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In this conversation, I talk to Andrea Westbrook about body size, weight stigma, curvy confidence and why wellness is for everybody, regardless of their shape or size. This conversation is incredibly important because people in the fitness and wellness industry typically shy away from these topics.
Andrea is a Mindset and Confidence coach who works with women who are fat, curvy or plus-size to conquer their fears and negative self-talk so they can reconnect to their confidence, super-charge their self-belief and achieve their goals.
If you’d prefer to watch, head over to Instagram when you’ll find the recorded conversation or click play below to listen while you multitask.
You work with women who are fat, curvy and plus-size. What’s the difference between those terms and why might someone choose one over the other?
Let’s start with ‘straight size’. If you’re ‘straight size’, you can walk into a shop and buy clothes off the rack. Sizes may vary but you’ve got that choice.
I have chosen to use the words ‘fat, curvy and plus size’ because language around identifying the group that women that I work with is very emotive and, particularly the words fat and plus size and larger and big, are words that have been demonised by society and used to hurt people.
I’m really trying to use them to break down that stigma and to neutralise the terms and release the emotion that is attached to them.
Particularly the word ‘fat’. It’s just an adjective, just a describing word. It describes the fat cells that you have on your body which everyone has whether you’re plus size or straight size he can’t NOT have fat cells to survive so I’m really passionate about destigmatising the word fat.
I wish there was one word that would describe that could describe this group of people but there’s not at the moment so I try and use those terms to encompass everyone and hope that women who live in larger bodies at least identify or, you know, relate to one of those terms.
You talk about body size as the last frontier of diversity and inclusion. Why are you so passionate about this?
I mean, when we talk about diversity and inclusion there has been a lot of work done around people of different colours and races, a lot of work around being more inclusive of different genders and sexuality. There’s a lot of work being done around ability but when it comes to body size, nobody talks about that.
When we talk about workplace diversity and inclusion, people are scared to confront it [body size]. They’re uncomfortable talking about it so it is ignored and, as a result, there is still a lot of stigma and discrimination in society in general but also in workplaces for people that have larger bodies. I’m really passionate about that because I have experienced that and it wasn’t until I was studying my coaching course and we were introduced to different elements of social justice and marginalised groups that I realised ‘Yes absolutely, I’m a part of that this. This is what I have experienced!” And that’s what set the fire in my belly and thought right, this is what we’ve gotta change.
Can you tell us about your journey and how you came to be where you are today.
I want to talk about diet and diet culture because that’s been a pivotal part of my journey.
I first became aware that my body size wasn’t the ‘ideal type’ when I was about 8 or 9 and, then, by age 10 or 11 I was already on my first diet. I was still in primary school, I hadn’t even reached puberty yet! I’m not going to talk about what I ate but when I think now, I’m like “Holy shit! What was I doing to myself?” But I didn’t know and so began this 30-something-year cycle of dieting and trying to fit in, and trying to make myself small so that I would feel liked and that I belonged.
And, I don’t know, people who’ve been on diets or challenges, you start with excitement and motivation and you’re really passionate about what you’re going to achieve and what your life will look like at the end. But then, when the going gets hard and the diets don’t work, there’s a real sense of shame and that gets even worse when people don’t notice that you’re trying and they make comments about your weight or they only speak to you when you’ve lost some [weight].
So, gradually, over the years and I can’t really pinpoint a particular time, but I started letting go of things that weren’t for me. Like I stopped signing up for gym memberships because I’d do them for a few months and then never use them and each time I saw the Direct Debit I’d just be filled with guilt. And, at some stage a few years ago I stopped weighing myself because I realised that just messed with my head. It changes so much within a day or day-to-day or week-to-week that there was no rhyme or reason to it. I decided to focus on more things that make me feel good instead like yoga, going for a walk, a massage, calling a friend or something like that.
Actually, I do remember a pivotal point. Probably about 6 or 7 years ago, we were trying to start a family and doctors would always say to me “your weight is an issue” but I knew that wasn’t necessarily true because I’ve seen people bigger than me start families. What I didn’t realise was that my goals were really pinned around having a family and then what we were going to do next. I was also experiencing a lot of shame and guilt because that wasn’t happening for us and I felt like that was my fault.
