Life changing moments have a tendency to sneak up on us when we least expect it. And mine just so happened to be at a time when I was sweltering under a gold lamé jacket, getting my class to tap it back to Rihanna’s “We Found Love” at SoulCycle.

But let me back up for a second.

To be a woman who at her core believed that self-worth and self-confidence isn’t fueled by looks, but by the connected strength of physical, emotional and mental fortitude.

Despite appearances, I have never really considered myself athletic.  As a kid in growing up in Santa Cruz, Calif, my less-than-perfect hand-eye coordination kept me on the sidelines of almost every team sport.  But then I discovered dance.

I fell fast and hard and it didn’t take long for me to embark on a decade-long career as a national and international competitive dancer—which meant that I had to take the good with the bad. The good: an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment that came from being so deeply connected to my body that it became an instinctive and natural form of self-expression (not to mention that I also got to wear rhinestone booty shorts out in public, not on Halloween). The bad: the overwhelming struggle to have a faultless body that I knew was being critiqued just as much as my actual talent (and the eventual realization that I had spent most of my adolescence basing my self-worth on how I looked in rhinestone booty shorts.)

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It was inevitable that the pressure of unrealistic body standards would lead me down a dark path of self-image problems which would then quickly escalate to both anorexia and bulimia.  So in my early 20’s when I moved to New York City after graduating from the University of Illinois with a BFA in Dance, I came looking for a change.  And boy did it come—in the form of a stationary bike and an intoxicating instructor whose confidence and command emboldened me to find a new, well-lit path:  to be a woman who at her core believed that self-worth and self-confidence isn’t fueled by looks, but by the connected strength of physical, emotional and mental fortitude.

Shortly thereafter, I became a SoulCycle instructor.  Which brings me back to Rihanna and the gold lamé jacket.

The music was loud. The endorphins were on serious overload. The room was steamy with sweat pouring down the faces of my breathless riders. And there I was, in near equator-like temperatures still wearing my jacket simply because I was too self-conscious to take it off with just a sports bra underneath.  Paralyzed by my fear, it was then that I was forced to face my most significant and most uncomfortable truth—that my journey towards self-acceptance was only just beginning.

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I’ve been on the journey now for five years, meeting countless people who have helped me to overcome my own body insecurities; but  who now inspire me to tackle the body image issues that affect young women all over the country. I mean, eight year old girls skipping meals in fear of gaining weight?  Fifteen year olds failing out of gym class simply because they’re too embarrassed to change in the locker room?  And unrealistic standards of beauty that no woman could ever attain?  It needs to end.

Together, I believe that we have the opportunity to give young women new role models with a more balanced belief system.  One that proves that confidence, strength and self-empowerment is more rewarding than fitting into a smaller pair of jeans.  One who defines beauty by the energy they radiate and bring to the world.  One who can accept her imperfections by letting her strengths overshadow them. 

I am proud to have founded Movemeant, an organization where we believe in a few simple truths.  That every body is meant to move. That the only place you can find self-love, acceptance, and worth is within yourself.  That movement acts as a portal to a higher consciousness, to your intuition and a deeper understanding of you who you are and who you want to be.   And my favorite one (a hard-won lesson in my book):  It’s not the way your body looks that defines you. It’s the fierce combination of what heart, mind and body can do together that does.   

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