What does it take to grow a community from zero to 800 in less than four months? Purpose. Support. Gratitude.
I met Erin, the founder of Big Girl YYC, one of Calgary's newest and most heart-centred communities, at a private spin class at Stax Cycle Club. Between the tired legs and beaming smiles, Erin and her crew gathered the energy and inspiration from each other to power through a tough spin class. The secret: they did it together. Using each other's energy, power, determination and heart, Big Girl YYC provides a safe space for women to work out and be healthy without the threat of judgement.
I sat down with Erin this week to chat about the story behind Big Girl YYC and what fuels this powerful group of ladies.
Q: Tell me about Big Girl YYC. How did this group start?
A: I've been a big girl my whole life, and I have always tried to be the person that prescribes to the "love the body you have" idea. So I would always try to encourage my friends and others who would get down on themselves.
So one morning, I was talking to a woman I know who spins regularly. I thought "oh, that would be cool to try." In the same breath, I thought, "you can't. You're too big. You won't be able to make it." By the end of the day, I said to myself, "Erin, that is so ridiculous. Of course, you deserve to go to spin class and be healthy. Yes, just do it. You can."
I put out a call on my Facebook profile, shared my story and asked if anyone else felt that way to share their stories. I got feedback from women of all sizes, so I said, "Okay, I'm going to do this. I'm going to set up some events and we can go to fitness classes without the fear of judgement." So, I thought of a name, started a Facebook page and within three days, there were 100 people following the page.
What Big Girl YYC has grown into is a space where women can feel safe and welcome.
And I chose the word "big" because there are women who are big in height, big in heart, big in personality, big in size. It's the all-encapsulating word that describes this group, and it's filtered into what it means to be a part of this community.
Another guiding light in Big Girl YYC is the recent loss of my father. He valued people and community and creating safe spaces for people, so this has been a part of my healing journey.
Q: What has been your favourite moment since starting Big Girl YYC?
A: There was a woman who approached me within the first few days and she posted this harsh status on Facebook about herself and her body. I invited her to come to an event and said to her "let me support you and we can move through this together." She was approximately 50 years old, and this was the moment I realized that women of all ages were part of this. We had a pool party in the summer, and a photographer came out to take some photos of the day. She took a photo of this woman as she was climbing out the pool, and she thought this photo was going to be hideous. But when she saw it, she welled up and said to me, "Wow, I really don't look that bad. Thank you for creating this space where I could see myself."
Q: With all the messaging around body image in the media, from pictures of models to body positive anthems, how do you respond to that?
A: What I've seen happen are there are two different ways of looking at body positivity. The first being the f-the-world-this-is-the-body-I-have-I'm-going-to-eat-what-I-want-this-is-me. The other being acknowledging your body and that we deserve to be healthy in our bodies. What's missing from these body positive messages is that it's okay to take up space in the world.
Big Girl YYC is taking up space in the literal sense, but we are also taking up space in places where big girls, or anyone who has struggled with body image would feel unwelcome.
We're saying "We're here, and it's okay for us to be here. And it's okay for us to be healthy. We are going to work out right next to you, and we deserve to be here just as much as you do."
Q: Tell me about some challenges you've had starting this community.
A: One of the challenges is ensuring that everyone who is interested in an event shows up. For the Stax event, we had over 50 people interested and approximately 20 showed up. That's amazing, but it's been a challenge to get those interested to show up to the events. I'm trying to figure out whether people are looking at the event and not coming because they might be scared to go for whatever reason. So the challenge here is how to support those people who are in that space.
Q: What's next for Big Girl YYC?
A: Our next event is October 29 called 3-Minute HIT. It's a boxing/kickboxing circuit, run by two women in Calgary.
We are having a workshop on November 4 called Every Body Bends, co-facilitated by Gloria Schwabe and myself. She teaches you how to use yoga props properly and how to alter your practice to accommodate for your body type or whether you have an injury. The workshop blends in some self-love, insecurities and body image work.
Q: How can people get involved?
A: All our events are posted on our Facebook page. I also share events on Instagram.
Q: Is there anything you want people to take away from this?
A: Gratitude is at the forefront of everything we do. I'm grateful for everyone who keeps showing up, for the businesses I get to work with. My message is to keep showing up. I will be there to support you even on your toughest days. Every single woman I've met in this group has been kind and wanted to support the other women. Every woman has an amazing story, and it inspires me to keep going.
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