Nearly two years ago, I published the first version of the Love Your Body Challenge on my personal website, and the responses I received from women all over the world reinforced my desire for, and commitment to, helping even more women find the kind of peace, freedom, and power that can only come from loving yourself as you are right now.
What I am most passionate about is helping women discover what their best body looks and feels like, with minimal time and effort. I want to help them approach this journey with grace and compassion towards their bodies. Not when they achieve an “after,” but always. Every day, at every step in the journey.
As a trainer and coach specializing in working with women, I’ve made many observations over the years about how women respond to certain strength training and nutrition protocols. I’ve helped women get stronger, gain muscle, and lose body fat. I’ve helped women achieve their first pull-up, their first pistol squat, and fit comfortably into their favorite clothes. I’ve worked with women on making sound nutrition and training habits part of their everyday lives.
However, the most exciting change I’ve observed in all of these women is the profound change in their perspective and their relationship with themselves.
I was initially inspired to write this article by several women with whom I'd worked, as well as some of my colleagues in fitness. I noticed a theme of strong, fit women who are generally assumed to have "perfect" and "flawless" bodies, baring images of themselves that show just how "imperfect" they are, and how totally OK they are with that.
Inspired by them, I created the "Love Your Body Challenge," and as I said earlier, the response from women around the world was overwhelming. Today I'm re-introducing a version of the Challenge for the Girls Gone Strong community. It is my intention, through this challenge, to help you shift your perspective on yourself and your body. I want to help you begin to see and love your body the way your body deserves to be seen and loved: with grace and compassion.
To kick off the Love Your Body Challenge, I recruited some of my favorite women in fitness to share some photos and their personal stories of body embracement with you.
We know, we know... Many people have and will continue to point out that even the unflattering photos of these women are beautiful. Keep in mind that female fitness professionals are held to an insanely high standard. One picture of one dimple on the back of her thigh can create an Internet firestorm with people tearing her down and questioning her credibility and character (a ridiculous and illogical, but sadly, very common reaction).
My purpose in sharing our stories here is five-fold:
1. To help you see that you’re not alone. There's comfort in community and feeling like other people have dealt with what you're dealing with, and have been through the same struggles you have.
2. To remove the shame of having an "imperfect" body and the idea that a “perfect” body exists. I mean, seriously! What the heck does a perfect body look like anyway? Cellulite, stretch marks, birthmarks, scars, moles, wrinkles... These are part of every single one of us, and they help us tell our story. There is no reason to hide them or apologize for them.
3. To help you see that even very fit and very lean women have cellulite, belly rolls, or loose skin, and that lighting and camera angles make a huge difference. We always look at ourselves in the worst lighting in the most awkward positions, and compare ourselves to a fitness model who had a crew of 15, including a professional photographer and lighting director, hair and makeup pros, etc. Let’s get real here. We are comparing our "behind the scenes" to someone else’s "highlight reel," as the saying goes.
4. To help you see yourself clearly. Honestly, this point is one I didn't expect when I first had this idea. In fact, I didn't even realize this lesson until one of the women pointed it out—and it's the most poignant lesson of them all. All week these women texted or emailed me pictures of themselves saying,"Is this enough cellulite?" "Does this belly roll look big enough?" "Can you see my stretch marks well enough from this angle?" When all of these women stepped back for a moment and tried to see these "horrific" things about their bodies, when they tried to capture these monstrous "flaws" that kept them out of bathing suits and shorts for years, and they looked at themselves through the eyes of a stranger, wondering if their "flaws" would look bad enough to you, the reader... they could hardly find them at all!
5. To help you recognize that you look and are amazing. As you'll notice, no matter how “flawless” or “perfect” others might perceive them to be, each of these women has all struggled with body image and loving her body at some point in time. They've been way too hard on themselves, and I know you'll agree. Have you ever considered that maybe, just maybe, you are being too hard on yourself?
As you read our stories below, keep these five lessons in mind. Then, take a quick “Get To Know Yourself” quiz and get ready for Day 1 of the Love Your Body Challenge, at the very bottom!
If you want to skip to the Quiz and Day 1 of the challenge, click here.
I don't think it's any secret that I've struggled with body image for a long, long time. I've written about it, spoken about it, and presented on it, and now, here we are.
