I’m ecstatic to share an in-depth and personal interview with someone I deeply look up to and have had the pleasure to work with. As co-facilitators at Project HEAL’s Communities of Healing program, she constantly inspires me to love and respect my body each and every day, and reminds me what it means to practice true self love and self-compassion.
Carly Compton is a model, fitness trainer, mentor, and coach, and I can’t wait for you to get up close and personal with her in this interview. She will explain the how and why behind her wellness company Paradise Fitness with Carly and how she practices body positivity within the fitness industry.
ALI: What inspired you to start your own fitness brand?
CARLY: Despite being a multi-sport athlete and actively participating in things like yoga and hiking while growing up, I always hated my body. I struggled every single day to love my body and accept it for what it was even though it had always supported me and pushed me through difficult games, practices, drills, and other physical activities. Looking back, I believe the lack of representation I saw of my body type in popular media and especially in fitness played a huge role in fostering my insecurity, as did the diet and fitness industries that prey on your insecurities and always promise versions of a “better” you.
Throughout middle school and high school, I attempted every single diet and workout program, but none of them “worked” as I had wanted; my body wasn’t changing, and I was frustrated. My junior year of high school, I had a friend who was losing a lot of weight and getting a lot of attention for her “improved” looks. After asking what she was doing to get such visible results, I found out it was not because she had suddenly acquired a newfound passion for health and fitness but, rather, because she was bulimic. I immediately realized that I could do the same thing! I could lose weight and still eat in front of friends and family without them having any suspicion.
After five long years of battling bulimia, I was constantly tired, my body was malnourished, I was over-exercising, my throat constantly hurt, and I was just tired of lying. I realized I could just no longer live that lifestyle and, instead of succumbing to societal expectations that were only negatively impacting my physical and mental health, I instead needed to fight the cause of my insecurities head-on. In my attempt to lose weight in order to become “more healthy,” I was actually the unhealthiest I had ever been. Throughout my recovery and afterward, I knew that I wanted to continue to exercise and properly fuel my body, but I also knew that I somehow had to do so without focusing on weight loss.
However, I did not know of any workout programs or nutrition guides that didn’t somehow have weight loss as an explicit or primary goal. I didn’t know of any trainers that weren’t going to ask me how much I weighed, how much weight I wanted to lose, and how quickly I wanted to do it. So, instead of relying on these toxic workout and nutrition plans that were counter to my actual goals, I created Paradise Fitness with Carly, an at-home workout and lifestyle program that helps individuals develop a HEALTHY relationship with food and exercise. Since recovering and changing my mindset toward physical activity and eating, my relationship with myself has never been better. I finally feel like I can truly be me.
“Looking back, I believe the lack of representation I saw of my body type in popular media and especially in fitness played a huge role in fostering my insecurity…”
ALI: What is the mission behind Paradise Fitness with Carly?
CARLY: Paradise Fitness with Carly is, at its simplest, a lifestyle and way of thinking; it is everything I believe in and everything I hope to change about the fitness industry and its role in shaping society. The first thing that came about through Paradise Fitness with Carly was PFWC: At-Home Transformation, an at-home workout and lifestyle program that helps individuals develop a healthy relationship with food and exercise, but–most importantly–by starting with THEMSELVES. It takes the focus away from weight loss and shifts it toward strength, confidence, and self-love. The program consists of at-home high intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts that don’t require weights or equipment. This was VERY intentional. I wanted to create something that was convenient, low-stress, low-cost, and great for all levels. My mission behind PFWC: At-Home Transformation is to allow individuals to take back control of their lives, move their bodies how and when they want to, fuel their bodies without complete restriction, and work everyday on strengthening that self-love muscle. Recently, I’ve started the PFWC Podcast to talk about similar topics like this with like-minded people.
ALI: What is the hardest part of being a body positivity advocate within the fitness industry?
CARLY: Many people believe I am promoting an “unhealthy” lifestyle by promoting body positivity. This could not be further from the truth. Body positivity to me is accepting every person’s body for what it is. It is about representing minorities in size and color, acceptance and de-stigmatizing of fat bodies, desexualizing black and brown bodies, and eschewing the gender binary, among other things. These ideas that form the backbone of the body positive movement are directly translatable to the fitness industry. Healthy looks different on every body; there is not just one specific body type that represents healthy. Most of the fitness industry unfortunately relies on the complete opposite of this idea, that there is a singular “type” or societal standard that we should all strive to look like. My hope is to change that idea.
ALI: How do you see body positivity portrayed in the fitness industry – online and in-person?
CARLY: Body positivity in the fitness industry is about loving and accepting every body no matter one’s shape, size, color, and ethnicity, as well their own respective athletic ability. It is about showing that people can move their bodies and do amazing things no matter their abilities. For me, it’s so important to remind individuals that their body type shouldn’t stop them from doing what they love. The toxic sides of the fitness industry and society at large should not stop them from moving their bodies in whatever way makes them happy.
ALI: What obstacles have you come up against within the fitness industry related to your body?
CARLY: I have been fat shamed by so many people. When people look at me, they don’t see what they expect a “typical” healthy lifestyle coach to look like. They see my bigger body and just assume I’m “unhealthy,” which is an incorrect correlation we have been fed by the diet and fitness industry. It can be hard at times because I sometimes let the bully inside my head tell me that I don’t have the right to help people live a healthy life. I have days when the comments get to me, and I think “You’re right! Maybe I shouldn’t be a healthy lifestyle coach because I don’t have the ‘look.’” But then I simply ask myself, “What does a healthy lifestyle coach look like and why?” This always helps me snap out of any negative thoughts. There is not a specific look or body shape you must have in order to have a positive influence and help individuals take back control of their lives.
ALI: How do you stay aligned to your mission of body positivity as a fitness trainer?
CARLY: I always think back to the “junior in high school Carly”, the girl who hated her body because she did not see her shape and size represented. I think about how strong my body was and how active and successful it helped me become even though I had convinced myself it wasn’t good enough. These are feelings I have since overcome and that I am trying to help others avoid. I believe that as long as you move your body, fuel your body, talk positively to yourself, and give up comparing your body to others, you will do AMAZING things. When you treat your body with love and respect, it treats you back.
ALI: What advice would you give other women about their own journey with fitness and body positivity?
CARLY: Do what you LOVE. Find a form of exercise that brings you excitement and happiness. Stop looking at what everyone else is doing, stop falling for the fad diets and workout programs, and start doing what makes you happy, whether that is running, yoga, walking, rock climbing, etc. Do it for YOU! The same goes for food. Fuel your body and recognize when your body feels good and not so good. But, at the same time, take days to enjoy the foods you love. Life is all about balance; EMBRACE that balance! Lastly, embrace YOU. You are beautiful, strong, and capable already–it’s just about believing it within yourself.