Fostering Diversity in Health and Wellness
With Chrissy King
Season 2, Episode 10 | October 27, 2020
After first joining a gym to “get skinny,” Chrissy King, now a fitness coach, found a new sense of strength and power from exercise, which also challenged and changed her self-narrative. She speaks to us about her passions: fitness and strength training, body liberation, redefining what healthy means for you, and welcoming all people into the health and fitness space.
Chrissy King is a fitness and strength coach, power lifter, writer, speaker, and creator of the #BodyLiberationProject. She has a passion for increasing diversity and inclusivity in the fitness space.
“We have to reevaluate the idea that health is related to a particular look, that it’s just based on the number on the scale, and instead think about what that means for each person,” says King. She suggests shifting your focus to the unseen benefits of a healthy lifestyle.
To start to change your own self-narrative, consider asking yourself these questions around your health habits and goals:
- Am I working out in ways that make me feel strong and good in my body?
- Do my eating habits make my body feel nourished?
- How does my body feel? Do I have energy? Am I sleeping well? Do I feel good mentally?
- What can my body do? Can I function better? Lift a heavier weight? Run a little longer?
More Like This
Maggie Fazeli Fard, fitness coach and senior fitness editor at Experience Life, discusses moving for your unique body and motivations, the importance of mechanics and consistency, the components of a well-rounded exercise routine, and why fitness is about so much more than aesthetics.
Transformations — no matter how big or small — are hard. Life Time member Becca Rigg shares the game-changers that helped her overcome obstacles and become healthy, happy, and fit for the long run.
Jen Elmquist, a licensed mental health professional and the creator of LT Mind, discusses how our mindset is where real, lasting change begins — whether you’re working on your health, fitness, relationships, or career.
Transcript: Fostering Diversity in Health and Wellness
Season 2, Episode 10 | October 27, 2020
Welcome to Life Time Talks, the healthy-living podcast that’s aimed at helping you achieve your health, fitness, and life goals. I’m Jamie Martin, editor in chief of Experience Life, Life Time’s whole-life health and fitness magazine.
And I’m David Freeman, the national program leader for Life Time’s Alpha program. We’re all in different places along our health and fitness journey, but no matter what we’re working toward, there are some essential things we can do to keep moving forward in the direction of a healthy, purpose-driven life.
In each episode of this season, we’ll break down various elements of healthy living, including fitness and nutrition, mindset and community, and health issues. We’ll also share real, inspiring stories of transformation.
And we’ll be talking to experts from Life Time and beyond who’ll share their insights and knowledge, so you’ll have the tools and information you need to take charge of your next steps. Here we go.
Hey, everyone. I’m David Freeman.
And I’m Jamie Martin.
And welcome back to Life Time Talks. In this episode, we’re shaking it up once again by handing the mic over to our special guest this time around, Courtney Lewis Opdahl. She’s the managing editor of Life Time’s magazine, Experience Life. Courtney recently interviewed a superstar, Chrissy King, for November’s 2020 issue. Courtney, I’m so excited to have you — we’re excited to have you. Can you share some of your thoughts with your interview with Chrissy King?
Courtney Lewis Opdahl
Thanks, David and Jamie. Happy to be here today. Chrissy King was a great interview and I’m excited to share this episode with people because I think it’s going to really challenge a lot of our thinking around fitness and identity. What I found so profoundly interesting about Chrissy’s work is her interest in intersectionality. That concept of how social constructs and identities such as gender, race, and class overlap and interconnect. It speaks to that bigger “why,” for many of our readers at Experience Life and members of Life Time — why do we do this, what propels our goals, what fuels our goals, and it helps us better relate to ourselves and to others around us.
Chrissy started with a fairly relatable storyline. I think it’s a really, particularly common story with size-gender women in Western cultures is she joined a gym to be skinny, and a lot of us do that. I know I’ve done that. That’s been an external message for a lot of women. But what her message was too was to figure out now what’s the bigger why for her. She started out with a superficial goal, it can be indeed motivating for a lot of us, but it’s often short-lived, and what she wanted was something deeper. She also found that, for her, it led to a lot of disordered eating and that wasn’t helping her and her goals. She lost balance of her fitness program and what it really meant for her. And she was sacrificing some enjoyment in life. That story of her you’ll hear about of eating a pre-prepared meal while her family got to enjoy dinner, I’ve done that, and I’ve felt so sad too, just like she says, she was feeling so sad about that.
So, her work on herself and as a personal trainer shifted to helping clients connect with those internal motivations and those long-term goals, like moving well and freely, but she also kind of dug into that external drivers, like why fitness is so pervasive in our culture and why women are discouraged from, say, weight lifting because they’re afraid of being “bulky.” Like, why are we encouraged to shrink and not take up space? So, those conversations for her really led to a bigger conversation about how our society operates. And the more she worked in kind of that feminist theory and anti-racism messaging, she was able to dig into how we can expand this conversation to welcome more people, to abolish some of those old norms or exclusive rights to fitness and wellness, and welcome more people to these spaces.
I find that personally exciting as a biracial woman, as a black woman, who, you know, I’m white presenting, I’m still trying to find where I fit in, and I think that she’s saying is everyone should be welcomed and invited to this space. I know it’s exciting too for Life Time as we expand to our inclusion council and welcome more people into the conversation. It’s just really bright future for all of us as we try to find out what healthy way of life is for everyone.