I have so many "perceived imperfections," from my belly when I sit down, to my booty full of cellulite, to my stretch marks and loose skin, to my incredibly small eyes. So I've decided to share them all, and like I said in the introduction, after looking at them through the eyes of a stranger, I've decided that they actually aren't that bad after all.
You were probably wondering who's belly that was. Surprise! It's mine! These pictures were taken 60 seconds apart. What a difference position can make!>
The difference between good lighting and a flattering angle, and bad lighting and a horrible angle. Oh, and a little loose skin/stretch mark combo for good measure.
I'm often complimented on my eyes, and I always think in my head, "Yeah, they look good with makeup on. They look horrible without." Not anymore. That thought is poisonous.
These pictures were taken in Spring 2015, after spending a few hours at the beach. I took a picture of my abs and then turned around and took a picture of my butt.
I did this because I wanted to illustrate that while you sometimes see something you consider “perfect” on a woman’s body, none of us are perfect. Not a single one of us. Isn’t that just great?! We are so beautifully unique and imperfectly whole.
I’m a bonafide quadzilla. Proud now, but it wasn’t always that way. I used to pine over other women’s legs, ignoring my own lovely qualities in favor of something I didn’t feel I had. My eyes are drawn to shapely, muscular, lean legs and booties, because, quite honestly—I used to hate mine.
I found my first dimple of leg cellulite when I was just 21, earned the moniker thunder thighs by the 8th grade, and my legs got so big during my pregnancy, that I could only manage to wear stretchy pants.
I have great abs--abs that other women probably look at and admire. But in the past, I was so bogged down with feelings of perfectionism and comparison, which I chose to disregard this altogether.The truth is, while you might be comparing your abs to mine, I'm probably comparing my legs to yours.
So when women look at me and exclaim, "But you have no stretch marks!" I explain that I do—they're just on my legs, not on my belly. And when women look at my abs and say, "You don't have an ounce of fat on you!" I feel the need to clarify that I carry my fat on my lower body, and that, due mostly to genetics, my abs are always somewhat visible.
But the things is, this is my body—not some sort of Mrs. Potato Head that can interchange its pieces. I’m not a Frankenstein monster made up of different parts. I’m a whole person. Yes, there is cellulite. And yes, there are stretch marks. But there are also so many other things to me—I am not my cellulite and stretch marks!
Learning to love that whole person has taken patience, practice, and lots of compassion. I had to really put in some introspective work to learn to let go of the need to be “perfect,” and embrace my flaws as a part of that whole person. I read, I journaled, I meditated, I talked to other woman who could empathize, I went to therapy.
Where does this feeling come from, this need to be perfect? I dug deep for those answers and moved forward from there—leaning into all the uncomfortable and painful emotions that came up with that introspection.
After much time and patience, I can wholeheartedly affirm that I don’t need to hustle for leanness in an effort to be happier, accepted, or more comfortable in my own skin. I don’t have to look a certain way in order to experience connection and belonging. I fully believe that no matter what my body looks like, I am worthy--simply because I am. Worthy of love, success, affection, and belonging--the fat on my legs, the visibility of my abs, these things have absolutely nothing to do with my worth as a human on this planet.
I trust that by being present and practicing self-love, I can be (and am) happy now, not at some possible point in the future when my legs lean out. I’m more than my body—and that idea of “more” has brought me so much healing energy.
I remember shopping for shorts in high school, making sure they didn’t reveal even the first pit in the backs of my legs. I felt mortified, carefully dressing around this visual for years. That was 30 pounds ago.
Like 90 percent of women, I have cellulite, and I have since I was just a little scrap. I was fit then, I’m fit again now (and a hell of a lot stronger, too), but now, I dare wear short shorts (cue that classic Nair jingle). And often.
What changed, besides my clothes? My attitude about what I “should” look like, and the realization that we are air-brushing ourselves into a corner, with regard to societal expectations of what we should look like.
There is no should, and the sooner we start dressing the part, the better.
Along the same vein, I was pleased to read about professional runner Lauren Fleshman’s #keepingitreal campaign. (Get up to speed here, if you haven’t.)
