Finding Body Acceptance Through Strength: Four Women Share Their Journeys

Meet four women changing their internal dialogue around body image through fitness.

I remember the first time I became self-conscious about my body. It was in the sixth grade and I was at the local swimming pool. I was about to exit the pool when I told my “boyfriend” at the time to turn around. He looks at me with utter confusion and I again repeat, “turn around.” I never told him why, but at 12 years old, I couldn’t stand the thought of him seeing that I had cellulite in my thighs.

As a society, we’ve become obsessed with weight, weight loss, thinness and unrealistic ideals of beauty. Females of all ages are inundated with images of these standards from every direction: TV, magazine covers, Instagram. It’s no wonder that I’ve yet to meet a woman after 8 years in this industry that is comfortable in her own skin.

This culture is toxic. But, there has been an encouraging shift lately, in large part due to the sport of fitness. There’s been a push in certain micro-communities lately focused on functionality, longevity, and performance over aesthetics. The goal is expanding the margins of our experience, both mentally and physically.

Read on for powerful stories from women of all ages, backgrounds, and life experiences who have struggled with their body, but found love, acceptance, and strength.

*Interviews have been edited for brevity

Leslie, 58

“When haven’t I experienced negative body image thoughts or patterns? I first remember hating my body in elementary school because I thought I wasn’t thin enough. I have always been pretty strong and muscular. I went on my first diet at age 11, and developed bulimia in high school.

Part of my recovery after getting out of my emotionally and psychologically abusive marriage was to start taking better care of my body. After ballooning to 240 pounds with stress eating from working full-time as a lawyer and taking care of an aging mother and five children,…I started [strength training] in 2014. For the first time in my life, my powerful legs are an asset. I love pushing my body’s limits and growing stronger. I’m beginning to love my body for what it can do rather than how it looks.

My kids have ended up being almost as proud of my journey as I am…I am truly blessed.”

Erica, 32

“I’d say the majority of my life I wasn’t happy with what I saw in the mirror. Like many people, I would compare myself to what I saw on TV or in magazines.

I feel like just in the past year has my body image and relationship with myself come full circle. Do I have the 6 pack I thought I always wanted? No. But my goals have shifted, and I understand that having a 6 pack was never going to equate to me feeling happy. Instead of chasing this perfect body with an end goal in sight, my goals have shifted to show up and be my best self, and to always walk away from a session knowing that I gave my all.”

Samie, 26

“I remember the first time I chose to not like my body. I was 12. I convinced myself that my athletic build was unattractive.

For years, I had thought of my physical body as something that needed to be shrunken down. When I started lifting weights…I was introduced to the idea of ‘ability over aesthetics.’ As I gave myself permission to become physically stronger, my mental strength followed suit. I not only started feeling physically powerful, I started feeling powerful in every aspect of my life.

I wish I could say that I never have negative thoughts about my body. [B]ut the truth is, as bad as I have felt about my body image, as ashamed, embarrassed or sad I have felt about how I look, I have known more joy and have felt more pride in what I have accomplished.”

Tawny, 34

“When I look at a photo of myself, my eyes go straight to what I perceive as my biggest physical flaw: my stomach. Sometimes I see abs and it makes me feel happy. Sometimes (when I’m just being a fucking human who has skin) I see major belly rolls and it makes me feel sad, imperfect, like I’m not working hard enough. Sometimes I wish I could grab scissors to cut away my “problem area” so everything can be “perfect”.

So now, I choose to look at [a] photo and see beyond the physical. I see a writer. A reader. A podcaster. A public speaker. A partner. A daughter. A niece. A friend. A cat mom. I’m lucky enough to have these things regardless of how my stomach looks.

Hug yourself today. Find a new name for your perceived “flaws”. And remember, it’s ok to be an imperfect human. In fact, it’s pretty rad.”


The pressures women (and men) feel to attain our society’s standards of beauty is inhibiting us from actualizing our human (and athletic) potential. Until at some point, we realize that it’s bull. Let’s normalize normal bodies. Let’s normalize ALL bodies. Twelve year old girls need this, and so do I.

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.