I was chatting with my friend who’s an energy worker, a kinesiologist, and she’d been through a similar journey and she actually said to me “Andrea, you don’t have to give birth to be a mother”. That was when the penny dropped for me and I could let go of everything that I thought I should be and then I could really tune into what I wanted to be.
And then, I think it was around the same time, I kind of started saying no more diets, I’m just going to live my life and be the best version I can, no matter of my size. And that has absolutely been the most freeing thing I have ever done. I’ve got back so much time and energy that I’m continually surprised at myself that I used to let myself be so wrapped up in that.
It didn’t happen overnight, I want to reiterate that to people.
There’s a lot of grieving that goes along with letting go of those things. It is challenging because it changes relationships and dynamics with other people and with yourself but I would recommend to people, if there’s something like that that’s holding you back, it is well worth the time to explore it and look at:
- is it serving you?
- is it good for you?
- how could your life look different or better if you were to let go of that?
At Vitalita, we believe wellness is about creating a life brimming with vitality. In your own words, what does wellness means to you and why is it important?
Wellness to me is about having energy. And it’s not just energy to live your life and do the things you do but it’s also having the good energy to put out into the world and the energy that you’re willing to accept back because that impacts your wellness as well!
For me, that really distils down to having the knowledge and the self worth and the ability to make choices and decisions that are right for me., and acknowledging that your energy levels and the energy you’ve got to put out is going to shift; it’s not going to be high and bubbly all of the time and it’s honouring those fluctuations.
What does self care look like for you on a daily basis?
I have got a – I call it my mindset routine – so I’ve got a bit of wellness and mindset routine that I do everyday but it changes over time as I learn new tools or if something is not working I mix it up. So I want to say to people that I don’t do the same thing over and over and over again.
But, for me, it’s really important that I set up my mindset and my mood in the morning, at the beginning of the day. I usually start with coffee and have breakfast while I’m feeding the animals just so that they’re not going to disturb me while I’m doing my mindset thing. And then I’ll go for walk or I’ll jump in the pool and have a swim. I do some tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique), gratitude journaling and some affirmations but usually, it’s pretty quick and I find that time sets me up really well for having a great day!
I’ve had to learn this a lot working for myself, it’s listening to your body, eating when you’re hungry, it’s taking a break and not feeling guilty or bad about it.
And another big thing that I’ve done on and off over years but I lately I’ve really been reducing my alcohol intake. I’ll have months where I don’t drink at all and then I’m really conscious about the decision what I do drink, when I drink, who is it with and what is it for because I find even the smallest amount of alcohol can really affect my mindset and mood, even for a couple of days and it can make my energy drop down and I feel like I just have so much to do, I’ve got a world to change so I really want to make sure that my energy is in the best place to do that!
I don’t think you can coach other people unless you’re doing the work yourself.
Earlier this year you participated in Marina Meier’s Every Body is a Beach Body campaign, and you’re now a brand ambassador. Why did you decide to take part in the photoshoot, and what did you learn about yourself?
So I saw a friend of mine post about it in a Facebook group we’re in and I just jumped at the chance because, for a long time, I always used to cover myself up when I wore a swimsuit.
I would wear a t-shirt – this was before rashies were a thing – and it was right into my 30s I would always cover and I never felt like I had the confidence to wear a bathing suit in public. I’d always have to wear a full piece and usually things that weren’t very flattering and in Queensland in summer when you live in your bathers all day that gets really uncomfortable. It’s also time-consuming when you’ve got to go to bathroom, and I knew in my head I really wanted to try wearing a bikini.
And so it took me a little while and, eventually, I found one that I liked but I also need to add that for a long time they weren’t nice styles available in bigger sizes either, they were largely grandma kind of style, they were awful! I didn’t want to wear something with the frilly skirt and that sort of thing. That’s just not me So, I graduated to a tankini but I didn’t like that ’cause it’s all floaty and annoying and would ride up.