Her suggestion is that we start peppering our own social media feeds with less-than-flattering photos of ourselves, in the spirit of not just body acceptance, but body *embracement.*
The challenge she laid down: "Everyone keeps saying how powerful social media is. Let’s use it to redefine beauty. Post an unflattering photo of your body on Facebook or Twitter and spread the word. Add the hashtag #keepingitreal."
So, in the spirit of self-love, I posted this side-by-side shot of myself to my Facebook page, Thrive as the Fittest.
These two photos were taken the same day, during the same shoot for my apparel line. The light coming through the skylight was a little softer in the one on the left, and it didn't feature the backs of my legs, complete with my cellulite on blast. And right before the launch of my ebook on conditioning, Lift Weights Faster.
Would it hurt sales, I wondered?
But then, hot on the heels of that thought, came a resounding “F*** IT.” Because my responsibility as a woman who works in the fitness industry to demonstrate that you can be fit and pitted, drowned out any reservations.
I’m strong, I feel healthy and vibrant, my life is rich and full of love, laughter and friendship, and I have a job that I'm passionate about.
Puts those itty-bitty pits in perspective, doesn't it?
I remember "training" for the biggest photo shoot I've ever done back in 2011.
The amount of pressure and guilt I experienced during that time was ridiculous. I remember dreading the experience of measuring my body fat — getting pinched and prodded. The worst part is, that was the best shape I've ever been in, and…
Most of the enjoyment of being in that body was drained because I was mainly motivated by not feeling good enough.
I was up against a deadline, hoping to be good enough by the time it came to be in front of the camera.
I look back at those pictures now and really appreciate that body. I'm a few pounds heavier and a little bit softer these days, but I feel so damn good in my body because I fully accept her. I dig my cellulite, I love my curves, and I swear I am more attractive as a human because of all these things.
It feels nice to not hide anymore. The two pics you see here are from that photo shoot. I'd never posted the one on the right anywhere because the angle made all the difference between nice booty/thigh shot and jiggly booty/thigh shot.
Largely inspired by Jen Sinkler's post and Molly inviting me to share here, today I say, "What the hell!"
All of it is mine. The muscles, the meat, and the cellulite.
Home is not a place, my body is my home and it's my choice to love and respect her always.
As far back as I can remember I had always been self-conscious about my butt and today it is one of my favorite assets—pardon the pun!
After having my first baby in 2001, my body image was completely shaken. Gaining 50 pounds really did a number on my self-esteem and my lower body.
Long story short: divorce, discovery of self, dating, discovery of passion and getting married...it finally all came together for me: I was more than a number on a scale and the size of my jeans.
I finally understood that my body was something I could love right then, as is, with no changes needed. Yes, I could get stronger, leaner, or make various improvements, but I was still me and no changes were needed for me to finally love my body. I began to respect my body and embrace everything that makes it unique.
In 2007, after three years of personal training I launched an online fitness program for moms. I found myself coaching dozens of women who were putting off their happiness until they could fix all their problem areas. This obsession with achieving a perfect, flawless body was a challenge to address and overcome.
Breakthroughs began to happen as I opened up and shared my own personal ups and downs, which included photos and some hard core, super honest videos. One video in particular demonstrates that while my body fits the appearance of being lean, I still have areas that are “as is” and no matter how much work I put into transforming, these parts are what make me, Me!
One area in particular, my butt! It jiggles, it has dimples and a dog bite from a mean old cocker spaniel. I joke about the multiple folds as smileys, but my butt is strong, curvy, and can rock some skinny jeans! This is why I love my butt!
It feels good to sharing what makes my body real, and that no matter what fitness goals I achieve, there will always be parts of my body that keep me unique, and quite frankly, grounded and humble.
My body is constantly transforming, and yet my body is amazing AS IS. I know I have arrived at the body I want, not because of what I look like, but because of how I feel about myself.
I love this quote by Steve Maraboli:
"There is nothing more rare, nor more beautiful, than a woman being herself; comfortable in her perfect imperfection. To me, that is the true essence of beauty.”
Be unapologetically YOU!
As a young woman in the fitness industry I often wondered why there weren’t more women on the local Perform Better fitness circuit. The male presenters were intelligent and passionate about teaching and sharing their fitness knowledge, however it was never about the way that they looked.
Women in the spotlight were the likes of Jillian Michaels and Tracy Anderson; covered in makeup, while sporting just a bra and booty shorts. It was as if their good looks and killer body alone made them a “good trainer.” So I decided that if I couldn’t get noticed for my brains alone, then maybe a killer body would do the trick.
