As I’ve struggled with my own health journey, there is one thing that I keep coming back to over and over: How to love my body more. Now that I am at a happy weight (and everyone has their own “happy weight” and should embrace their curves and what makes them be themselves), going to the gym is one of the best ways I have found to focus on my body… just for me. It’s not about losing weight or getting skinny, but rather about embracing my body and doing what is best for it, by making sure that it gets plenty of healthy food and plenty of exercise.
And I’m not the only one who feels that way. Maria G. Valdez tells us:
It’s important to note that although I feel that everyone should love their bodies in whatever shape or form they come, I also believe that everyone should try to have a healthy and balanced life, and take good care of your body. I ended up going from a size 16 to a size 10 and that’s where my body feels right. I could go to a size 8, or even 6, but maintaining it probably wouldn’t be healthy for me. Find that happy place where you’re healthy and your body feels right, and stick to it. It will still require work, but you won’t feel like you’re killing yourself over it.
We can all feel the struggle to love our bodies more, but these seven Latinas are sure killing it. Below, they share their own personal stories — different in every way — on how going to the gym helped them to embrace their own bodies. Ready to feel inspired? Read on! (And you might even get a bit more of my own story.)
1. Maria G. Valdez, @mariagvh
“My whole life I’ve struggled with my weight and completely ignored [my curves]. At 26, I found myself struggling with my health. It was taking a huge toll on me, so I began my health and fitness journey for a better version of myself, for a better future for myself, for living in my full potential.
When you want to lose weight, the first thing to do is to control your food intake, and once I was in the right mindset with that, I was feeling much better about exercising. I got a trainer and started exploring my strength, my endurance, the amazing things that my body could do and how, along with proper food habits, it was shaping up like I had never seen it before.
It’s taken me two years of full commitment and one thing I’ve realized is that you’re never ‘done.’ Going to the gym is not something you do for a period of time to get results and that’s it. You’ve got to maintain the consistency in order to keep improving your body. And if you, like me, are changing your life drastically (I ended up losing 60 lbs.), it’s not a transformation that’s going to happen from one day to another.
I’m far from being where I would like to, yet I’ve never looked like I do now, so I’m enjoying this process and acknowledging the small changes. The change was not only physical, but it came from within. Once I was ready to fully commit to being the best version of myself, my whole life took a 180 turn for the better.”
2. Giselle Castro, @gcastro1116
“I’d always been active but it wasn’t until I started focusing on strength training that I started to become more comfortable in my body. I noticed that with strength training my focus shifted towards the art of lifting rather than being fixated on aesthetics. It’s almost contradictory because lifting weights does change your aesthetics (for the better in my opinion), but it also trains your mind to be strong.
As I got stronger, I learned to embrace that about myself. I never had a lean or skinny frame. I’ve always been more on the athletic side and I always felt a bit uncomfortable because I wasn’t skinny or curvy. But once I started lifting it felt like everything clicked. Almost like it was a missing puzzle piece I never knew I was missing and I’m grateful I found it.”
3. Kristine Santiago, @beautyinthebuff
“For as long as I could remember, I spent my days believing I was fat and fearing food. When I started training for my first show five years ago, incredible changes began to happen, not just with my body, but in my mind. Going to the gym helped me experience a positive connection with my body. I could feel muscles working, physically getting stronger and in time, ‘lines’ and ‘cuts’ developed on my body that I never knew could exist. My body used to be my enemy but in time, it became my best friend.
There was a time in college where my weight kept creeping up and I remember crying on the scale saying, ‘If I get to 160 pounds, I’ll just die!’ Well, I reached 160 pounds and I didn’t die, but I starved myself to lose the weight. A year ago, I got my weight up to 160 pounds and I celebrated! I’m pretty sure I told as many people as I could that I was 160 pounds because I was so proud. This 160 pounds was not just made up with fat that I could visibly see but instead it was muscle that I worked so hard to earn. My perception of my body and food has completely shifted as I don’t fear getting fat and I don’t look of my body as a prison that I cannot escape. Being in the gym has made me realized that I can capable of creating the physique I want and I can love what it looks like while doing it!”
4. Valeria Villarroel, @itsvalerious
“I reached 100 Barre3 classes in under a year. I didn’t set out to read this goal, but I’m so proud of myself. When I started B3 a little under a year ago, I was extremely stressed out, going through a lot of emotional stuff [because] 2017 was a tough year, but the highlight was definitely turning 30 and embracing myself and where I’m at. I look forward to coming every day. When you exercise as a plus lady, everyone has an opinion of what you should and shouldn’t be doing, and exercise is always about getting smaller, taking up less space, shrinking. In B3, we’re encouraged to take up space, and listen to what our body needs and to gently nudge it to new strengths. It’s been amazing to find an exercise practice that helps me focus on exercise as a whole health approach.
Sure my butt is perkier, my legs are defined, my waist is smaller, my back is stronger, but that’s totally secondary to just how I feel transformed into this person who exercises 5-6 days a week — someone who packs a gym bag and exercises before work almost every single day. I’m not trying to shrink myself to fit into some idea of what my body should look like, I go to barre because I feel renewed, the thumping beat of the music during combo work quiets my mind as I focus on my breathing to power through, and the shakes during power leg and core work make me know I’m transforming my muscles and my mindset. Truly Barre3 has been transformative for me.”
5. Rita Damiron, @ritadamiron
“I was the type to base my workout routine in cardio and had absolutely no strength whatsoever. When I started going to the gym for strength workouts, I started to take control of my mind, which then took control of my body. My workouts were not based on obtaining a “bikini body” but rather challenging myself and becoming healthier.
I started seeing changes right away in my mood and what I was capable of. I went from not being able to lift a 24 bottle pack of water to lifting a mattress up a 5th floor walk up on my own. Most importantly, it helped me make peace with my body and respect the nature of it while only improving it.”
6. Jennifer Ortiz Peñuela, journalist
“For me, going to the gym is more than wanting to become physically fit and to look cute — although I’m not against those results at all! The primary reason I go is for my anxiety. Taking out my stress, nerves, tension, jitters — all that emotional gunk — out on the gym makes me feel lighter and at peace emotionally.
Whenever my mind is racing, I know it’s time to go for a run. Whenever I can’t sleep, I know the gym will sooth me. And whenever I’m feeling down, I know the gym will give me that natural high. The gym has helped me settle into my own skin and soothe my mind. Looking good and getting fit is the cherry on top!”
7. Irina Gonzalez, @msirinagonzalez
“My relationship with my body and with exercise has never been easy. I struggled with my weight my entire life and, nine years ago, I had a gastric bypass and lost 100 pounds — a process that pushed me to finally get healthy for the first time in my life. But although I lost the weight and have been able to keep it off, going to the gym was always a struggle for me. In fact, it wasn’t until I embraced my curves that I was able to fall in love with exercise.
These days, I try to experiment with different forms of exercise. I don’t love running, but I find that biking (both indoors and outdoors) is great for me. I have tried hiking, Zumba, and various other fitness classes. I’m also trying to incorporate more strength training into my life, and even went so far as to complete a 30-day fitness challenge — something that I never thought I’d be able to do in the past!”