Absolutely love that. Another thing that you kind of touched on, I mean that was a few great gems that everybody have to digest, but what it means to be health. So many times we get healthy associated to what aesthetics look like versus internally and then also mentally. So, I’m super excited to dive into this episode with all of our listeners. Jamie, what’ve you got?
Well, I just think it was really exciting to have Chrissy be on our cover of Experience Life. Her story is one that I think is going to be relatable for a lot of people. She talks about changing her own narratives and the stories that she was told about her and then that she told herself, and I think that’s something that many of us can relate to. So, she has many, many inspiring and thought-provoking perspectives that I can’t wait for our readers to read in the magazine and then also for our listeners of this episode to hear.
So before we dive in, just a little bit more about Chrissy King. She is a strength and fitness coach and the creator of the #BodyLiberationProject. Her work is focused on helping people change those narratives, and her personal training has evolved to include speaking events, writing gigs, teaching engagements, and she’s also a leader in the Women’s Strength Coalition, in addition to being an anti-racism educator. Her work touches on that space, and she’s doing so many other things, so you’re going to hear about all of that in this episode.
Courtney, thank you again for taking over for us for this one. We’re so excited to have you.
Courtney Lewis Opdahl
Alright, guys, here we go.
Hi, Courtney, I’m so excited to be chatting with you today. Thank you so much.
Courtney Lewis Opdahl
I’m looking forward to this conversation myself, too, because I’m very passionate about these issues. I love strength training. You’re not going to have to sell me on it. I love everything you’re talking about. You’re speaking my language, so it’s good that we’re having this conversation, but there’s so much that we can cover here, and I think we should kind of start with making sure that our listeners, our readers, know a little bit more about you. We came to find you because you’re doing amazing work in fitness.
You’re talking about body acceptance. You’re talking about anti-racism work, all of the things we need to be working on right now. We really want to make sure that everyone kind of understands how important this is for health and fitness, but I wanted to kind of get started with a little bit of your background on how you came into the fitness world.
Absolutely. So, I was drawn to fitness for a lot of the reasons that a lot of people are, to be honest. I don’t think my story is that unique in that sense. I was in my mid-20s, and honestly had one motivation for joining the gym. I was like, I want to lose weight, I want to be skinny. That was the only reason that I ever joined a gym, and my experience with my . . . I hired a personal trainer because I really didn’t know what I was doing in the gym, outside of using, like, cardio equipment, you know, treadmills or ellipticals. Outside of that, I had no understanding about what I should be doing, and so honestly, my sister had joined the gym first and so I kind of was just like following in her footsteps.
She’s my younger sister, but she was taking the lead in that regard, and then she hired a trainer, so I was like, oh, I’m going to work this trainer, too. And so, I remember my first session with that trainer. I informed her, like, I had one goal in mind, my goal was, like, just make me skinny. I don’t care about anything else. That’s the only thing I care about. And so, my trainer was like, OK, well, let’s head over here to like the weight section. We’re going to use some dumbbells and stuff, and I remember thinking, like not even thinking, I remember telling her, like, wait a minute, pause. I said I wanted to lose weight. What are you talking about lifting weights?
So, you know, she really explained to me the benefits of strength training, but also was like, hey, just trust me here. Let’s just do this work out. And so, my first workout was 30 minutes. I felt like it was three hours. My body was sore for the next three weeks in places I didn’t know could be sore, and I really didn’t like it at all, to be honest. However, I bought, like, a package with this trainer, so I was like, well, I’m here now, I paid for it, I’m going to keep going back. And so I did, and the interesting thing is, over the next couple of months, I really started to see changes in my body. Not necessarily in my physique, but in terms of my ability to do things with my body.
So, the first workout that seemed like torture, some of the things I was doing in that workout were just, like, really basic movements, like lunges, and you know, dumbbell curls. Just, like, very basic stuff. But then after, as time went on, the next few months, I was like, oh wow, this is getting easier. I can see my body getting stronger, and I’m actually starting to enjoy it a little bit. I was starting to look forward to my sessions. And then, to backtrack a little bit, my narrative growing up was always that I’m a weak person, and that was just, like, kind of the running joke in my family, and I didn’t care about that. That was fine with me. I’m just like, some people are strong, some people are weak. I’m weak.
But with this introduction to strength training, I was like, oh wow, actually my body is changing, I’m getting stronger. And then, eventually, through a series of events, I ended up at a small strength and conditioning gym, and I walked into that gym the first time and I saw women powerlifting. I saw women bench pressing, and squatting, and deadlifting, and I had never seen women do that before, and I was so intrigued by just watching people do these things that seemed so incredible and so, like, out of reach for me. And over the next couple of months, the owner of that space . . . I don’t know if it’s because he always saw me watching, I don’t know what it was, but he eventually was like, hey, I think you should try this out.
And really, I wasn’t even paying him for, like, coaching. He was just like, I want to help you learn this, and so, he really did, and it was like, that first moment I lifted the barbell, it was like love at first lift. It was such an incredible feeling, and I kept practicing powerlifting, and actually got really, really strong and started competing. And so, throughout this process, I still was dealing with a lot of body image issues. I was still — I lost a lot of weight, physically, but also had started to really appreciate my body in new ways, because I recognized that I was strong, that I could be strong, and that I was doing things in the gym that I never thought I’d be able to do before.
