I was very judgy back in early 2014. I was also very miserable in my own skin.
I used to look at fitness selfies posted on IG or Facebook and think, how vain, as I was eye-rolling and scrolling.
I was A Mom: I posted pictures of my kids doing absolutely everything, from mundane days at the park to preschool graduations, and, once in a while, if the angle was just right, you may have caught a glimpse of me from the chin up in the background. But largely, I was invisible, as society expects most moms to be. I didn’t even have a first name; I was Lila and Marco's Mom. And as much as I love my children, that never sat quite right with me.
Fitness transformations are all over social media. They are usually attached to some type of product promising quick results with little effort and feature highly edited photographs often stolen from other accounts. Busy mom with no time for yourself? No problem-- just drink this tea, take these pills, wrap your body in something that will magically melt that fat away. On your friends’ media accounts, more often than not you will see a vibrant “transformation” credited to a popular diet or training fad, with rapid bursts of energized posts, followed by a period of silence and then an announcement of “Starting over!” in an entertaining but markedly non-transformative cycle.
I get a lot of questions about my transformation, because, frankly, it wasn't cyclical. It worked. I decided one day that I was ready to reclaim myself, walked into a boxing gym absolutely terrified, and never looked back. I was 38-years old, with two young children, and hadn’t really exercised with any effort since high school, because before I entered into an unhealthy marriage, I never really had to worry about how I looked. And back then, I thought it was about looks.
Ten minutes into the warm-up of the 45-minute cardio boxing class, I thought I was going to vomit. The kind woman at the front desk told me to sit down for a minute and put my head between my legs. Five minutes later I stood up, started whaling on that heavy bag, and didn’t stop until the final bell. I was elated. Victorious. I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt proud and joyful about something that I did --not something my kids did that I could post about proudly-- something that I did. I walked back up to the woman at the front desk, asked about the program and the cost and excitedly called my then-husband suggesting that this was something we could maybe do together. He said, “no.” I signed up. I never missed a class on my schedule.
That was over eight years ago.
My transformation worked because I wasn’t ready to make a change; I was ready to change my entire life. I was tired of feeling so ugly, that I made myself small and insignificant inside a big protective body. I knew that I could no longer live as an invisible mom. I was tired of being an invisible wife. It wasn't that I needed to return to some previous version of myself; I needed to recreate myself.
Transformation by definition means to turn into something new, not to return to a previous state. Same foundation, new building.
I never went on “a diet”. I established a healthy diet that I could live with forever following the 80/20 rule; if you eat well 80% of the time, you don’t have to worry about the other 20%. I started by learning about macros, and establishing a ratio of protein, carbohydrates, and fats that worked for my body. At that point, my goal was weight loss, so I did track my calories for a while to create a moderate calorie deficit, but my focus quickly became strength over the scale. It was the non-scale victories that motivated me. I felt so good when I was landing hooks on that bag harder than I could have before. I felt so good when I was learning technique, hitting mitts in the ring. I felt so good when I could out-plank the class, or hit a record number of punches during a round. It felt so good to do so many things that felt good.
By the time I had lost sixty pounds, I didn’t ever really have to think about the number on the scale, what I was going to eat, or what my workout would be because it wasn’t something separate from my regular life; it was, and still is, my lifestyle.
I started to plateau, which is inevitable, and I realized that as much as I loved boxing, it couldn’t be the only way for me to challenge my body. I began to venture over to the tiny free weight section in front of the dreaded mirrors and began doing sessions with professional trainers to learn proper weightlifting technique. The results were incredibly motivating; now that I was no longer afraid of the mirror, I could see my muscles working, growing, and transforming my body composition before my eyes. The scale kept going up, but my clothing size kept going down. Once I learned the power of strength training, it was like a whole new level of fitness opened up to me. In 2018, I became a Certified Personal Trainer myself, specializing in strength training and started my own training business. I wanted to share the true secret of fitness with other women who feel trapped and insecure-- that you have to be mentally ready to commit to the process. That you have to be willing to let go of the picture of who you think you are supposed to be to become the woman you want to be.
Ironically, although my goal is to empower women, as a personal trainer, many women dart me with microaggressions that they may not even realize they are throwing:
Oh I wish I could have the time that you do to work out, but I would feel bad leaving my kids again after they have been in daycare/school all day.
Who has the kids when you go to the gym?
I’ll take time for myself when they are older. That’s great that you can do it though.
It can be irritating, but I get it. Mothers are sent so many mixed messages: You need to engage in self-care -- have a glass of wine, go to the spa, go shopping ...but neglect your children by going to the gym? How selfish. You need to love yourself, love your scars, love your tiger stripes ...but don’t you dare post a picture of a fit, sexy body in a bathing suit. How vain. How narcissistic. How inappropriate for a mother. What message is she sending her daughter?
Here is the message that I am sending to my daughter and my son, loud and clear:
Self love only works if you are loving yourself the way you need to -- not the way others want you to.
Body positivity doesn’t mean just embracing your flaws (of which I have many), it also means celebrating your strength, your sexiness, and the results of your hard work any way you see fit.
Pride in your body does not have an inverse correlation to intellect. I can look good in a bikini, and I can look good standing in front of a classroom, and my brain functions just fine either way.
Pride in your body does not have a correlation to immorality or “promiscuity”, whatever that word, generally applied only to females, even means.
You are entitled to make your relationship with your own body a priority. You are not required to accept the things you don’t like about your body just because the message to mothers is, well, you are raising children now, so you should just be grateful and focus on them. You do not have to buy into the messages that pride in your own body is somehow an affront or unsupportive to the body positivity of all women of all shapes and sizes.
Taking control of my body changed everything for me. I found the strength to leave an unhealthy marriage. I found the motivation to begin a second career that I am passionate about and have built a business around. I found the energy to be a loving single parent with two jobs and unrelenting demands while still maintaining a healthy body. And I became a heroine to my children who are so proud of how strong their mom is and who now have many pictures with her, captured moments, smiling together, side by side.
Here’s what I would say to that eye-rolling, scrolling 2014 version of myself: women who are proud of their bodies are not shaming you. If you feel shame, that is something you are projecting onto them, and at some point, you have to either continue to live with that negativity or swallow your fear and do the hard internal work to remove that blockage that makes you see competition over inspiration. You can’t worry about looking stupid stepping into the gym or trying something new. You already feel that way not doing it. So you have to do it afraid.
You don’t need to be selfless to be a good mom. The time you spend on bettering your physical and mental health pays dividends to your children in myriad ways.
And you can post that selfie.
Sari Terranova is a NASM Certified Personal Trainer, Nutrition Coach, Educator and a kickass independent mom of two middle-schoolers. If you want to start your transformation visit www.sarinovastrong.com or check out her online programs on the TrainHeroic Marketplace: https://marketplace.trainheroic.com/brand/sari-nova-strength-and-fitness?attrib=551902-aff-blog