It recently came to my attention that while I’m obviously passionate about my message here at RF, I’ve never shared with you my personal story of how I came to this place, and why this work means so much to me.
To be honest, I was kind of hoping my passion and message would speak for themselves. I’ve even wished I had a more cut-and-dry body transformation story to share. I somehow thought it would make me more legitimate and inspirational if I could say “I used to be fat and unhappy, but now I’m fit and love myself!”
But alas, I am what I am. And this is my story.
I grew up healthy and confident. Thanks to my incredible parents, I always believed that I was worthy of love, beautiful, and capable of anything. I wasn’t athletic in the slightest (understatement of the year), so my body was soft and curvy, but I mostly liked it that way. I mean sure, I felt like a complete idiot in gym class, and my friends all labeled me as a klutz which kinda sucked. But I just figured we were each dealt our hand, and mine was to be an “indoor kid,” with my inhaler (yep) and my soft hourglass body.
Despite having zero athletic prowess and getting sick a lot (and I do mean a LOT), I actually felt like a secret superhero, even back then. I was gifted in many ways, and I knew it. I felt special. Like any teenage girl, I was self-conscious and insecure sometimes, but in general I felt beautiful, lovable, and like I mattered. I felt like I knew who I was, and where I belonged.
I even felt guilty about my strong sense of worth at times. I didn’t know any other girls who felt that way. It seemed unfair. I felt too lucky. With an aching heart, I observed others who were less fortunate, and saw over and over again how painful and dangerous it was for someone to believe they weren’t inherently worthy of love.
I wanted to save those people. I still do. But at the time, I couldn’t make anyone understand that they didn’t need to change in order to become worthy. I couldn’t reach the girls who needed it the most, the ones who were engaging in frightening and dangerous behaviors to change their bodies. I found it impossible to connect to them.
Then I went abroad for a semester.
I graduated high school early so I could spend 6 months in Chile. While I was there, living with a random host family and no support system, my world crumbled. I fell into a very dark relationship with my host brother. I was never in physical danger, but everything in my life was controlled and monitored. Being the gifted manipulator that he was, I always believed it was my fault when things upset him and I learned to always tiptoe on eggshells. By the end, I was counting down the days until it was over, a prisoner of the situation and a shadow of the person who had arrived there half a year before. After a certain point, I took what was left of the Jessi I knew, locked her up in a box he couldn’t touch, and played pretend until it was over and I could go home.
I let that boy break me. I had no idea that could happen to a person. It was devastating. I unlearned every good thing I had ever believed about myself, and found myself battling a powerful instinct to shut myself off emotionally, from everyone and everything I used to care about.
When I came back, broken fragments of the Me who had left, I signed up for a full time dance program. In my rush to graduate high school early I had applied half-heartedly for a few theater schools. I didn’t get accepted anywhere good though, and I was determined to give myself a real chance. I loved musical theater, but had very little dance experience, so I decided to spend a year bringing that up to speed.
I knew an amazing dance teacher, Sean McLeod, from swing classes years earlier, and I knew that his studio felt safe. At the time, that was my absolute top priority. So I showed up to Sean’s studio one day, broken and angry, covered in piercings and having just chopped off all my hair, and told him “I want to learn how to dance, and I want to have somewhere to go every day.” He hugged me and said welcome home.
Over the next few months I was dancing 4-8 hours a day, and my body changed so rapidly that I barely recognized myself. I learned that I wasn’t a klutz, that I could be graceful and athletic, and that I was still capable of being powerful, purposeful, and trusting. It was the first time I had ever given myself to something physically challenging, and the process offered me reprieve from the emotional hell I had been living in. Getting stronger on the outside was a daily affirmation that I wasn’t weak inside either.
I believe dance saved me. I don’t know who or where I would be without it. At the end of that year, I left home to attend NYU for theater. I was still hurting and still full of anger and hatred, but I also knew that I would be ok. A few years later, when I started training and lifting weights, I took with me that unshakable belief that movement is about more than fitness. Movement is a vehicle for transformation, both inside and out.
I now teach lifting weights as my main form of movement, because I think it’s more easily accessible and effective. When I launched Remodel Fitness, it was to empower women through getting strong. As I say often, fitness is a feminist issue, and being strong physically tends to transfer over into every single other aspect of our lives. Lifting weights helps with that.
I haven’t felt “whole” since I was 17, but I no longer feel broken. To me, the story reads like this:
The way I was raised gave me a unique gift: a foundation of automatic self-worth, love, and autonomy. I was also given a passion and calling to help others find the same. But that wasn’t enough, because I couldn’t relate to anyone who didn’t already feel “whole.” So the universe broke me.
I am grateful for my gifts and my foundation. But I am equally grateful to have been broken. Being broken led me to movement, strength, fitness, and my life’s purpose.
Part of that purpose is to share with you that fitness can, and should, go beyond looking good and being healthy.
Fitness can rebuild what’s broken. It can make you feel powerful, help you love yourself, and affirm your worth. It can teach you self-care, and how to offer yourself a gift when you most need it. It can help you re-learn autonomy when you’ve forgotten. And most importantly, it allows you to shed old layers of yourself that no longer serve you, so that you can become the You you are meant to be.
I am passionate about helping women learn to love their bodies. That includes unlearning what a woman “should” be, feeling empowered and confident in yourself, embracing your authentic power, and creating a life so kick-ass and beautiful that you hardly have any time or energy left over to think about how your body looks. 😉
That’s why I created
— for women like you, who are sick of being judged for what you look like, and want to focus instead on all the amazing things you can do and be.
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