Courtney Lewis Opdahl
I think that’s one of the things that I love about strength training in general. I love the idea of, like, when you get to that barbell . . . there’s so much trepidation, too, as you said. There’s that thought of, like, what is this really going to do for me. I’m kind of wanting to just, like, envision your moment of stepping up to the barbell and what you’re thinking in that moment.
Yes. So, you know, when I really first — I mean honestly, what you just said, that trepidation, because I really didn’t see . . . I’d seen other people doing it, and I just didn’t see, like, what would I know what to do with a barbell. I think the first time, I literally was just using the barbell. There wasn’t even any weights on, and just trying to learn the technique, and I think the first movement he taught me was the barbell squat, actually. And so, you know, positioning that barbell on my back, and I remember, honestly, like, picking the barbell up and stepping out to squat, and again, he’s, like, walking me through the technique and how to step out of the rack, and all of these things, and I remember that he told me to squat.
I remember squatting and stepping up and I just remember feeling, like, wow. I feel really badass. Right? Like, I feel really — I’m doing this really cool thing. I have this barbell on my back, and I’m like, this is amazing. And then, again, we went through that a couple of times, and he added some weight, and I was like, oh, wow. This is really cool. And so, I just remember feeling, like, really confident. I remember feeling like, wow, I’m doing this thing. I have this barbell on my back with weights on it, and it just felt, it felt like so empowering in a way that I had never experienced my body, and even though I had been strength training in different ways, you know, a lot of body weights and a lot of dumbbell stuff, it was something about having that barbell on my back that made me feel so strong and empowered in a way that I never felt before.
Courtney Lewis Opdahl
That’s great. It’s, like, this idea that comes out of lifting, too, that’s changing your story. You talk about, like, how you felt, like how you thought of yourself as, like, weak when you were younger. I mean, I’ve always been, like, very bookish. I’ve never been an athlete, but then all of a sudden, you’re lifting and you’re like, wait a minute. I can do these amazing things. My body is super impressive, and it’s definitely changing that narrative for yourself. So, I’m hearing what you’re saying. I think it’s something that translates outside the gym, too. So, I’m curious to know, like, what else you saw when you started lifting. What else did you find, learn about yourself as you kind of worked through that lifting program?
Oh my gosh. So much, because, you know, what I just said about the fact that this was something I never thought I could do, and I thought that I was just a weak person, as I developed strength in the gym, I started powerlifting, and then I started competing. I was like, oh, that story about being a weak person, that was not, was a false narrative, right? That was just the belief system that I was holding that wasn’t true, and so, then I really started to think, like wow, if that part of my story isn’t true, what other parts of my story outside of the gym aren’t true?
What false narratives am I believing, or like, limiting belief systems do I have in other areas of my life? And so, I always really say that, like, the strength I gained in the gym physically really transferred into every part of my life, and I really believe that strength is transferrable, and that the lessons I learned in the gym, related to something that may seem as insignificant as strength training, really helped me unlearn these other false belief in other parts of my life. And I really look at myself now, and the things I’m doing, and I say, all the things I’m doing now started because I decided to go to the gym, and because I started to strength train, because it really helped me to recognize that I was playing small in lots of areas of my life, right, and I was telling myself these stories of what I could and couldn’t do, and most of them simply weren’t true.
And I think the other thing about strength training that I, like, a lesson that I take into all the areas of my life is that, I always think about the deadlift, in particular, right, because for me, like, I love deadlifting. It’s my favorite lift, but also, you know, you’re lifting a lot of really heavy weight off the ground. And so, it’s like, when I would get ready to deadlift, I’d always put myself in the right frame of mind, and I always remind myself, like, this weight is heavy, but I can do hard things. So, that motto, I can do hard things, is something that I remind myself of all the time outside of the gym, that, like, listen, you can lift hundreds of pounds off the ground, and that was hard. Also, you can do really hard things in other parts of your life, too.
And so, I just really think the lessons of strength training can just extend to every area of our lives, and for me, it really, really freed up so many of the limiting belief systems I was holding.
Courtney Lewis Opdahl
I think it’s important for women, in particular, too, because you’ve talked about kind of this idea of, like, coming to the gym at first because you wanted to be skinny. It’s the idea of, like, the shrinking of the body, the making yourself smaller, fitting into this space, being, like, this kind of stereotype of what you think is supposed to be this healthy body. You know, like, it challenges and creates some dangerous places, too, for women, when it comes to just challenge with the body and eating disorders, as well. I really think that, like, what you’re talking about, too, kind of that shift, is hard for people to get to. So, like, how do you help people understand moving away from that kind of shrinking, and the smallness, to kind of that expansion that you can create when you’re in this place of lifting?
Yes. I think that’s a very challenging thing. It took me a long time. Even after, to be clear, even after I started strength training, that’s still something I struggled with, right? And it was this weird paradox, because I was getting so strong physically in my body, and I was just like, wow, this is amazing, I love what my body can do. But at the same time, I still had these belief systems around how my body should look, and that it should be smaller. So, even though, when I was, like, powerlifting and competing, I had completely, what people would say, transform their body, in terms of, my body looked a lot different.
I was a lot leaner than I had been in other times of my life, and I was stronger than I had been, but I was still battling with this idea of, like, I love that my body is stronger. I love that, you know, I’m developing muscles, and I’m taking up physical space, and still at the same time, I’m trying to, in some way, maintain and shrink it. It was, like, this weird place to be in, and so, I think it’s really hard for people to make that shift. It was really hard for me to make that shift, and in terms of, like, what did it for me is, like, I just had to get to a place where I really felt like I hit rock-bottom, in terms of my relationship with my body, and food, and exercise, because I got to the place where I was just so miserable that I had to make a change.