The picture on the left: über-lean and miserable. The picture on the right: bibrant and happy.
Here I am with a killer body—and just plain miserable. At this point in time I was a mediocre coach with no work/ life balance. No photoshop or editing just extreme discipline.
Then you see me three years later, and I am happier then ever! I am strong and vibrant. I am the coach I want to be. I may not rock a six-pack but that’s ok with me!
Guess what? I have stretch marks! I have also been told on numerous occasions that I am wide and needed to wear a girdle in order to ever have a waist.
These things do not define me.
There is a shift happening ladies. As females in the fitness industry we are embracing ALL of ourselves! The sooner we can embody a, “progress not perfection,” attitude towards our bodies the happier we can be!
My top two take-aways on body acceptance:
1. Exercise and food should be pleasures that complement (rather than take over) your life.
2. Each person's body is uniquely beautiful. The sooner you realize this the better life is!
I know when I got into the fitness industry my biggest goal was to, "get on the cover of Oxygen!" I wanted to be a fitness model, to have an awesome physique, and exude confidence and smiles!
Interestingly , I remember how excited I was at my very first fitness competition. I was going to be able to meet a few IFBB "pros."
I was startled to see that they did not look like their pictures in person. The two who I met were puffy, a good 15+ pounds heavier than they looked in their photos, and not at all glamorous without the make-up.
I recall going to my hotel room and telling my husband, "Wow, those girls don't look at all like their pictures in real life."
As I continued to compete and meet more of the models in "real life" who I had only ever seen in the magazines, it became increasingly clear how much of a difference a nice tan, make-up, lighting, and angles make.
I started doing shoots myself, and suddenly I wouldn't even allow any bad-angle pictures to be posted online. I had control over my image, and I did not want people to see the "average" Me. They only got to see the "amazing, fit, tan, and smiling" Me! I wouldn't even post a bad selfie!
Ironically, this is also what sickened me about the whole industry. I knew it was all a façade. I knew I had cellulite on my bum, and I knew my pasty skin did not look all that flawless without a tan and great lighting. Even though I do have a few pounds on me in the booty picture, what a difference a tan and arching your back make! Don't ever compare your average day with someone else's great day!
This couch pic should be a meme: "What I think I look like when I'm lounging around at home...what I actually look like."
I was extremely self-conscious all the way through my late twenties. The fear of what people might think of me—more specifically, what they might think of my body—was constantly on my mind. As I entered my thirties, I slowly shifted my focus onto what my body can do, rather than how it looks, and that has been my saving grace.
My workouts used to solely revolve around what would make my body look better. While I do still care about my physique, I'm far more concerned about conquering my performance goals. Interestingly, now that I've been working more on certain lifts and different types of fitness, my body is leaner, more muscular, and stronger than it's ever been. I attribute that to less stress, and a whole lot more fun and playtime, both in and out of the gym. I'm a firm believer that our thoughts manifest physically.
Speaking of playtime activities, taking up pole dancing class has done a number on Jen!
Being immersed in the fitness industry is a slippery slope. It's easy to get too wrapped up in how my body looks. Instagram and Facebook are nothing but a plethora of ab and ass shots these days. I'm proud to deviate from that nonsense, and far prefer to share pics and posts about what a body is capable of doing if you put your mind to it—along with plenty of bloopers and failures, because that is real life.
So, cellulite? Who cares!
A couple of years ago, I was at my family’s house in Ontario sitting lakeside with friends and family. I was wearing shorts and a tank top. As I stood up and started to walk inside to the house, my uncle said to me, “How does such a fit girl like you still have dimples on the backs of her legs?”
Um... What the F did you just say to me?! Pretty sure a couple of choice words almost left my mouth.
Here’s the thing: A few years ago, that comment would have (and did) upset me. It made me want to cover my dimply legs. It made not want to wear shorts in case someone else might notice. Today, though?
I realize that this man did not in any way mean to make me feel uncomfortable or self-conscious. He was probably just generally surprised and interested to see that strong women with muscle have cellulite too; that women who are fit and even lean, have cellulite because that’s just how this science stuff works.
