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Breaking The Mold: Why I Became A Fitness Influencer At The Age of 49

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I have never been very typical and have always been proud of that. I like being different in my opinions, ideas and outlook on life. It has allowed to continuously grow and enjoy experiences most people don't give themselves the opportunity to take advantage of. As a matter of fact, my teenage daughters will tell you my number one piece of parenting advice is to try and "not" fit in.


The less we worry about what others think, the more we can follow our heart and chase our dreams. So that is what I did at the age of 48 when I decided to do something totally outside the norm from what my female peers were doing. Instead of fighting the aging process, I decided to use my lifetime experiences in fitness, embrace my maturity and show others that age is just a number and we are only as old as we let ourselves feel. And so the journey to "One Million" social media followers begun.

Like every other challenge I have taken on, I approached this new venture with the same thoughtfulness. I can't count the number of times I have been asked this past year “How did you do it?" It's an anomaly for people to consider how it was possible to grow such a huge social media following in such a short amount of time. I think they believe there is some “magic trick' and want to hear my secret, but my answer is plain and simple. I did my homework and I remained true to myself. Every entrepreneur knows that success is the perfect combination of preparedness and good fortune. My success follows this same logic. I researched, read and asked questions of anyone who seemed to know about the world of social media. Not all of it was accurate and there were a lot of gray areas, still I took it all in and came to my own conclusions.

Then one cold February evening I took my first brave step, uploaded a video of me jumping rope and hit “post". I waited for something to happen. My nerves rattled a little as my very first comment came through. “Wow you are good!". Instant smile. Ok, good feedback. I will continue.

Photo courtesy of Janine Delaney

Feeling more confident than ever, I decided it was time to go all out and started to share more about my age and my life as a Psychologist, with a 20 year marriage and two teenage daughters.

As the days passed, I allowed myself to be vulnerable, sharing with whomever would welcome it, the world of fitness I had grown up with. A million doubts raced through my mind. What would people think? Would I get criticized for being too old? Still, I was determined and I knew if I did this right, I had the chance to impact so many people in such a positive way. I was not going to give up. I became more and more passionate about creating new and exciting content. I wanted to share everything I learned throughout my lifetime of fitness, from dancing professional ballet as a child, to teaching aerobic classes back in the 80's, to competing and placing in bodybuilding shows in my early forties. I had learned so much over the years and aside from being able to help my close friends, this was the first time I was getting the chance to share on a much broader level. It was amazing to see comments and questions from all over the globe. I felt connected and inspired in return. I was even given a nickname of the “Jump Rope Queen" because of my unique style of jump rope. I quickly became known for my energy and authenticity.

Not only did I focus on exercise, but as a Psychologist, the mind/body connection has always been a critical part of whom I am. I often spent hours writing content for my motivational posts.

I always told it like it was and people responded well to that. I made a point to network and reach out to others so we could find ways to support one another. Pretty soon, the sponsors started knocking, but I refrained to give in to temptation and focused instead on telling my story rather than looking to turn a buck for a product I didn't believe in. People could tell I was the real deal and came to me with questions on everything from diet to dealing with injuries. I always led them in the right direction if I did not know the answer and did not provide false information or try and take credit I wasn't worthy of. Building a community was first and foremost in my mind. I knew the business end would come down the road, but sometimes we need to hold off and be patient to reach our longer-term goals. This strategy worked for me and now I have a select group of brands I endorse because I have been a loyal consumer of theirs for years. That is refreshing in today's world of false advertising and it makes a valid point that there is still room for integrity.

Feeling more confident than ever, I decided it was time to go all out and started to share more about my age and my life as a Psychologist, with a 20 year marriage and two teenage daughters. Suddenly my momentum was on a fast and steady rise. I was encouraged to branch out to Facebook and YouTube and I partnered with a fitness app company to develop my very own training app that could be used by people all over the world for anywhere/anytime workouts. I hired a branding expert, a videographer and photographer. I even started doing live streams. I was really doing this! It was an amazing feeling to know that I represented every woman and helped them to feel good about themselves again, rather than getting discouraged over photoshopped images. I helped others see they didn't have to be in the field of fitness, or in their twenties to look and feel great, they just had to have the motivation and drive to make their well-being a priority.