And I think when we’re talking about . . . and I know the very specific instance in which I had that rock-bottom moment, which I’ll discuss in a minute, but I think that when we’re talking about helping other people make that transition, I think it’s really helpful to talk about our own experiences, and also recognize that a lot of times with people, they have to get to that place where they’re also just really tired of dealing with it. Because for me, I was, you know, in this place, in a body that a lot of people constantly complimented me on.
People were frequently commenting on my body and telling me how great I looked, and then my family, though, and people really close to me knew how much I was struggling with, like, obsession about food. And so, they were constantly trying to, like, maybe gently bring up the fact that, like, they don’t think I have a good relationship with food, or gently bring up the fact that, like, maybe I should stop trying to lose five more pounds, because it was always five more pounds, because they were looking at me and saying, while this woman is very lean at this point, however, she is still thinking about these things.
But for me, it didn’t actually matter what anybody else was saying. It didn’t matter how many people were complimenting me. It didn’t matter what my family thought, because I hadn’t reached that place where I recognized I had some things to work on. And so, I think, again, sharing your own personal story with people can be really impactful, because I really do believe people have to get to that place where they’re ready for change completely, on their own. And so, my rock-bottom moment was, I was married at the time, and you know, we were going away for, like, a weekend trip with in-laws, and it was just a weekend, and it wasn’t that far.
It was, like, two hours from home, but I was such in deep throes of, like, macro counting and food obsession that, like, even going away for a couple of days really threw me off, because I was like, I’m going to make sure that I’m controlling every single thing that I eat, even over the weekend. And so, I had packed, like, all of my food for the weekend. I was like, I got all my meals. Like, I did all the meal prep. I did all these things, and there was one day in particular, we were all out for the day, and like, we were going to go to lunch, and I had literally brought my food in a Tupperware container, had been sitting in the car all day in a cooler, but like, had been there for many hours.
And so, everyone was, like, parking and going to this restaurant to eat, and I stayed in the car because I was going to eat my food. And so, my partner at the time, his family was like, why isn’t she coming inside, you know? And he’s like, she’s eating healthy, and he was really gracious and supportive, definitely thought I had some issues, but was like, oh, she just wants to be healthy, so she brought her own food. And they were really gracious about it, so much so that they asked the restaurant if I could bring my food in, which they agreed to let me, but I just was like, I had this moment where I’m sitting at this restaurant, I’m eating my food, this, like, sad meal out of a Tupperware container, and watching everybody, like, order whatever they want. They’re having this wonderful food experience, and they’re enjoying themselves, and I’m so miserable.
And I was just like, what am I doing? Like, I don’t even know what I’m doing anymore, and what is the point of this? I’m doing all this to make my body really small, and I’m saying it’s in the name of health, but I’m strong, I’m healthy, I feel great. I just have a negative relationship with food and exercise, and this is not about being healthy. This is about an unhealthy relationship, actually, with food and food obsession. So, that was my bottom. That was, like, my low point, in which I just decided I couldn’t do this anymore. I had to stop counting macros, and for me, that was the decision to just stop counting cold turkey, and that looks different for everybody, but that was my personal experience.
Courtney Lewis Opdahl
I was nodding. You can’t see me, but I’m nodding along. I’ve had this experience of counting, and obsession, and keeping my food, and when I can eat, and bringing my own. So, I think it resonates a lot with a lot of our listeners and our readers, because it’s something where we feel like, is this serving me, or is this not serving me. And I think it’s, like, where we come to this place of like, is the scale helping? Is it hurting? Is this tool helping? Is it hurting? And trying to understand, like, I want to get to a space that feels more free, that feels like I can love my body as it is in every stage, but also this challenge of, like, but maybe I want to change it in a way, what’s it for? Like, what is my change for? Is it for me? And what’s my goal in the end?
So, I always kind of go back to this place, too, of, like, talking through it with other inclusivity experts of, like, how do we appreciate ourselves and come to this space, and how do we redefine what healthy is? So, I’m really curious to get your take on, how do we use any tools? Or is it just a, it depends on you, kind of thing?
Yes. I do think it’s different for everyone, but at the same time, I think it’s really important, because I think what makes this so complicated, right, when we’re talking about “health” and “healthy,” and I’m using air quotes right now, but I think what gets really complicated is because we have so intricately, within the fitness industry, intricately tied weight loss to health, right? And so, then, you know, it gets really hard to distinguish what is it that, are we actually after being healthy, or are we just wanting to lose weight under the guise of, like, I’m going to fit into mainstream standards?
So, when I’m thinking about myself, or clients that I work with, or just people I do coaching with around body image and body liberation, it’s like, OK, obviously, the benefits of movement and exercise are vast, right? Improved sleep, more energy, better sex, improved mental health, obviously physical changes and heart health. So, there’s so many benefits to movement, but I think when we start talking about what your goals are in the gym, I like to consider, or at least ask people to consider, let’s make our goals something that don’t revolve around losing a certain amount of weight, right?