So my gals, if you also have some dimples on the backs of your legs, or anywhere else on your body for that matter, know that it’s perfectly fine and good. If someone has made a comment that has left you embarrassed, uncomfortable or feeling “less than,” take it as their ignorance to knowing what women’s bodies are really made of.
We are the only ones who can decide how we feel when we look in the mirror and, I’m telling you, embracing all of you a little more each day feels damn good.
When Molly asked if I was interested in contributing to her article, I jumped at the chance because, “I have cellulite!”
Only now I had to prove it! Easy, right?
What if I told you that I took several dozen photos in my most unflattering poses and...zero cellulite to speak of? That’s right, the day it was finally going to be seen by everybody, it decided to hide—from my eyes.
I have spent most of my adult life comparing my body to others and hiding my legs. It’s good to feel normal, and it’s good not to feel alone in having body issues. What struck me today was how upside down my approach to these photos was, and what an amazing thing happened as a result!
You see, normally, I am fearing imperfection, seeking “perfection” and seeing only flaws. Today, I went in seeking those flaws and expecting imperfections and I saw only beauty.
My cellulite has always looked worse to me. It didn’t matter who else had it worse than me, I always found a way to shame myself more. I’d usually say, “Yes, but I also have this too!” while pointing to another "flaw."
As I dried my hair in preparation for the “flaw” photo, I asked myself, “At what point do you feel beautiful and ready to face the world?” Certainly not when I am wearing shorts or without my make-up. I feel exposed and bare; unsafe and open to criticism. People might see me for what I really am: imperfect!
Look, it’s not like I don’t know I’m not perfect. I mean, I am quite comfortable sharing my inner struggles with my readers on my blog. But there is always this horror when you see your body as it really is: a shell. What is meant to make it shine is your character and confidence. It doesn’t happen the other way round. But you can’t see your beauty until you accept you own worth, just as you are.
So, here is one photo which made my heart skip a few beats when I saw it online. I did a photo shoot for someone else’s website, and they clearly didn’t care that my leg is looking rather "rough." Ha! And the second photo is me today, trying to recapture the evil shadows that revealed my “flaw."
But don’t focus on my outer shadows, or your own… the only shadows that need be made alight are the dark places in my mind that tell me I am ugly, sub-standard, and unworthy.
I’ve never had anywhere near a "perfect" body, but for the past 10 years or so, I’ve had a pretty good one. That’s when I made a few dietary changes, and got into heavy strength training, which resulted in losing about 25 pounds. Thankfully I never had a very negative impression of my body, but it wasn’t until recently that I learned to really love it – fatty inner thighs and all.
It wasn’t a specific change that happened that allowed me to start loving my body. Rather it was a realization that I really had found a perfect balance: I had a body that I could look at and smile. It was fit enough that I could enjoy high-level athletic performance. And I could maintain this without an overly restrictive approach to nutrition. I eat well most of the time, but I also drink wine and beer, eat chips sometimes, and when I eat pizza, I eat way more than would be considered “one serving." So that was it—I had everything I wanted out of my body. How could I not love it?
That's me! And it's how I wanted to look for the rest of my life! And, when Molly asked me to contribute, it actually made me realize how happy and comfortable I am in my body. I couldn’t even get a good picture of my cellulite!
I then remembered what my stomach looks like when I sit down. I have a flat stomach when I’m standing up, but because of how I’ve dealt with stress in the past, and the lifestyle I used to live, it will be a while before my stomach looks “perfect..." Still, I think I look good naked, and I don’t care if it looks like that when I sit down.
In high school I stayed inside for two whole summers because I hated the way my body looked. My body went through a huge change when I moved to the U.S. from Guatemala. I wasn’t used to having curves, and I'd thought I would be skin and bones for the rest of my life.
It saddens me knowing that I spent eight years hating my body and the way I looked, but it feels so good to know that I love the way it looks now.
Cara and Jill both recently completed the Love Your Body Challenge, and want to share what they gained from the experience.
When I first started the Love Your Body Challenge I had just gotten my blog up and going. I thought that the Challenge would be a good way to exercise my writing muscles and give me some topics. I had no idea how much it would impact me.
Looking at my body as my home, giving it the grace, love, and respect it deserves and unpacking the power of owning your beauty really changed my life. I felt so good about my own body that I had to help other women feel good about theirs as well. When you love your body and embrace yourself you have so much more to give to the world. When you spend less time worrying about the size of your thighs you can spend more time making the world a better place!
