I often get asked in interviews if I could go back in time, what advice I would give my younger self. The intention of this question is good. I suppose it is to help others learn from my mistakes or blind spots, in an effort to help them be more mindful and aware as they move into the future. But I have a different way to frame this question that roots me in the present moment and reminds me to honor my higher self. Rather than going back in time, I prefer to imagine my older self toward the end of her life, wrapping her arms around me and supporting the woman I am today.
I’m visual, so I have spent some time really thinking about her. She’s 94 years old and has long wiry grey hair. She wears rad long, flowy dresses, has most of her teeth, and is surrounded by nature, art, and a community who loves her. She’s my mentor. She gives me perspective on what matters and helps me navigate my life building a fitness company and raising a family.
This older version of myself is who I am working toward. I use her as a way to crowd out my inner critic, who loves to get attached to unrealistic ideals created by society around what success means, what attractive looks like, and what being worthy means.
This self-reflection practice around honoring my truth is what led me to step out of my comfort zone and create barre3 in August of 2008. And this practice around being empowered from within is what has attracted more than 100 franchisees to join me in building barre3 up to 150 studios with an active online-subscriber base in 98 countries. Together with all our clients, we are redefining what success in fitness means, because we share a common awareness that our mainstream mindset around fitness ideals isn’t working for most of us.
At the heart of the problem we’re solving is the notion that we need fitness because we are not enough as we are. There is shame built into this equation. Take the before-and-after picture as an example. Many of us buy into fitness products and services based on the notion that these formulas will help us go from where we are right now (the “before”) to an ideal (the “after”). We then measure our personal success based on whether or not we reach this ideal. Most of us don’t reach it, because the ideal is imagined. It is a construct rooted forever in the future—and based on a picture of someone else.
This strategic and very profitable marketing tool has helped fuel the fitness industry. According to the latest industry report from the IHRSA, the $30 billion fitness industry in the U.S. has grown by 3.3% over the past 10 years. In fact, the industry has had a steady and healthy growth trajectory since the 1980s. What’s concerning is that while the fitness industry is booming, our health is declining. Global obesity rates have nearly tripled since 1975. Depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and lifestyle-related illnesses such as type 2 diabetes are also on the rise. And in my experience, most people I meet view exercise and fitness as a chore. Collectively we don’t have a good relationship with fitness. We see it as something other, more-fit people do, or something we used to do when we were younger and getting after our A-game.
Back to my older and wiser self. She knows that the real point of living a full, rich, and healthy life is being alive and honest in my body as it is right now. Exercise is a way to tap into learning about myself, my body, and how resilient and strong I already am. My older self also knows that exercise is not the end-all be-all to being healthy. In fact, relationships and the people we surround ourselves with are even more important to our vitality and wellbeing than any fitness program.
At barre3, we actively practice ways to rethink fitness, flipping the focus from an imagined ideal to being balanced in body and empowered from within. Here are three ways we do that:
Instead of exercising to get to an end goal, we exercise to be present in our bodies as they are in this very moment. Instead of setting our sights on an ideal, we are committed to real. When we exercise to change ourselves, each workout is a battle against our bodies, a fight to the finish. When we exercise to honor our bodies and give them what they need in that moment, we create a healthy relationship based on love, not shame. Suddenly, movement is joyful, and we crave it.
Instead of holding up one person or one way of moving as the ideal, we give people full permission to modify the moves according to what their bodies need. Every move we teach has variations, and no variation is better or worse than any other. When people learn to listen to their bodies and honor what they need, they learn that they are their own best teachers. They learn to stand up for themselves—not just in class, but in their lives, too.
Relationships are just as healthy as exercise. We see loneliness as an illness and one of the primary factors contributing to a decline in our overall vitality. Humans are hardwired for community, and we need support. We need to be seen, valued, and honored just as we are in this present moment. Building community and connection is something we are very intentional about at barre3. You can feel this in our studios. Our team, including childcare, front desk, and the instructor, all work together equally to foster health and wellbeing in our clients’ lives.
My practice of looking inside for answers is what has given me confidence to create a disruptive fitness concept that challenges the norms. But looking inside doesn’t mean operating in isolation. This practice has also given me the tools I need to be a student, an observer, an active listener, and someone who values community above any other variable in business. I humbly and actively seek out other leaders who want to partner with us to raise awareness and build this movement together. It’s exciting to know that I am not alone—that there might be a reader out there who is nodding and wants to be a part of this with us.