So, I think our goals can be around things like, how do I want to feel? How much energy do I want to have? Do I want to be able to, like, play with my kids and not be out of breath? Like, those kind of things that are, like, this is how I want to feel in my body, and now, let’s set goals to achieve those things, right? And if weight loss ends up being a byproduct of that, absolutely cool, that’s amazing. But also, if it doesn’t, did we still achieve those goals that we have? Do we still feel stronger and healthy in our bodies? Are we sleeping better? If we had very specific health goals that we tried to accomplish in terms of like, maybe, lowering our blood pressure, things like that, have we achieved those goals? Well, then, that’s a success, right?
The number on the scale is not the indicator or the marker of if we reached those goals or not, because also, it’s important to recognize, and I think those of us who have been in the fitness industry for a long time, we’ve also known people who, like, on the outside, people would be like, oh, they’re the picture of health and fitness, right, in terms of how they look, and internally are having a lot of issues around hormones or body-fat percentages that are actually too low to be even menstruating. So, I think, you know, we have to reevaluate, that the idea of health is not related to a particular look, and how are we setting goals for ourself that are actually going to serve us, not just based on the number on the scale?
Courtney Lewis Opdahl
I think that’s important, and it kind of makes me think about a line that you had in one of your great essays, about powerlifting allowed me to stop focusing all my energy on what my body looked like, and start to see all that it could do, which I think is really, it’s kind of this place that we’re talking about more and more of, when you can move away from what your body looks like, what your body feels like, and how you feel in your body, what you can do in your body, I think, is a powerful place for people to be, and to shift their goals to that, too, has that kind of longevity of how are you going to make this last for your lifetime.
Yeah, absolutely, and I think, you know, on that same note, I recognize about myself that when I was in this place of food obsession, and yes, I was strong, and I was healthy, and I was all those things, but I definitely had a negative relationship with food. I had a negative relationship with exercise, that wasn’t from a place of, like, oh, I’m going to the gym and doing movement for joy. It was definitely from a place of, like, if I don’t go, I’m scared that, like, my body is going to change, right?
And then, also, my relationship with just my body image, so, outwardly, I was the leanest I had ever been in my adult life. People were constantly commenting on that, but I was in the worst place that I had, in terms of my relationship with those things. Now, fast forward to now, I’m definitely, definitely have gained weight since then, but I’m also in the best place I’ve been mentally in terms of my relationship with food, exercise, and the ability to, like, live a normal social life and not be, like, panicking about, you know, what am I going to eat, and all these things.
And so, again, it’s like, I’m always reminding myself, because I think the thing with body image and our relationship with our bodies is that we are always getting messages that, like, thinner is better, that those messages are pervasive, and they’re everywhere. And so, no matter how long we’re doing this work, we can always have those moments where we’re like, oh, you know, maybe I should just lose a few pounds, not because I’m not healthy or because I’m not feeling good, but because maybe, just for the appearances, right?
And I always have to go back, to remind myself, pull out those pictures when you were at your leanest, and remember how miserable you were at that time. And I think that’s the other thing, about, like, what is the quality of life that you want to live, because, for one, everybody’s bodies are different, right? We could all eat the same thing every day, and all work out the same thing, and our bodies are going to look different, because we have different genetics. That’s just the reality of it.
And so, on an individual level, for me, I’m always thinking about, yes, I want to be healthy, so, what does working out look like for me to feel strong and feel good in my body? Yes, I want to eat in ways that make me feel nourished and whole, and have good digestion. So, what does that look like for me individually, and also, I want to be in a good relationship with those things, and my body image, and I want to live a life that’s full, and nourishing, and I want to enjoy the experience of food, because food is, like, a really great part of life, right?
Sometimes we talk about food as just fuel, but food is experiences, it’s culture, it’s connection with people. And so, I want to live a life that’s really full, and is really healthy for me, what that means to me personally. And so, I’m in a place where I feel really great with those things, and yes, my body is bigger than it was before, but I’m in the best of mental health and physical health I feel like I’ve been in a long time.
Courtney Lewis Opdahl
That’s wonderful to hear, and I think that’s, like, that’s the dream for everyone, is to feel like, I feel great in my body as it is. And I think it’s, one we talk about, too, is, like, kind of that freedom, of that, is so, that seems like the new goal, if we could feel free in that space, and I wonder if there’s a way that we can help recast those, and help encourage people to really move there, because there’s a lot of talk about body acceptance, body love. Your project that you’ve been doing is the Body Liberation Project, that’s kind of the next place to go.
So, talk to me about, like, what that looks like, and then how it either intersects or differentiates from kind of the terms of body positivity, body inclusivity, self-love, self-acceptance.
Yes. I’m not a huge fan, personally, of, like, body positivity, not because I think it’s harmful in nature, but because, again, you know, we look at the origins of the body positivity movement, it was really to support people that were on the outskirts of what was considered, what is considered beautiful in mainstream fitness, like people that are in fat bodies, or queer bodies, or black and brown bodies. And the movement has really been co-opted by a lot of, like, thinner or medium-sized, a lot of times white women, who are, like, you know, picking at their body fat, small, little rolls, and be like, oh, I love myself anyways, and that was really not what it was about.
It was about people who aren’t seen in traditionally attractive lens being able to find the space to be like, this is myself, and I love myself, regardless of the fact that I’m outside the margins of what is considered, you know, beautiful by Western standards of beauty. And so, I’m not a huge fan of the body positivity movement, for a lot of reasons. However, the one thing I really do love about the body positivity movement is I think it’s, like, a gateway for people to, like, start having these conversations, and having these dialogues about, you know, what does it mean to love and accept myself in my skin?
