It’s one of the fastest-growing industries in the world – worth a staggering R87 billion at the most recent count. People are joining gyms, signing up for yoga and forking out for everything from boxing and Pilates to personal trainers.
And the fitness business, once the domain of the toned, the trim and the chiselled, is finally growing to include people who don’t fit the conventional mould. As these inspirational people show, you don’t have to have a certain look to be strong and fit.
Jessamyn Stanley (31)
Her strength, skill and flexibility are any yoga-lover’s dream. But when she started sharing photos of herself in a series of staggering poses, people were amazed – and not because of her talent. "It was people being like, ‘Wow, I didn’t realise that fat people can do yoga’," Jessamyn says.
"People were thrown by the idea that you would be showing this body society has deemed unacceptable in a way that’s actually glorious."
Her refusal to be cowed resonated with thousands, and the North Carolina-based yogi has attracted almost 400 000 fans through her message of self-love and knack for telling it like it is. When it comes to learning to love the body you have, Jessamyn says it all comes down to you.
"I can’t control every aspect of my environment, but I can control what I’m going to think. Really understanding that put me on the road towards a better relationship with my body."
Cece Olisa (28)
The former musical theatre student has always been active and refused to let people’s perception of her strength dictate what she can and can’t do. "I trust my body," the New York-based fitness fundi says.
"And I know my size has nothing to do with my abilities." She documents her health and fitness journey on Instagram and YouTube. Her 60 000 followers and 42 000 subscribers can try out her easy-tofollow workouts at home. CeCe loves swimming, dancing and swears by "a good boot camp". "I love to lift and throw things and punch things...
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Health is a practice, not a pant size and consistency is my measure of success . I’ve been consistently loving my body through joyful movement and supportive foods for 2.5 years . After spending a month in the hospital due to a blood clotting disorder, I stopped putting everything/everyone ahead of myself . I also stopped fighting against my body and began to follow the path of least resistance. I only do workouts I absolutely love. I don’t suffer through recipes I hate . This is why you never see me sipping celery juice, I HATE celery! And please don’t tell me “it doesn’t taste like anything” it tastes nasty?? there are a bunch of other veggies I love so I don’t feel the need to drink misery in a glass ?????? . I’m constantly testing what works for me and learning new things about what lights me up in the gym and in the kitchen. It takes time and research, but our bodies are worth that extra effort at any size . This is the type of mindset shift I speak about in my Tedx Talk, How to Build Self Confidence (link in bio) . Thoughts? How do you measure success these days? . Shirt: @niajaxwwe Leggings: @lanebryant Class: @soulcycle #soulgifted #bodypositiveworkout
Sometimes strength training can be underrated," she says, adding that it helps with her flexibility and strengthens her knees. "As a bigger girl, you have to acknowledge that you’re carrying a lot more mass. So, the stronger you are, the better you are at carrying that mass. "Have you noticed that most plus-size girls have great legs? It’s because we’re carrying around heavier weight, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of."
Dana Falsetti (25)
She was at an all-time low when she joined a yoga studio while in college and turned her life around. "I was at a point where everything felt hard," she writes on wellness site Well+Good. "But for the first time in my life, I faced the challenge head-on." Over several months things started to change, both physically and mentally. "I was fat and miserable and that’s how I was supposed to be because I thought the two things went hand in hand...
Now I realise they don’t." Her honest messages of self-discovery and learning to love her body has garnered 316 000 followers on social media (although she’s currently on a social-media hiatus). Dana, who is from Pennsylvania in the US, has launched her own online yoga business on Instagram, where enthusiasts can practise whichever routine they choose and pay whatever they can afford.
Amanda Lacount (18)
She’s always loved to dance but it took a while for the teen to realise she didn’t have to be picture-perfect to pursue her passion. "A studio owner once told me my body type didn’t fit his vision for the competition team I tried out for," says Amanda, who is from Colorado in the US. "I was really upset until my mom reminded me that my goal wasn’t to fit into a group. My goal was to shine."
And shine she has. Amanda has 167 000 followers on social media and is the pioneer of #breakingthestereotype which, she says, "is meant to remind the world anyone can dance." "Body type, height, sexual orientation, religion, ethnic background and disabilities shouldn’t play a role."
Amanda has even attracted the attention of pop star Katy Perry and features in the music video for Katy’s song Swish Swish. She’s also appeared on Dancing with the Stars. "If dancing makes you happy, don’t worry about other people," she says. "If they don’t like it, that’s their problem.
Roslyn Mays (34)
In 2015 she was brutally dismissed from America’s Got Talent by celebrity judge Howard Stern, who told her she was "too fat to be in this industry". "He said nobody should ever hire me because I’m too big," she says. But Roz the Diva, as she calls herself, refused to be put off. Through her self-described "obnoxiously loud classes", the Chicago native has become a pole-dancing guru and a passionate fighter of the stigma that keeps curvy women from public workout spaces.
"Pole dancing is the reason I’m trying to make positive changes and build some sense of self-worth," she says. "For the first time, sport wasn’t about me running fast, which is something I’ve never been able to do." On YouTube and Instagram, where she has around 40 000 followers, Roz shares videos of her incredible pole antics, as well as clips that explain how to do basic strength and plyometric moves. Her fierce catchphrase is, “Ditch yo’ trainer. Get a diva."