He figures is Yahoo Life’s body image series, exploring the journeys of influential and inspirational figures as they explore what their body confidence, body neutrality and self-love mean to them.
Perfectionism is a standard hard to surpass for Kelly Brabants after growing up as a dancer surrounded by girls of varying stature clad in leotards whose reflections were amplified by the many mirrors that surrounded the rooms she often found herself in. But even though she’s a fitness professional who’s built an empire out of her Booty by Brabants brand, that standard is exactly what she’s striving to suppress.
Born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, Brabants belonged to an Irish-Brazilian family who taught her to embrace her origins and the very curves that the mother’s side of the family gave her. As she looked around her dance lessons as a young girl, however, the acceptance of the body that was demonstrated at home was called into question.
“I’ve always had Brazilian curves, I’ve always had buttocks and thighs. Even when I was little, I always had more curves than the other ballerinas I danced with or the other dancers in the hall. So at a young age, without even realizing it, I was playing a comparison game, ”she explains. “With costumes, for example, you just have to look at the different sizes of costumes that everyone had to wear and realize that everyone had different body types.”
Brabants explains that she was never “overweight”, but rather had an athletic figure which helped her as a dancer. Yet she struggled to exist in a space where certain body types were idealized. She even faced pressure from teachers to go to the gym and eat “healthier” in an effort to lose weight.
“In high school was when my body started to change even more. I just didn’t fit that perfect physique everyone thought you needed in the dance world where you had to be skinny and 6 feet tall. feet to be considered a ballerina, “she says. “There was always a mold that I felt I needed to fit into, whether it was longer legs or thinner legs. I constantly wanted to be something else instead of just kissing where I was and just trying to fit. flourish with the body I had. “
In the end, the pressure literally broke her, as Brabants suffered a severe stress fracture in two places on her back when she was just 18. “I was in a corset for a year, and it was really traumatic,” she says. “I must have missed my junior and senior years so much [of high school]. “
For someone who relied on movement for so many years prior to this point, she also had to re-evaluate how she treated her body after it healed. Ultimately, it meant stepping away from her dreams of pursuing a career in dance after feeling that much of the journey had turned “toxic.”
“I thought it was going to be the worst decision of my life. I thought my life was over,” she recalls. To her surprise, however, this was the push she needed to mend the relationship she had with both her body and her movement.
Without the pressure of looking a certain way, Brabants quickly began to rediscover exercise by practicing movement as a way to improve his mental health. From there, her perspective on her body began to change.
“Instead of just thinking about having a six pack or being slim, exercise became my stress reliever,” she says. “I really changed completely as a person. I just felt healthier.”
She has also strived to feel happier by inserting more joy into her exercises and incorporating the dance parts that she enjoys, without going overboard.
“The dance teachers yelled at me and made me cry all the time. I was pushed to my absolute limit where my feet were spouting blood because they wouldn’t let me wear dance shoes. “, she says. “I’ve been pushed to so many limits and all it’s ever done is hurt myself. It takes away the fun and makes it work. And I think fitness should be fun.”
Brabants kept these same things in mind when she began training clients and courses. Much of her growth, she explains, can be attributed to the things she learned from the people who attended her workouts and the challenges they hoped to overcome in their personal lives. “I started to realize that the main reason people come back to me is the connection I make with them,” she says. “I felt like I was their therapist in a way.”
Even though she created the Booty by Brabants brand – which now consists of sportswear, accessories, a range of natural energy drinks and a virtual workout platform – the 31-year-old continues to make an effort to welcome inclusiveness through its own authenticity.
“I really really love myself and who I am, what I’ve been through and all of my accomplishments. But some days I just don’t feel like myself,” she says. “Trust doesn’t have to be a 24/7, 365 days a year thing. It’s a practice for me.”
She even began to embrace imperfection and insecurity as her strength – something she previously thought was impossible as a public figure in the fitness space.
“I am proud of my fights and proud of my vulnerability, and it boosts my self-confidence,” Brabants said. “I think it’s important for fitness professionals in particular to start normalizing the good days and the bad and be transparent about both.”