What does it mean to possibly move into a space of neutrality, and I think, again, we start talking about body love, I think that can be really hard sometimes, because a lot of the messaging we see is that, like, oh, I love my body, and regardless of the messages I’m receiving, I love myself anyways. And while, yes, that’s wonderful, I also think that if you’re in a place where you’re in a very negative relationship with your body, someone saying, just love yourself, is actually not helpful, because you’re like, yes, if I could, I would.
Like, I wish it was, like, that simple. And so, I think self-love sometimes oversimplifies the fact that, depending on what type of body you exist in, it’s much more challenging for you to possibly love yourself, because, you know, you may be so opposite or different from the messages in mainstream media and mainstream, like, fashion industry, like, what those ideas of beauty are. And so, I think we have to really talk about, you know, how systems of oppression are set up to disadvantage some people and make it more challenging for some people.
But either way, it hopefully gets people thinking about it, and you know, the goal for me, when I think about all these things, the goal is, for myself and for hopefully clients I work with, is liberation, right? And so, liberation isn’t such that, like, I look in the mirror and I love everything I see, because I also think that’s unrealistic, to be like, I just love everything about myself. I don’t see that, for most people, being something that we actually ever get to a space of, and if there are people who really feel that way, like, awesome for them.
But I think for me, liberation is more that I understand that at the essence, I am more than my body, right, that my body has no attachment to my inherent worth as a person. And so, liberation is such that, like, I recognize that the way I look and the way I present is not the value I bring to the world. In fact, it’s the least interesting thing about me. And so, regardless of what I’m seeing in the mirror, and regardless of my attachment to it or my opinions about it at the day and time, because that changes, right?
Some days you look in the mirror, you’re like, man, I look amazing. Other days, you’re like, why do I look like this? That’s a normal, human part of being, is just a normal experience of being human. And so, liberation is such that, like, I recognize that, despite what I see, I understand that I’m more than just my body, and I think, you know, getting to liberation also takes a long time. You know, you don’t just wake up, and all of a sudden you’re like, yeah, I feel liberated in my body, I don’t care about that, but there’s a lot of steps along the way that can also be helpful.
Like, so, you know, if someone’s in a place where they really hate everything they see, and they’re saying really disparaging things about their body, can we work towards body neutrality, in which I can look at myself in the mirror, and maybe I don’t like what I see, but I can treat myself with kindness and compassion, the same kindness and compassion and care that I would show to my best friend, or a family member, or my partner, or my child. Can I show myself that same compassion? Can I not disparage myself in the mirror, and can I get to a place of, like, yes, I don’t necessarily like this, but I can also be neutral, and I don’t have to say these awful things to myself.
I don’t have to look in the mirror and say, oh, this is so gross, you know, because we wouldn’t talk to people in our lives like that, but yet, we talk to ourselves that way. And I think our relationship with ourselves is the most important relationship that we could ever have, because we are the only person that we are always with. And so, we have to nurture that relationship with ourselves just as much as we nurture any of the intimate relationships we have, because it is the most important relationship.
Courtney Lewis Opdahl
I think that’s a wonderful place of just being able to feel more value than just what your body is, and you’re right, it is a challenge, and I think it’s, to be able to reiterate that, it’s something that’s a continuous project for us. It’s not something that’s a goal that we check off, and then we have solved it. You know, we work on this throughout our lives, as our bodies change and grow and age, and I think that being able to help people move beyond it is a wonderful thing.
And I wanted to kind of hit on something that you’re talking about with systems, too, because I think this is a huge challenge that we’re facing. People are more aware of it now, but it’s always been a huge challenge, is how do we address this to, I think, for women in particular, this is a challenge. I don’t want to exclude men from the conversation, and I don’t want to exclude trans individuals from this conversation, which is a huge, another conversation.
But when we’re talking about women, black women in particular, I think this is a challenge where women of color are feeling like this is a system of white supremacy. This is the ideal image, this is the look that I’m supposed to fit into. It’s a conversation for myself, as a biracial woman, I have with other biracial women, of, like, how do you fit into a certain box when you fit into both boxes? And as we become more multiracial, more multicultural in the younger generations, we’re finding this kind of identity-seeking that can happen through what we physically present in our bodies.
So, then, it’s like, fitness kind of becomes this pathway of, like, can I look a certain way, but because we’re all so different-looking, and that’s such a beautiful thing, how do we have, hold that space for that conversation, and welcome these kind of conversations for women to celebrate that individuality, let them know that they can be free of that, and help fitness trainers, too, I think is another place, too, of saying, how do you encourage people to move beyond that, and to know that our bodies are so unique and special and wonderful as they are?
Yes. So, you know, that’s the thing, when we talk about bodies, and ideas about beauty, and all these things. All of these things are very much steeped in the patriarchy, and ultimately white supremacy. You know, there’s a wonderful book called Fearing the Black Body by Sabrina Strings, and it talks a lot about even the connection between fatphobia and racism, right? So, you know, we can’t really, in my opinion, can’t really have these conversations without understanding that the underlying theme to all of these things is white supremacy, and how it really is a part of all these, it needs to be a part of all the conversations.