I will say that despite the great reward and creativity my new venture has allowed, it is also quite a departure from my everyday life. I would be lying if I said it was easy. As my brand continues to grow, I need to find more and more ways to juggle my primary career and my family. A good friend of mine who is also an entrepreneur asked me how I was managing and what I felt I needed to give up. Then she laughed and said “sleep right?'. I still wonder how she knew. Like anything new, there are always sacrifices to be made, but in the end it is all worth it. What I love best is that I am showing my daughters through example what it means to be a strong independent woman and follow your dreams. I am also showing all women out there that it is never too late to reinvent yourself. If you can help others along the way, well that's really the icing on the cake. I am fortunate at this late stage in my life to create a new exciting adventure for myself, one that is continuing to grow on a daily basis. I wonder what the year ahead will bring. I also know that since I am doing something I feel so strongly about it will only get better and better!

I hope I have inspired you!

8 Min Read
Health

Why Weight Loss Compliments Do More Harm Than Good

Disclaimer: I am writing this piece as someone who has thin privilege. I do not experience weight-based discrimination like those who live in larger bodies. In naming my privilege, I hope to highlight the fact that my experience of this topic is limited to what I have learned from the courageous work of body positivity and fat activists, colleagues, and clients of mine who live in larger bodies.

A note on "fat": Many fat activists and people in larger bodies have made the decision to reclaim the word "fat" as a neutral descriptor. The decision to do so is highly personal for individuals living in larger bodies, as many have experienced the word "fat" being weaponized against them. For the purposes of this article, I stick to the wording of "people in larger bodies" or "people in higher-weight bodies" to respect the journeys of those trying to decide what descriptor best matches their lived experience.

Michelle was a three-sport athlete in high school. While there was a part of her that enjoyed the camaraderie with her teammates, the sense of accomplishment she felt when setting new records — there was another part of her that participated in the hopes of shrinking her body. Michelle, who is now studying to be a therapist, didn't know about eating disorders when she was younger. She reflects, "I had this idea that I wanted to become a professional swimmer so that I would be able to exercise even more. I would get many compliments on my body during swim season, even though that was when I hated my body the most."

The comments Michelle received on her weight and body when she was restricting and compensating fueled her eating disorder. "There was an underlying message" she adds, "that my body wasn't good enough before I lost the weight."

"There was an underlying message" she adds, "that my body wasn't good enough before I lost the weight."

As an eating disorders treatment professional, I, unfortunately, hear accounts like Michelle's on a daily basis — a person loses weight due to an increasingly problematic relationship food — that weight loss is complimented, and the person continues engaging in behaviors that are extremely harmful. I've also heard countless stories from friends, family, colleagues, and complete strangers sharing that they have received weight-loss compliments when they were experiencing immense pain and suffering — dying from cancer, grieving the loss of a spouse, or suffering from another debilitating illness.

With at least 20 million women and 10 million women in America alone suffering from an eating disorder at some point in their lives and countless others suffering from any number of physical or mental illnesses that might contribute to weight fluctuations, one would think that it would be common sense not to comment on a person's weight. Why are weight loss compliments such a common social gesture, despite their glaringly inappropriate and problematic connotations?

Why are weight loss compliments such a common social gesture, despite their glaringly inappropriate and problematic connotations?

It's a complex issue — while some people equate weight loss to desirability, others associate it with health and longevity (and many believe the two go hand-in-hand). But why? Why are these beliefs so deeply ingrained? One answer is fatphobia.

What is fatphobia?

Fatphobia is the fear of being fat or becoming fat, which results in the stigmatization of individuals that live in fat bodies. Fatphobia, which has both racist and classist origins, is at the root of our cultural obsession with thinness and diet culture.

Author of Fearing the Black Body, Sabrina Strings explains in her interview with NPR that 19th-century magazines, such as Harper's Bazaar, warned their white, middle and upper-class women audience that they must start to "watch what they ate" as a mechanism for differentiating themselves from slaves, creating a new aspect of racial identity (if you're interested in learning more about the racial origins and history of fatphobia check out the resources I've outlined at the end of this piece).

Fast forward 100 or so years, and our culture's fear of fatness shows up regularly on an individual, institutional, and systemic level (much like racism).

From a young age, we receive messages that being smaller is better — from thin barbie dolls with tight skin, thigh gaps, and virtually zero body fat to Disney princesses that are all more or less the same (thin) size. We see fatphobia on TV shows and movies both in casting (most people who land major roles live in thin bodies) and in the actual scripts (fat jokes). Not to mention that airlines don't make seats suitable for people in larger bodies, or that the fashion industry is particularly exclusive in its sizing and clothing lines.

From a young age, we receive messages that being smaller is better — from thin barbie dolls with tight skin, thigh gaps, and virtually zero body fat to Disney princesses that are all more or less the same (thin) size.

