Four plus-size influencers on working out for joy and mental wellbeing

If you’re sick of seeing social media posts that talk about fitness and exercise as fat-burning chores, then you need to start following these four influencers, says writer Mollie Quirk. They’re all about working out for the endorphins and feel-good vibes.

Moving for joy and strength over weight loss is something more and more millennial women have been prioritising. From the ‘Don’t Hate The Shake’ movement to Lizzo documenting her fitness regimes, the days of doing everything and anything to reach a goal weight seem to be slipping further away. Today’s crowd of influencers are all about promoting fulfillment, health and mental wellbeing.

If Lizzo seems a little out of reach (she is one of the biggest stars in the world, after all), then it’s time to start following this group of British influencers. We’ve been speaking with four incredible women about their fitness journeys and how moving joyfully benefits them. From a 32-year-old mum-of-one who enjoys wild swimming and yoga, to a 27-year-old content creator and food stylist who is training for the London Marathon, these women are moving and exercising for the feel-good vibes. Prepare to be inspired!

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Charli Russon (@curvygirlthin)

“I used to kill myself at the gym trying to lose weight,” 32-year-old plus-size blogger Charli Russon explains. “Endless spin classes, lifting weights, slogging myself on the rowing machine.I hated every minute.And in the end, I hated myself.”

Charli believes that exercising in this negative way ruined her self-esteem. “I was really just punishing myself and my body. I also got into some pretty destructive patterns of exercising to the extreme, feeling horrible about myself, binge eating, and then exercising to the extreme to try and ease the guilt feeling. It was a very unhealthy cycle.”

Today, the plus-size blogger, who documents her self-love journey on Instagram, believes that moving joyfully is about so much more than trying to achieve results. “I mean, sure, I’m competitive. I’m forever trying to beat my own swim times or walk that bit further or try a more challenging route,” she tells Stylist. Because of that, Russon says that she doesn’t care if she loses weight or not: “I’m fairly ambivalent about that now.”

I have no problems with strangers finding me naked in a river on Dartmoor

Like so many other people, Russon has recently found joy in wild swimming, telling us that she is happiest when in water: “I’ve always loved to swim and I swim in a pool at least twice a week. During lockdown, I started plunging into the rivers where I live, enjoying the cold of the water and the energy that it gives. I river swim once a week after work now and try to dunk into the sea as much as possible.”

Wild swimming hasn’t just given Russon a new lease of life physically, but she claims that it’s helped to dissolve many of her previous body hang-ups. “I have no problems with strangers finding me naked in a river on Dartmoor – before, I would have been embarrassed. But really, why would I be embarrassed about exercising in an environment that feels right to me? After all, the river doesn’t care what I look like!”

Jada Sezer (@jadasezer)

On a random day in 2018, model Jada Sezer met the writer Bryony Gordon while on their way to an event. After Gordon mentioned that she had done a marathon, Sezer naively said that she’d love to run a marathon too, “I was not a runner – not even for a bus – but knew it was the ‘cool’ thing people did,” the 32-year-old recalls. “Bryony signed me up to run the 2018 London Marathon and training started the next day.”

For most people, the idea of running a marathon with no previous experience would be nothing short of a nightmare. But Sezer wasn’t fazed because she already had the mental framework in place to manage such a monumental challenge.

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“I’m a huge believer in the strength and power of the mind. I believed I could run it – even in my size 16 wobbly, jiggly, ‘non-runner’ body, and we did!” The following year, Sezer and Gordon started the campaign called ‘Celebrate You,’ which involved running 10km in their underwear, accompanied by 1,000 women.

Sezer tends to go through phases of exercise and fitness. Post-marathon, she returned to swimming – one of her childhood hobbies. Today, when she’s not busy advocating for better bra services with Sports Direct, she’s training to become a yoga teacher: “I think that yoga will be a long life commitment and I’ve never felt that any form of movement has been as connective as yoga is.”

Results, she says, are temporary. “It’s OK to set goals, but fundamentally, knowing that your body is still worthy of love, care, consideration and rest even if you don’t hit the results or the personal best you wanted is much more important.” 

Sophie Edwards (@sophieedwards_tcmp)

If you’re planning on running the London Marathon later this year, keep your eyes peeled for Sophie Edwards. The Sussex-based blogger will be cantering down The Mall in October, two years on from being made redundant – an event that sparked her fitness journey.

A regular runner and swimmer, Edwards has a love-hate relationship with running in particular: “I’m not very good at all and I certainly won’t break any records, but there’s something about getting out there that really sparks joy,” she tells Stylist. “Running saved me during a very difficult time with my mental health.”

When leisure centres started to open up again post-lockdown, Edwards got into swimming and now dubs the sport as her “weekly slice of escapism”. Swimming was her hobby growing up, but as she got older, she thought it seemed like a “faff”. 

“As a teen and into my early 20s, I battled with an eating disorder which consequently meant that I totally lost confidence to be in swimwear, let alone be anywhere near a pool. On a whim, about six weeks ago, I thought that I’d go along to a swim session and just over a month on, I’m moving into the medium lane from the slow lane and have signed up to be a member.”

Michelle Elman (@scarrednotscared)

Another plus-size woman who has used exercise as an aid to healing is Michelle Elman, @scarrednotscared. At 19, Elman was hospitalised and bedridden and it was at that moment in her life that her relationship with exercise “changed instantly when I realised that being able to move my body was a privilege and that I’d spent so long complaining about what my body looked like with its surgery scars that I never appreciated what it could do.”

 When she got her mobility back, she promised herself that she would never take movement for granted again. That was the first time, she says, that she saw exercise as being something “so much greater than weight loss”.

“I genuinely feel lucky that I have the ability I’ve got. I am still limited in parts but moving my body reminds me to focus on what I can do, not what I can’t. It also gives me time to associate in my body and really feel the strength in my body which always feels empowering.”

We rode our bikes before we called it ‘spinning’ and we danced around before it was capitalised as ‘Zumba’

Documenting her love for watersports throughout lockdown, Elman is a keen paddleboarder and says that watersports were the norm for her when growing up in Hong Kong. She says that remembering how we moved as kids is an important step in regaining confidence and joy around exercise. “We rode our bikes before we called it ‘spinning’ and we danced around before it was capitalised as ‘Zumba’. Our bodies naturally want to move and before we were taught otherwise, we found it fun. It was a game of tag, not a run. It was fun, not a workout.”

She argues that even the word “workout” can make exercise seem like a chore to some people, with much of the language around classes being to blame for putting people off. There’s so much “aggressive language” within the fitness industry, she argues, “and we are sent the message that the only reason we should exercise is for aesthetic reasons or to compensate for what we are eating.

“Frankly, it’s the fastest way to suck the fun out of movement.” 

For training plans, healthy recipes and other deep dives into all things fitness, check out the Strong Women Training Club.

Images: influencers’ own/Instagram

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