And so, you know, one of the things I talk about a lot within the fitness and wellness space is that I think it’s really important for fitness and wellness practitioners, I think it’s really, really important for us, individually, to be doing the work of anti-racism, and I say that because of how pervasive white supremacy is, right? Like, these things are deeply ingrained in our industry, in ways that sometimes we don’t even recognize, because we haven’t done the work, right, and because it’s really insidious, and especially, I think, in this country, we don’t have a good historical context of things, and the history we learn in school is very one-sided, right?
And so, we’re walking around with a lot of ideas that maybe aren’t true, or a lot of, just, like, knowledge that we just don’t have access to. And so, I think it’s so important for the wellness industry, for the fitness industry to be having conversations about anti-racism, for us to be individually looking at the ways in our own individual lives that we may be participating, and if not participating, at least being complicit within the systems, to really start to call out a lot of the fatphobia within the fitness industry and the wellness industry, and to really start to question our ideas about bodies, and our ideas about fat loss automatically meaning that you’re healthier, and start to look into things like health at every size.
I think that’s a responsibility of all of us that are working with clients, to do that, and to do the work of unlearning our own biases, because that’s the reality, is that we all have biases, no matter who we are. Every single, myself included, we all have biases, and the difficult thing about implicit bias or unconscious bias is that we usually don’t know that we are holding these biases, and that’s dangerous, because when we don’t know that we’re holding biases but we are, we are automatically treating people differently. It’s impacting the way we are dealing with people, and we don’t even know it.
And so, that can be, number one, really off-putting to our clients, but also, beyond being just off-putting to our clients, we are participating in systems in which we are upholding certain bodies above other bodies, and creating environments that it really does feel hard, sometimes, for people to feel safe in their skin, safe in their bodies, and also welcome in spaces that maybe weren’t designed with them in mind. And so, the work is difficult, the work is challenging, but I think it’s 100 percent necessary that we be doing this work, because . . . and talking about the intersections of identity, right, and talking about, how are we creating spaces and environments with everyone in mind, right?
How are we considering the implications of race for BIPOC individuals? How are we thinking about gender? How are we thinking about sexual orientation? How are we thinking about body size, and body diversity, and ageism within our industry, within our spaces, and how are we working to unlearn our own belief systems so that we are able to help people from all different backgrounds, no matter who they are or what bodies they reside in, to reach their health and fitness goals in a way that, in which they feel celebrated, and welcome, and seen, and understood?
Courtney Lewis Opdahl
It’s so, so important, and this is, like, work that I’ve been doing, too, with Life Time, as part of our Inclusion Council, is helping people understand these biases so that they can move beyond them, and knowing that, like, this is just, we are human beings, right? We are human beings growing up in a society that has taught us certain systems, and certain places, and certain people have different values. And so, how do you unlearn that is going to take time and work, and people that are committed to it, such as yourself, have been able to help share these concepts and help people do this work.
And you’re right, I think it is important for the fitness industry in general. I think it’s important for trainers, in particular, who are working one on one, and then bigger systems, and I think that’s why . . . something that’s so important to me and so important to Life Time is to be able to figure out how do we do that for creating welcoming, respectful places for people, where they can come and feel safe. They can feel welcome to the space. They don’t have to feel like they need to be someone different than they are.
They can feel like they can celebrate the best person they are when they come to that space, and allowing for different conversations to happen, too, because it may be something that a lot of people haven’t been comfortable having these conversations before, or haven’t been comfortable diving into this, or feeling like, no, it doesn’t exist. I mean, I grew up as a biracial woman, being taught that we’re just color blind, you know, and no one sees that, and like, that’s not true.
Like, we do see these things, but how do we celebrate, versus make people feel like they’re not worthy? So, how do you do that work, and I think what, the more that we have people that stand up and use their voice as you do, and say, we can do this, and we can get to that place, but we have to recognize where we’re coming from first. I think that’s the first place, to acknowledge and recognize it.
Can I just add one thing, too, because . . .
Courtney Lewis Opdahl
. . . something you said really made me think of something. You said about this implicit bias, and this idea that we, you know, sometimes I think people want to reject the idea that they have bias, or that they have somehow done something that was racist in nature, because we have so, in this country, or just, like, globally, not even just in the country, we have so tied the idea to, like, racism and implicit bias means you’re a bad person, right? And we have ideas of ourselves as good people, so we couldn’t possibly do something bad.
You said something that’s really important, because implicit bias, in particular, is not about being a good person or a bad person. It’s about being human, right, and we all were raised in a particular way. We have our perspective, we have our idea systems, and some of them just aren’t true. And so, it’s definitely not about being good or bad. It’s about recognizing that this is part of the human experience, and that also, bias and racism, right, all occur on a spectrum.
And so, you know, we think of racism, sometimes, and people think just of, like, the KKK and lynching, right, and that’s, like, the bad racism, and nobody wants to be one of those people. But racism really does occur on a spectrum, and so, something else you said at the end, you know, about color blind, so, this idea that I don’t see color is a form of microaggression, which is, like, a casual form of racism that happens all the time, but it’s still a form of racism.
And so, this idea that people are color blind, and they don’t see color, again, usually said by really well-intentioned individuals, right, and what they really usually mean is, like, I don’t treat people differently because of their color. But when they say, I don’t see color, it actually says, like, I’m erasing your identity, and no one wants their identity erased, right? Like, as a black woman, I want people to see and recognize I’m a black woman. I just want you, again, to treat me with the same dignity and respect you would anyone else.
