Something remarkable happened last fall. Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge on a lovely and warm September evening, I removed my sweaty long-sleeve shirt to cool off. I was wearing a tank top underneath — and yet I never wear just a tank top in public. I’m always conscious to keep my arms hidden, the sleeves a disguise for the extra skin and stretch marks; a protocol I’d created to protect my secretive self-loathing thoughts about my body.
That walk across the bridge opened my heart, though.
As I crossed the bridge, I saw so many people: families; young and old couples; musicians, artists, vendors; people on bikes and in wheelchairs. People of every shape, height, and race. And dogs. So many breeds of dogs.
No one was looking at my arms. No one was judging me, my body, or my tank top. Instead, everyone seemed to be marveling at the span of the city or the river below us. In a city as big and beautifully diverse as New York, I finally started to feel self-acceptance.
Earlier in the day, I had attended the LIFELOVE retreat, hosted by body-inclusive wellness advocate Sarah Sapora. On day one, we had already worked through some heavy emotions on self-love and body liberation. Walking was helping me process my mental state.
Sarah opened the weekend retreat with kindness, vulnerability, and encouragement to honor whatever feelings would indubitably surface throughout the event’s presentations and conversations. We practiced kundalini yoga with transformation coach and yoga instructor Kjord; we worked on journaling and identifying our story; and we spent the afternoon discussing the power of surrender with Sarah and New York–based therapist Vienna Pharaon. Day two included meditation; a panel discussion from self-love social-media content creators; a workshop with mental-health advocate and body-liberation coach Jes Baker; a sound bath with Kjord and Sarah; one-on-one mini-sessions with therapist Adalina East, MSc; and tools for healing and continuing the work we started.
On day two, I had a breakthrough.
Even though I spend my days deep in health and wellness research — and I started blogging with the premise to document my own body journey — the concepts of body positivity, body inclusivity, and body neutrality haven’t been in my vocabulary before attending LIFELOVE. As I journaled at the retreat, I realized my own motivations for fitness were still clouded by diet culture and the need to shrink and manipulate my body in service of all…