conversation starts with me. It starts with you. It starts with all of us.
This week, shift the conversation.
1) Instead of focusing on external aesthetics, focus on how you want to feel. We think if we lose the weight, we’ll feel healthier, stronger, fitter, or more enough of something. Reverse the equation this week and ask yourself, “How do I want to feel?” and seek out experiences that allow you to feel that way. I promise, when you take the focus off forcing, the rest comes with ease.
2) Compliment yourself and others on something other than appearance. Instead of, “Oh you look great, have you lost weight?” (something I frequently hear one student saying to another), compliment someone on their tenacity in class, their craftiness on the treats they sent into school or their innovation with ideas at work. Start a conversation about them and who they are (RE: we are not our bodies).
3) Forgive yourself. This isn’t easy work and we’re all doing the best we can in every moment. Some days will be easier than others. Love yourself anyway. You’re the only you you’ve got – and that’s what makes you amazing!