And I think in a rush to, like, not want to offend, or to try to make it seem like we are anything but racist, we end up erasing people’s identities, and again, that is a form of casual racism. And so, recognizing that when we’re talking about these conversations around race and bias, yes, they are wildly uncomfortable a lot of the times, but through that discomfort, right, discomfort is a beautiful thing, because it just, you know, I think about discomfort in, talking about, like, strength training.
When I first started strength training, that first session was wildly uncomfortable. My body was uncomfortable the next few weeks, but I can recognize that, like, something wonderful is happening, and so, I keep doing it. The same discomfort applies to having conversations around racism and bias, and that, yes, it’s uncomfortable, and yes, we don’t like it, probably, but discomfort is part of the process of achieving anything that we want to accomplish. And so, we have to be willing to be open, and have these difficult and hard conversations, and recognize that we’re going to learn some things about ourselves that we may not like, but it’s that opportunity to grow through that process, and to course-correct, and to do better, and hopefully, all of us be working towards creating an industry that does feel better for people.
Courtney Lewis Opdahl
I completely agree, that beauty and growth comes out of this discomfort, in so many different ways. I definitely see it within lifting. I see it for myself in lifting, I see it in birth. I have had two children, and I will refer to it as discomfort, like, you can, a range, but man, it was like, the power in that birth was, like, to see what I can push through and come to the other side, and have this child, then. I mean, that was an amazing experience. So, it’s like, you have these moments where it’s not going to feel great, it’s not going to be comfortable. You’re going to have the discomfort, but you’re going to find on the other side of it the beauty and the growth. So, I think that’s a wonderful thing to keep in mind for people.
Well, I kind of wanted to end on what you see and hope for in the future. Like, what does it look like to you to be a trainer and a coach in the fitness world? What does that look like? What do you dream of for that space going forward?
Yeah, that’s such a wonderful question. You know, when I think about all the things we’ve been talking about, really, I think the thing that I’m always remembering is that this is a marathon, not a sprint, right, and that the work of creating spaces that are truly diverse and inclusive, and keeping anti-racism at the forefront of that plan and that narrative is that it takes time to make these changes, you know? It’s not something that happens overnight.
It’s not something that’s a quick fix, and I think that’s important for all of us to also recognize that, because again, we want to do this the right way, and we want to really change the landscape of the fitness industry. It requires a lot of work, you know, and the work is not, like, warm and fuzzy. It requires a lot of change, and a lot of difficult decisions, sometimes, but it’s necessary. And so, you know, I’m so excited, because again, for me, what I recognize as, at this time in history, I’ve seen more people in mainstream fitness being willing to have these conversations than I ever have before. And so, that’s really encouraging to me, and I see a lot of positive momentum. And so, what I hope to see is, I hope that people stay along for these conversations, right?
After the media hype dies down, after maybe the conversations about racism aren’t as prevalent in mainstream news, I hope that the people who have showed up for these conversations, I hope that we’re committed to staying in this for the long haul, and being committed to doing the difficult work to create environments that truly are safe and welcoming for people from all backgrounds, because, you know, when I think about the benefits of fitness and wellness, they really are for everyone, and everybody can benefit from that, and what a tragedy it would be to have people feel like they aren’t welcome in those spaces, or can’t engage in fitness and wellness in ways that would be meaningful and beneficial to them because they don’t have the environments to do that, that feel safe for them.
And so, you know, I think about five and 10 years from now, I would just love to see this being an integral part of, like, mainstream fitness and wellness spaces, right? I’d love to see the people, you know, always having these conversations, and thinking about creating spaces with everyone in mind, and really, really, truly being . . . you know, I think we can really be on the leading edge, because I think all industries have work to do in terms of diversity and inclusion, but I think the wellness industry, we really have an opportunity to be kind of forerunners in creating some changes that will really be beneficial for the long haul.
So, I hope to see in the next five to 10 years that these conversations that, you know, I’m having with people now, that these are just conversations that we’re always happening. You know, you walk into gyms, you walk into any type of wellness environments, and everybody has, like, an anti-racism policy, everybody has a diversity and inclusion policy, everybody has community agreements, like, outlining how we expect our community members to treat each other.
And for me, that would be something that I think is just really, really beautiful, and would let me know that as an industry, we really committed to making some of these changes, and that we stuck with it, even when it wasn’t as, like, popular to talk about.
Courtney Lewis Opdahl
That sounds like a wonderful, wonderful world. I love this, and I would love to see it as well. So, I think we can get there, if we’re all willing to do the work, and I know we’re committed to it here. So, Chrissy, thank you so much. For our listeners, chrissyking.com to learn more about Chrissy. For our November issue in experiencelife.com, and at Experience Life magazine, we’re excited to share her story with you, and hope you go check out her work. Thank you so much, Chrissy.
Thank you so much. This was so wonderful.
Thanks for joining us for this episode. As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts on our conversation today and how you approach this aspect of healthy living in your own life. What works for you? Where do you run into challenges? Where do you need help?
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Life Time Talks is a production of Life Time — Healthy Way of Life. It is produced by Molly Schelper, with audio engineering by Peter Perkins and sound consulting by Coy Larson. A big thank you to the team who pulls each episode together and everyone who provided feedback.
The information in this podcast is intended to provide broad understanding and knowledge of healthcare topics. This information is for educational purposes only and should not be considered complete and should not be used in place of advice from your physician or healthcare provider. We recommend you consult your physician or healthcare professional before beginning or altering your personal exercise, diet or supplementation program.