Which question is easier to answer: "What about your body do you hate?" or "What’s your favorite thing about your body?"
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It’s often easy to point out what we don’t like about ourselves than what we do like, especially when we’re constantly barraged with images of “perfection” on Instagram.
LIVESTRONG sat down with five top fitness and wellness influencers to discuss and define perfection and learn how to achieve self-acceptance. Not surprisingly, many of the influencers had to overcome bullying and insecurities to get to where they are today. Whether they were teased for their weight, their height or their body shape, here's what they had to say about embracing their “flaws” and finding strength in their uniqueness.
1. Payal Kadakia, ClassPass Founder, on Being Short
ClassPass founder and executive chairman Payal Kadakia had always been insecure about her height. “I’m 4'11". I’ve always been short,” she says. “It doesn’t sound mean when people call you short, but sometimes people said it in a way that made me feel like I was incapable. Like, ‘Hey, I’ll do that for you,’ or, ‘You could never do that.’
“That message, for me, was something I had to fight through — I still fight through — in my life. The only way you can is by doing the opposite,” she says. “I always got to be in the front in dance class or in class photos without people being mad. I liked being in front because I could learn in class better or learn exercises better. It’s the way you look at it. Now it’s a signature thing I wear. I loved the moment where I stopped wanting to wear heels.”
Kadakia was also teased as a child because of her Indian ethnicity. At the age of 5 it got to the point that she wanted to leave school to avoid her bullies.
“I grew up in a town where there wasn’t anyone else that looked like me. And that was actually an interesting struggle, right? Because I was by myself, and I think people didn’t know how to understand what I look like,” she says. “And one of the things I learned to do over time was to actually share my culture and the beauty of it with them and [how] everything that I believe is precious to my parents, my heritage, my ancestors.”
2. Anna Victoria, Fit Body Guide Founder, on Having "Big" Legs
For Fit Body Guide founder Anna Victoria, who recently launched the Body Love app, learning about socially constructed beauty standards in different countries helped to open her eyes to her own natural beauty. She moved to China after completing her undergraduate studies and found that Chinese expectations of beauty were totally different from those in the United States.
“I was raised in the United States, and we have this standard of beauty, and it’s curvy and also very bronzed,” she says. “[In China], white skin is beautiful.”
After a year, she moved to her husband’s home country, Italy, and again found that the beauty standards there were different. “My husband is Italian. And there they love skinny legs. And for me, I was always, ‘OK, curvy legs, grow your butt, you know, squats.’
“Seeing these different cultures — the U.S., China, Italy and so many others — they all have their own version of beauty. None of them matter, and none of them are the standard of beauty for anyone individually. We tend to kind of take on that standard of beauty in our culture and think that we have to be defined by that, but we don’t.”
3. Brittany Vest, Health Influencer on Not Being Skinny
Health and wellness blogger Brittany Vest, also known as @fittybritttty, shared her 86-pound weight-loss journey on Instagram with more than 100,000 followers. What many don’t know is that Vest always felt confident about her body — even before losing weight. Unfortunately, her family and friends didn’t feel the same way.
“It seemed to bother everyone else but me,” she says. “I was never really bothered by it until somebody else would talk about it, and I would become very upset.”
Nevertheless, she’s grateful for the opportunity to overcome those obstacles. “It led me to where I am today. It led me to this amazing journey I’ve been on for seven years to change my lifestyle and become my most authentic self. I’m just grateful.”
4. Cassey Ho, Creator of Blogilates, on Being Muscular
In 2012, creator of Blogilates, author and award-winning fitness instructor Cassey Ho decided to compete in a bikini competition — a type of fitness competition in which athletes are judged based on their physique.
“I hired a trainer, literally worked out four to five hours a day, ate 1,000 calories: It was bad. I lost so much weight so fast. And my body started sculpting into this thing that I had always dreamed of having.”
Despite achieving her dream body, Ho received harsh criticism from her fans and couldn’t help comparing herself to the other competitors. “I stepped on stage feeling pretty good about my body, but then once I start seeing all these other girls who are really fit, and they were just so voluptuous at the same time. I started to lose my confidence, and I also didn’t score very well that day.”
Ho decided to turn things around when she realized that the methods she used to lose weight were taking a toll on her mental health. “I realized that the perfect body, or what I thought was the perfect body, wasn’t actually what I wanted. What I wanted was a harmony between my lifestyle and my physical body.”
With the help of fitness classes, Ho eventually learned to love exercise and her muscular physique again. “I was able to discover new classes on ClassPass, and it just has really made it fun,” she says.
5. Lita Lewis, Fitness Influencer, on Being Depressed
Before fitness and wellness influencer Lita Lewis was inspiring her nearly half-a-million followers on Instagram, she suffered from severe depression following a breakup. “It shattered everything,” she says.
Lewis quit her corporate job — which she compares to the totally relatable film “The Devil Wears Prada” — and lost 30 pounds in 90 days, becoming “almost unrecognizable.” But hitting rock-bottom put Lewis’ life into perspective.
By taking time off to travel the world, reading self-help books, journaling and giving herself permission to be kind to herself, Lewis was able to pull herself out of her illness. “It was depression. It is now a journey out of depression and to honor that. That was actually a moment of 18 months before I could actually stand strong in my true self and be essentially self-diagnosed and then self-healed.”
As for the haters? “A lot of people who aren’t happy with themselves tend to deflect and put their own personal burdens out there in the world and put them on whatever you may be sharing,” Lewis says. “So I never take anything personally because I believe that one’s own hateful statement is just a reflection of where they are in their own lives.”