Fitness and strength coach Chrissy King spoke to students about body liberation on Tuesday evening as part of Love Your Body Week at Long Beach State.
The event “Finding Freedom Beyond Fitness” was hosted by the Student Recreation and Wellness Center and Beach Pride Events, where King discussed her journey, “from fitness and food obsession to freedom.”
King, creator of The Body Liberation Project, teaches people that “we are inherently worthy because we exist, not because of what we look like.”
The goal of body liberation, King said, is to understand that at our core, we are much more than our bodies.
Instead of focusing on image, King shares three strategies towards body liberation: compassion, gratitude and love.
Compassion is treating oneself with kindness instead of disdain, while gratitude allows people to focus on showing their bodies their appreciation and how much they do for them. Love reminds people that they spend every moment of their lives with themselves, making it the most important relationship.
King first shared her negative relationship with food, stemming from as early as age 12. She recalled finding a journal from that age, then writing how it was a new year and despite being tired, she had to work out because “her body was too big.”
At age 15, she kept a food journal, only allowing 300 calories for breakfast. Foods like pizza, chips, candy and more were all on the do-not list.
King continued focusing on her size, going through diets and also internalizing comments her family made about her, including that she was weak.
It wasn’t until her mid-twenties that King began going to the gym, but when her trainer asked her goal, King said she wanted to be skinny, ignoring the value of building strength.
When King did start strength training, she said she realized she could be strong, especially after walking into a gym opened by her trainer’s boyfriend.
“I saw something I had never seen before,” King said. “I saw women benching, squatting and deadlifting. And they were doing this thing called powerlifting that I’ve actually never even heard of. And I was like, ‘Wow, that looks really badass.’ But again, my story and my narrative was that I was weak and I couldn’t do those things.”
While King was at this new gym, the owner began to coach and train her to powerlift for free. Building this strength empowered King, who would later go on to compete.
“I started to transition my thinking, and started thinking like, ‘Wow, you know, maybe fitness can be for something more than just shrinking my body,’ right?” King said. “And it helped me to start to see how capable and strong my body was and to start to focus on what my body can do, instead of what can look like.”
But it would still take years before King would finally have a healthy relationship with her body, often obsessing over spending hours in the gym and still managing her food intake. It wasn’t until King was 35 that she began to change her mindset, now working to spread her message about body liberation.
King said that people have no problem accepting differences in eye colors, height or hair colors but not body sizes.
“But when it comes to bodies, for some reason, all of a sudden, we have a hard time with the reality that also the size of people’s bodies are created different, and they’re meant to be different,” King said. “We are all not meant to have the same physical appearance.”
Diet culture, King said, demonizes food, but food is often tied into our experiences with other people, from cultural experiences to getting enjoyment out of a meal.
King encouraged students not to provide unsolicited comments on anyone’s bodies, saying people cannot look at someone and decide if they are healthy, so to make affirming statements when referring to a smaller body ignores the fact that there could be something else going on, like an eating disorder or chronic illness.
She also recognized the impact that social media has, and that seeing others get validation and attention for their bodies makes people seek that out too. But this desire can be especially problematic for people from marginalized communities, King said.
“So sometimes our desire to change the shape of our body is because we want access to privilege and especially if we are a member of a marginalized community,” King said. “There’s some things we can’t change about ourselves, right? I can’t change the color of my skin, perhaps, but maybe I can change my body and I’ll have some access and level of privilege that I don’t have now.”
King encouraged people to be more responsible creators and users on social media and one, try to curate healthier feeds, but two, recognize our own impact on the images we share to the people that follow us.
Body liberation is about freeing oneself of obsessive thoughts, from comparing your body to others and fully enjoying life, according to King.
“By the time however long we live on this earth, our bodies are gonna go through so many different iterations and versions of itself, and that’s totally normal human experience,” King said, explaining another reason for creating The Body Liberation Project. “So how do we begin to love and appreciate and accept our bodies, and all of these iterations with the recognition that it’s always going to be changing?”