Weight stigma also impacts a person's chances of getting hired and the quality of health care they receive. Research shows that individuals who fall into higher weight categories are less likely to be hired than their thin counterparts. Additionally, weight-stigma in the health care system runs so rampantly that many individuals in higher weight bodies avoid the doctor's office for fear of being shamed or embarrassed. It's not uncommon, for instance, for someone who is "overweight" or "obese" to go to the doctor's office for a sinus infection and leave with a recommendation for weight loss.

Perhaps one of the most heartbreaking aspects of fatphobia is that individuals in larger bodies often internalize these attitudes, which leads to greater body image concern, anti-fat attitudes, depressive symptoms, stress, and reduced self-esteem.

Our collective fear of fatness is directly linked to the fact that it's extremely burdensome for people in higher-weight bodies to exist in this world.

Why am I telling you all of this?

Our collective fear of fatness is directly linked to the fact that it's extremely burdensome for people in higher-weight bodies to exist in this world. Instead of identifying this as a social justice issue, the majority of us have bought into the narrative that fat is bad and weight is always a matter of personal responsibility (spoiler: it's not).

Do individual choices impact a person's weight and health? Of course.

However, it would be irresponsible to not acknowledge that there are a number of factors that impact a person's weight even more so, than certain individual elements. These influences include but are not limited to: family history and genetics, race or ethnicity, socioeconomic status, age, sex, dieting history, exposure to trauma, chronic stress, racism, and/or discrimination, food insecurity, family habits and culture, sleeping habits, medical conditions, medications, and eating disorders.

Simply put, weight is far more complicated than most of us are willing to admit.

But what about health? What if a person has or desires to lose weight for "health reasons"?

Good question, to which I would say this:

  • This question assumes that in order for a person to "be healthy" they have to pursue weight loss (they don't). In fact, putting weight loss on the back burner and focusing on healthy behaviors, rather than weight has been shown to improve clinically relevant in various health and physiological markers, including blood pressure, blood lipids, eating and activity habits, self-esteem, and body image.
  • Assuming that everyone should be able to fit into our culture's irrational thin ideal and obtain a perfect picture of health while doing so is ill-informed.
  • If diets actually did what they promised they would do, the $70 billion dollar diet industry would be null and void. What most people don't know is that the diet industry — fueled by fatphobia — actually sets its consumers up to fail (and keep coming back for more). There is a large body of research that actually shows that dieting usually results in initial weight loss followed by weight gain. While there's nothing wrong with weight gain, most people don't set out to diet thinking they will gain weight. The human body is incredibly adaptive, and often, weight gain after dieting is a result of a person's body trying to protect them from starvation.
  • The people who lose weight and keep it off generally fall into a few camps:

1) They follow meticulous diet and exercise regimens in order to maintain the weight loss (one might call this disordered eating).

2) They are suffering from a serious mental or medical illness that results in suppressed weight.

3) Their survival genetics aren't quite as strong as the majority of the population, and for whatever reason, their body was okay with losing the weight and keeping it off (while there are some individuals who do fall into this camp, this certainly isn't the majority).

This brings me back to my main point: Weight loss compliments do more harm than good because we don't ever really know how the person lost the weight and there is a high likelihood that they will gain at least some of it back. Although they may be well-intended in the moment, weight loss compliments say nothing more than "Congrats, you're closer to matching our society's incredibly narrow beauty standards…"

So what do we do with this information? How do we move forward? Here are a few practical tips:

1. Continue to educate yourself about fatphobia, diet culture, and weight-inclusive principles. At the end of this article I, with the help of my colleagues, have provided a list of resources to help you get you started. Once you learn more, speak out about these issues, and seek out initiatives and policies that are more inclusive for all bodies.

2. Make an unapologetic commitment to refrain from weight loss compliments. Just. don't. do it. As I previously mentioned in an Instagram post above, it can feel pretty uncomfortable to not offer praise to someone who is subtly or not-so-subtly asking for it, especially if you love them. And yet, how powerful is it to say to someone "I love you for who you are, not what you look like."

3. Consider these alternatives to weight loss compliments:

4. Say nothing. Literally. Close your Mouth. Don't comment.

- "I'm so happy to see you"
- "I love you so much"
- "How are you doing?"
- "What's new?"
- "I so enjoy spending time with you!"
- "I'm glad you're feeling good" — only use this one when you know, for a fact, that the person is actually feeling good.

In summary, there just really isn't an appropriate reason to comment on another person's weight. Weight loss compliments do more harm than good by upholding oppressive systems, perpetuating excluding beauty ideals, and often inaccurately equating thinness to health. On an individual level, you never really know how or why a person loses weight or if they will gain any of it back. So, in the spirit of being kind, sensitive, and decent human beings, let's lay off the weight loss "compliments" for good.

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