Emily’s Size Strong Story

As Lina said last week, we feel that it’s important at the start of Size Strong that you get an idea of who we are, where we’ve been, and how we got to where we are now. While our personal stories are varied and unique, there are common threads in all of them — relatable bits, parts that make us nod and say, “I’ve been there too,” which are vital to building any community.

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I don’t have a background in fitness or a dramatic weight loss story. I was a quiet kid who mostly just liked to read, but my parents were invested in my well-rounded-ness, so I participated in sports in high school and was relatively active. As I got older and started reading more and more terrible magazines like Cosmopolitan and Seventeen, my relationship with “fitness” began to evolve into the one that so many women have — I saw a body type that I wanted to achieve, and with no knowledge or understanding of my body, I went about “achieving” it. By gleaning information from the aforementioned terrible magazines and other various dubious resources, I began counting calories, occasionally skipping meals, and spending a lot of time doing a set of Claudia Schiffer exercise tapes (yes, these actually exist). I weighed myself regularly and adjusted my feelings about how I looked and what I would eat that day based on it.

All of it — the silly workout tapes, the food control, the gazing at Photoshopped bodies and wishingly vaguely for them —  never got particularly out of control. I remained relatively active and relatively healthy, but the thoughts were always there. The seeds were planted, and these ideas became a part of my everyday life. Like so many girls and women, I started to think of my body as something that needed to look a certain way, and of food and exercise as the opposing forces that controlled how it looked. Exercise = good; food = bad. As a result, I exercised reluctantly and out of obligation, and ate under varying degrees of guilt. I was never overweight, but I lived under the belief that my body should look different, even if I wasn’t necessarily willing to put in the work to get it there.

Throughout college and in the many years after graduation, I approached my “health” — or my faulty understanding of health — in a cyclical manner. Every few months or so, I would go on a “health kick”, which usually involved signing up for some kind of introductory gym deal and adopting some kind of trendy diet or juice cleanse at the same time. I would stick with both diligently for a few weeks, give or take, and then lose interest. Rinse, repeat. I did bikram. I took muay thai. I tried spin. I (sort of) danced. I hired a personal trainer. I “took up running”. Nothing stuck.

Then, in 2011, something stuck: I found The Barre Code. Back then, it was called Barre Bee Fit, and it was a small new studio in a basement space across the street from my apartment in downtown Chicago. I signed up for a month, and something weird happened. I signed up for another month. And another. And one day, I looked around, and my life had changed.

What had changed was not just my body, but my mind. At The Barre Code, I learned for the first time that my body was strong. That my body likes to move. That my body is capable, that my body can be defined by what it can do, rather than what it looks like. For the first time, I stopped viewing exercise as means for looking a certain way and started realizing that it was a way to become stronger. To be able to do more things. I stopped viewing food as something I should feel guilty about and started seeing it as fuel, as energy, and as joy. I love to eat, and I was finally done feeling bad about it. Now, I try to eat more things that I know are good for my body and feel good in my body — at long last, that’s what it’s all become about for me. Feeling good. Being happy. Living well.

In the last three-plus years, that’s exactly what I’ve done — lived better, more happily, and more fully. The improvement comes from no longer approaching the business of existing in my own skin with a precarious mix of obligation, guilt, and dread. Now I work out because I love it, and I’m always trying new things to keep it interesting, to keep learning. I’m currently doing my 200-hour yoga teacher certification, gaining a deeper understanding of anatomy and alignment and discovering new ways to strengthen and restore my body. I train several times a week in krav maga, in an effort to build the specific strength and skills that allow me to feel safe as a woman in this world. I take classes all over New York City to stay connected to what’s happening in this ever-growing, ever-fascinating industry, and to meet as many like-minded and inspirational people as I can. My goals these days have nothing to do with fitting into clothes or hitting some arbitrary number on the scale. Back in those days, I thought I needed to weigh 120 pounds to be happy. Now I want to run an 8-minute mile. Do pull-ups. Fight someone and win.

I never thought I would be super into fitness or work in fitness, and I think there’s a general perception that fitness is something that’s only for a certain type of person who is willing to be a certain way and do certain things. But the truth is that fitness is for bodies, which we all have and we all need to invest in and take care of. I’m so excited to be a part of Size Strong and to have these discussions with all of you about finding that peace, that strength, that beauty and joy in our own ways.

4 thoughts on “Emily’s Size Strong Story

  1. lobermark says:

    I keep meaning to tell you via FB (but why not just tell you here?) that this project seems awesome and amazing. I’ll definitely be following along. “Fitness is for bodies”–love that. Need to remember that and not get intimidated by fitness…or my own body. Thanks for sharing this, Emily!

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