International Women’s Day: Celebrating the Women behind the Body Positive Health Movement

International Women’s Day is always a great time to reflect on the collective power that women wield in this world. To celebrate the fearless campaigners working tirelessly to improve the lives of women, whether it is through fighting for equal wages, greater political representation, or working towards the overall empowerment of women.

Then there are some who are just fighting for women to have a healthier relationship with themselves.

Over many years there has been a growing movement of health and fitness advocates who have been working to encourage women to change their perspectives of what health and fitness means to them. Each person is working in their own way to encourage women to shift their conversation from what fitness and health looks like, to what it feels like to them as an individual.

Like any campaigner or advocate, there is usually a story behind the passion. An experience behind the motivation. A personal history that burns like an internal flame and reminds them to ‘never give up’ and stay true to their message. As a celebration of International Women’s Day’s theme of ‘Make it Happen’, I wanted to celebrate a diverse range of women who credit a changing perspective of fitness in giving them the power to ‘Make it Happen’ in their own lives, and why they are so passionate about helping other women achieve the same.

Across the next week I will be bringing you the profiles of some amazing women, who in their own way are working to change the language we use around health and fitness. Knowing the calibre of the stories I was being given access to, I worked around the idea of moulding the piece to suit mainstream media. In order to do so I felt pressured to cut down, abbreviate and edit everyone’s stories. Then I realised the power of what International Women’s Day 2015 symbolises – women pulling together and celebrating the fact that through our own individual and collective power, we can ‘Make it Happen.’ The nature of these women’s stories deserve to be read by thousands, but I refuse to take away the integrity of their personal experiences in order for that to occur through mainstream media. So I ask you, as inspired women, to ‘Make it Happen’ – share these stories everywhere you can across any medium, because even though a story may not resonate with you, it may just be what another woman needs to read.

The diversity and the experiences of the women who will be featured this week is nothing short of amazing. Their passion for their message inspiring. Firstly, in order to set the ‘scene’ for ‘Make it Happen’, I felt it important to explain why celebrating personal strength and power in women is so important to me, and why I believe fitness has the power to not only change lives, but to save them. This is my story.

Leah_GilbertBW-97-web

I love the mental strength and resilience that good, honest training gives you. I have a belief that good health and fitness really allows women to ‘tap into’ and harness their personal power. It gives you the resilience you need to face the World head-on and say ‘this is who I am, and what anyone else thinks does not matter. What I think of me is enough, and I am enough.’

Recently, a presentation by another body positive advocate, Louise Green had me reflecting on a time where fitness took on a whole new meaning and purpose for me. As part of the social media conversation, she posed the question ‘What would you say to your 20 year old self?’ My answer would have been ‘Believe it or not Leah, swimming will save you.’

My first relationship was abusive. From when I first entered into it at the age of 19, my instincts told me something wasn’t right, but I didn’t have the assertiveness I needed in order to end it before the usual elements of emotional manipulation and gradual isolation took hold. 

Funnily enough, the one place I was ‘allowed’ to go without being followed or harassed was the local pool. I started out going there to do therapy for my knee, and whilst I was working in the small pool, I would look out at the people doing laps in the bigger pool and think ‘gee I’d love to swim like them.’ So one day I got the goggles and the swim cap and braved the ‘big pool’. The day that I swam 50 metres straight I was so proud I could have gotten a T-shirt made!

I loved the feeling that swimming gave me. It was my escape. My ‘safe haven.’ The simple act of that rhythmic breathing allowed me to switch off and begin healing. I swam in rain, through winter, before dawn, in the evening – I clung to it as if it were my lifeline – which in essence it was. 

Eventually in time, through my developing fitness and endurance, I built up the inner strength and confidence to make the break. I moved home and I rebuilt. Had I have not kept swimming, I would hate to think of where I would be today. I would hazard a guess that I certainly wouldn’t be in the position I am right now. 

As a trainer, I am particularly focused on developing my clients’ mental strength and resilience. I train them with a purpose of tapping into their personal power because as women we are incredibly powerful beings. We are survivors. Many of us bear the scars of history and trauma. I believe that we should never be ashamed of the road we have travelled to become who we are today. We are each like a beautiful mosaic; some pieces of the puzzle are larger than others, some brighter than others, some darker, and some more broken that others, but each has a place in creating the overall picture of who ‘we’ are. And we should never apologise for who we are.

Tomorrow we learn about how a personal journey with Binge Eating Disorder lead to a career as one of Australia’s most prominent and innovative Nutritionists and Dieticians.

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One thought on “International Women’s Day: Celebrating the Women behind the Body Positive Health Movement

  1. Thank you for sharing your story! I loved this line: “The simple act of that rhythmic breathing allowed me to switch off and begin healing. I swam in rain, through winter, before dawn, in the evening – I clung to it as if it were my lifeline – which in essence it was.”

    You described the “Zen” of swimming so well. It’s why I keep going back to it, again and again. I’m so glad it gave you a safe outlet and brought you out the other side, to inspire all of us!

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