It took a long time for me to get on the same side as my body. I spent years overtraining and undereating. Tugging on my shirt while I looked in the mirror. Wearing sweaters in the summer to hide my perceived imperfections. Doing cardio workouts after holiday dinners to work off the food I ate. And it was never good enough.
When I started doing the Love Your Body Challenge, looking at my myself in the mirror and saying positive things felt so foreign to me. But, with some practice it eventually became a way of life. My whole vision changed when I started focusing on all of the amazing things that my body could do instead of what it looked like. It’s my hope that every woman will give herself the love and grace that she deserves, and will get on the same side as her body, the way that I have. There’s no freer feeling.
Here we are, stripped down to bare and share our vulnerabilities and insecurities with you. Remember, these stories were not so much about how you think we look. We have each struggled with hating our body at some point. It may seem crazy, but we’ve struggled with it just the same. We are all on our own journey toward not just body acceptance, but body embracement.
Now I invite you to join us with the Girls Gone Strong 7-Day Love Your Body Challenge! Check out Day 1, and if you want to participate (you won't regret it, if you do!) you can download our FREE high-quality, printable PDF with all the details and assignments for all 7 days. Details are at the bottom of this page.
Grab a notebook (or create a document on your computer) so that you can save all of your completed assignments in one place. You’ll appreciate this later, when you want to look back and reflect on how much your thoughts have transformed!
Start today by taking a moment to rank how you feel about a few things on a scale from 1-10. 1 is the worst, 10 is the best. Write these down in your notebook/document.
After ranking yourself in each category, add up your total score and hang on to these numbers. You will re-visit these questions again in a week.
For the next seven days, read the daily challenge highlighting one reason to love your body, the mantra associated with that reason, and the small assignment or action step to cement that reason. Each challenge should about 5 minutes to read, and the action step should about 5 minutes as well.
Some mantras and reasons will resonate with you more than others. If you find one that works, stick with it, but don’t feel like you have to use a new one if a different one is working. If the first few don’t resonate with you, don’t worry! You’re bound to find something that sticks with you over the next seven days.
We encourage you enlist an accountability partner and go through the challenge together. It will be fun, and you’re more likely to see it through to the end. If you’re feeling inspired by this challenge, join us by sharing your “less-than-flattering” photos and your own stories of body embracement on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, using the hashtags #LoveYourBodyChallenge or #GGSLYBC. We just might share your story in a “Love Your Body Challenge” album on the GGS Facebook page. If you’d rather share your story with us via email, send it to [email protected] and write “GGS Love Your Body Challenge” in the subject line.
Ready? Let’s get started!
Because it's yours.
Sounds kinda silly, right? But seriously — think about other things that are yours: your house, your car, your favorite pair of shoes, or your puppy. Think about how well you treat so many other things in your life that are yours.
What’s even crazier? Those are replaceable (well, maybe not your puppy, but you get my drift). How ridiculous does it sound that we spend more time and energy taking care of our replaceable possessions than we do our own body, mind, heart, and soul?
"My body is my home. It's the ONLY place I have to live. I will treat it with the care and respect it deserves."
Repeat this (to yourself or out loud) 10 times right now, 10 times during your action step, and 10 times before bed.
Do one really nice thing to take care of yourself today. Maybe it’s a bubble bath, maybe it’s deep conditioning treatment for your hair, or maybe it’s a few minutes in the steam room at the gym. Maybe it’s a short walk around your block just to enjoy some fresh air and some sunshine on your face. Whatever. Just do it, and while you’re doing it, repeat your mantra to yourself 10 times. When you’re done with that, then just simply enjoy what you’re doing.
No work, no kids, no social media, no emails. Try to experience what you’re doing with all of your senses, and clear your mind. That’s it for today!
If these sound familiar to you, you are not alone.
Based on our years of experience working with and talking to women — and going through our own body image struggles — we designed this free course to help you start improving your body image immediately and give you the tools you need to finally feel good in your own skin.
Bust through negative beliefs, change your mindset, and start feeling awesome in your own skin with this information-packed 5-day course.
This free course includes videos, downloadable tools & resources, and podcast version so you can learn on the go.