I found a bikini that fit and I went to the beach with a girlfriend and I was so nervous I was shaking. I thought I was going to get abused or yelled at or criticised or laughed at. You know what? Nobody even blinked an eyelid. It was just so freeing from that moment. I own about 3 or 4 pairs of bikinis now and I’ve gone on to buy some really beautiful swimsuits.
I thought this Every Body is a Beach Body [campaign] is a great way to celebrate how far I’ve come from from the frumpiness, covering myself up to actually embracing that beach goddess and, you know, showing the world what I’ve got! It was a huge celebration!
Marina is amazing. She’s quite a quietly spoken lady but she just has a real gift for bringing out the goddess in all of us regardless of your shape or size. When I met her and saw my photos from the Beach Body shoot, I was just in love with them and I saw the opportunity for brand ambassador and I thought why not, I’m gonna jump at that. I’m going to role model and, again, what I talk to and coach my clients on is embracing who you are regardless of your size.
Find out more about Marina Meier here.
You recently shared your thoughts on body positivity and your frustration with the way straight-sized influencers have hijacked the movement. I’d love to hear more about this.
I don’t wanna completely diss body positivity either. I’ve just made a decision that it’s not a space for me.
When I did first hear about it, I thought it was great. I love the thought of everyone being comfortable in the skin that they’re in but as I started to explore it, I started to realise there are actually not a lot of fat people in this space. And I explored it more and I started following diverse voices and I started reading some of the articles they were writing on it, I actually learned that the body positive movement originated about of the US in the 1960s so it’s actually not a new concept. And it grew out of the fat acceptance movement which was created for and by people with marginalised bodies. Specifically, people who are fat, who are Black, who are LGBTQIA, and who are disabled, with the aim of giving them a space to discuss, fight and lobby against anti-fat bias and systemic fat oppression. It wasn’t for straight white people or by straight white people.
As you said, with the rise of social media and influencer culture, this space has really been hijacked by thin, able-bodied white or white-passing people as a way to grow their following really fast and have their content go viral. But I, as a white woman, I’m really respectful and conscious of not taking up space that wasn’t created for me, that was created for and by someone else.
I would rather use my privilege to amplify those voices and give credit because they’re the true champions of this space. They’re the ones that have done the hard yards.
A few people Andrea recommends following include:
What does curvy confidence mean? How is confidence different for curvy and plus size women?
So, I came up with curvy confidence because I love alliteration and it really summed up what I want my workshop participants to feel when they leave the workshops.
And I do think confidence is different for curvy women because, I know for myself and I know whenever I speak to fat, curvy or plus size woman, the one thing that really strikes me is how incredibly hard and critical we are on ourselves. We criticise ourselves for mistakes, for not being able to do the things that we love, or we make up excuses for why we can’t do things and there’s a really intense shame and guilt around having a larger body size. A lot of women who are larger sized, they don’t like themselves, some of them even really hate themselves. And this really impacts how you see yourself and your place in the world and how you go about life.
So I know there are women out there who won’t eat in public. I know there are women out there that won’t buy clothes that they love, like they just buy clothes to cover up. They don’t apply for their dream jobs or that promotion that they know they could do hands down. I talk to a lot of plus size women who want to start dating but they’re too scared to put themselves out there or they do and then they cancel the date at the last minute.
So that is how our mindset holds us back as curvy and plus size women and that’s why I set up those workshops to help people understand and unpack it, and give them the tools to help them move through it.
What would you say to the woman watching who is afraid to show up or who has put her goals and dreams on hold until she loses weight?
I would say “Babe, I’ve been there too! I’ve done exactly that.”
But I would then ask them how long are they going to stop putting off life until they’re the ‘right size’ because studies show that 95% of diets don’t work. MOst regain the weight that they lose and sometimes they even gain more. So, you know, dieting and losing weight is a losing battle so how long are you going to keep trying that and not creating a life that you love?
Then I just really shower them with love and tell them they deserve the amazing career, a job where they’re celebrated and fulfilled, to have relationships they really want, to follow their dreams and to do all the things that light them up just as they are, regardless of their size
You deserve all of your dreams you deserve to be happy you deserve to feel like you belong right now just as you are!