I Started A Body-Positive, Inclusive Fitness Brand To Help My Clients Shed The Weight Of Shame

By Eden Robinson

One of my favorite celebrity interview moments is from a 2008 interview with P!nk. She was asked, “What is your favorite guilty pleasure?”, to which she responded with a confident grin “I don’t feel guilty about any of my pleasures.”

Within the question sits an assumption of shame for what brings her joy, and without missing a beat she fully rejects that notion. Not all shame is toxic, of course. Shame can serve a positive purpose, by training our brains to be more socially and internally aware. For example, if at the end of a bus ride we realize a pregnant person had been standing by us and we had failed to offer them our seat, we immediately feel a rush of shame. That’s going to help us stay more alert next time we take public transit, so that we don’t experience that same shame again.

On a more personal level, when I’ve lost my temper at my younger sister and then saw in her eyes the hurt I caused, I felt deeply ashamed of my failure to manage my emotions. That motivates me to be proactive, to do the internal work required to prevent another harmful outburst. In these examples, the mistakes made hinder our ability to connect with and support others. Feeling ashamed of those mistakes is part of rectifying them, and ensuring we we don’t make the same mistakes again. This is the kind of shame that helps us be better people and build stronger relationships and communities.

Toxic shame is shame that is directed at a core element of who we are (our race, gender(s), sexual orientation, body, passions, joys, etc), instead of a momentary mistake we made. This is the shame that eats away at our sense of self the way wasp larvae devour their caterpillar host. It paralyzes us, trapping us in spirals of self-doubt and self-loathing. Instead of showing us our mistakes, toxic shame convinces us that we ARE the mistake. It convinces us that self-erasure is the only solution.

Growing up, I felt deeply ashamed of both my queerness and my femininity. I was a young lesbian in a small and traditional religious community. I was so deeply closeted, I couldn’t even admit my queerness to myself. And at the same time, I was grappling with the many contradictory expectations our culture has for women and girls. Have enough girly interests to be feminine, but not so much that you’re superficial. Be smart, but no one likes a know-it-all.

Be friendly and smile at everyone but don’t be flirtatious, because if you end up in a bad situation that’s your fault for leading him on. Be selective with the boys you date, but give them a chance. You think you might like other women? That’s not allowed, except when her boyfriend can watch…

I was not feminine enough, masculine enough, or straight enough to feel ok in my own skin. Everything that made me stand out was rooted in my body. My too-soft sensitive femininity, my too-loud aggressive masculinity, and my undeniable queerness that I tried so hard to stifle. In addition, traumatic memories and shame of multiple assaults and abusive relationships also percolated under my skin.

My shame turned inward as I tried to reject myself. My body became a conduit for self-punishment. I didn’t know I could feel better, until I came across stories of other people who had fought my same struggles and come out the other side.

In Me Too founder Tarana Burke’s memoir “Unbound”, she talks about the pivotal moment she discovered that one of her idols Maya Angelou had also survived sexual assault. Before finding that out, Burke believed that she had suffered her assault because she was the kind of girl who got assaulted. The kind of girl who was hurt instead of loved. When she read about Angelou’s assault, Burke realized that being abused doesn’t mean she was deserving of the abuse.

Ms. Angelou was an incredibly aspirational and happy person, so if she could survive assault and be that kind of person then Burke had hope that she could too. That’s what memoirs, poetry, and music did for me. Artists like Ani DiFranco, Andrea Gibson, and of course P!nk, helped calm my racing mind. They all had the courage to talk about the feelings I had been raised to bury.

These were people I admired, reminding me that other people feel this way too and we can still find a way out. We can feel better. And on my path to healing, I needed more than just cathartic brain food. I needed to reconnect with the home of my “shameful” feelings. I needed to reconnect with my own body.

This is where working out became therapeutic for me. Those of us on the femme end of the gender spectrum are taught to feel ashamed of our femininity, and much of that shame resides in the femme body – a feminine shape is “too soft”, feminine adornment and self-expression are “too sensual”. Desires from the femme body are expected to be in constant restraint. We shouldn’t have too much sex. We shouldn’t eat too much food. We shouldn’t be too confident or take up too much space, especially in the world of fitness.

Working out in a femme body comes with significant risk of being mocked, sexually harassed, and accused of “seeking attention”. Moving our bodies is perceived as putting them on display, but in fact we are doing the opposite. We are using movement to experience our bodies, reconnecting with ourselves from the inside out. Lifting weights makes me feel strong. Dance makes me feel sensual. Stretching helps me feel peaceful.

Working out was and continues to be sacred “me time” where I can turn inward and cultivate my own positive shame-free body-level experiences. I started working in the fitness industry because I recognized how much my workouts were helping me connect and heal internally. I want my career to be helping others experience that shift too. Internalized objectification and shame are both things I’m still unlearning, but reconnecting with my body through movement has been and continues to be a huge part of that healing journey.

I named my brand “Fangirl Fitness” because I believe we can find motivation and healing through focusing on love instead of shame. Being a “fangirl” is about unapologetically loving something or someone. And we deserve to apply that same energy to ourselves. So that’s the energy I bring to clients in our sessions: encouraging, empathic, and
empowering.

I’m a fangirl for anyone working on loving themselves better. That includes people like P!nk, who show that we can reject the shame society tries to instill in us. Lyrics from her songs like “F*ckin’ Perfect”, “My Attic”, and “Happy” all indicate that she’s still grappling with dark emotions and figuring out how to love herself through it all. I don’t think empowerment only comes at the end of your self-love journey.

There’s so much power in openly committing to your own journey and connecting with others on theirs.

Eden Robinson is a body-positive and LGBTQ+ inclusive personal trainer in San Francisco CA. She started her business, Fangirl Fitness, to help others feel strong and empowered in their bodies. She can be contacted on Instagram at @fangirlfit, or through her website www.fangirlfit.com.

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