What are the origins of your business as it is now, as a writer, speaker and life coach? How does it feel now that you are here?  

I started as a personal trainer in NYC, and discovered that all of my clients were struggling with the same stuff.

They came in wanting to lose weight, tone up, and fix their trouble spots– all with the hope of feeling confident, sexy, and “good enough.” It didn’t seem to matter if they were fat or thin, jacked or soft. Everyone had parts of their body they hated, and I realized: wow, this has nothing to do with the body.

Even the models (including from Victoria’s Secret!) and actresses I trained were complaining about their bodies.

So I decided I wanted to hold better conversations with my clients about their bodies, and stop promising them that the way to feel more confident was to “fix” their bodies.

I went through a year-long life coaching certification program, and then shifted my message and brand to reflect the work I felt called to do: help women feel confident and worthy and good enough WITHOUT changing the way they look.

It feels amazing to be able to write and speak about the stuff that’s most interesting and important to me, and to see my clients completely restructure their self-worth and step into their most expansive and authentic and joy-filled lives.

I’m already thinking about the next thing, the work I still need to create, the products and programs and books that still don’t exist yet, but when I zoom out I’m very struck by gratitude to be where I am.

I followed my gut to take so many big risks, and it’s working.

What do we get wrong when we talk about women’s bodies?

Culturally we’ve all been taught that fat is bad and unhealthy, while thin is good and healthy, but it’s not true. A fat person can be perfectly healthy, and I know PLENTY of thin people who are extremely unhealthy– not to mention the role that mental and emotional health plays in a person’s overall health!

We tend to assume that a woman’s goal is always to get smaller, to shrink and tone and get thinner and tighter. We assume that will make her healthier and happier, but that’s a lie.

The big mistakes we make are in assuming fat = health, and assuming that all women are trying to shrink and fix their bodies. Many women achieve thinness and fitness through self-destructive habits like obsessive dieting and over-exercising, and plenty of women choose to work out and eat healthy because it feels good, not because they’re trying to shrink themselves.

You Instagram says “ I teach women how to love and accept their bodies, by adopting a new self-worth paradigm.” What is the new self-worth paradigm?

The old self-worth paradigm is what society teaches women– to attach our worth to our desirability. This includes weight, beauty, age, femininity, as well as how nurturing and selfless we are.

The idea is that our self-worth should be based on how closely we align with the cultural standard of desirability (to men).

It’s about being most likely to be “chosen.” Thats BS though. What I call the new self-worth paradigm is about attaching our worth to OTHER aspects of ourselves, like our accomplishments, connections, strengths, gifts, intelligence, and personality.

It’s about rejecting the idea that our worth comes from something passive and disempowering (like waiting to “be chosen” or “be approved of” by someone else) and instead defining it as something active, and offering it to ourselves.

I can choose to approve of myself, to feel worthy, and to love and accept everything about myself, EVEN IF society doesn’t approve, and it makes me supposedly less attractive to men. We get to be in charge of defining our own worth, but it requires that we reject the old paradigm, which is hard!

We get to be in charge of defining our own worth, but it requires that we reject the old paradigm, which is hard!

I followed my gut to take so many big risks, and it’s working.

Jessi Kneeland

How can women (or anyone!) begin to transform their relationship with their body?

Recognize that body image issues aren’t actually about your body at all. Your body issue is just covering something up, protecting you from something, or distracting you from something.

Usually that something is shame, fear, trauma, or an unmet emotional need. You’ll never be able to love and accept your body until you pull back the curtain and see what’s really going on.

For example, a woman who wants to be super thin might feel like she’s “too much” for people, and wants to take up less space– she will need to work directly on recognizing that she’s not responsible for “protecting” other people from her, and learning to take up her full space in the world.  

A woman who obsesses over her body to avoid deep feelings of sadness and anger will need to learn how to tolerate those emotions in order to ever let go of the obsession.

There’s always something deeper that your body image issues distract or protect you from.

What are you reading right now? What are some books on your ‘to-read’ list?

OMG so many. Right now I’m finishing a book on female sexuality (Female Ejaculation and the G-Spot by Deborah Sundahl) and also a book on feminism and racial justice, called Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper.

My must-reads are all over the map.

Everyone with a vagina (or anyone who has sex with someone with a vagina) should read Come as You Are by Emily Nagoski. Anyone interested in trauma should read The Body Keeps The Score and Waking the Tiger. For anyone interested in healing their relationship to food should read Women, Food, and God, and Eating In the Light of the Moon.

What’s something you wish you could say to your 16 year old self? Do you think she would be proud of you?

She would think I’m the FUCKING COOLEST. Seriously. One of my strongest reasons for confidence is knowing that my past self at 6 or 16 or any other age would be blown away by me.

I wouldn’t tell her anything– she needs to go through everything by herself, and she wouldn’t have listened to anyone anyway. I might just give her copies of all the books I just listed. 😊

What’s something you’re working to unlearn?

I’m still unlearning that my value comes from how desirable I am to men. I still occasionally find myself self-objectifying, and filtering things about myself in order to seem more appealing to men.

It’s rare nowadays because I have obliterated this idea in both my conscious mind and my unconscious mind, but it still shows up sometimes.

What’s one challenge you face in your work that you’re still working on navigating?

How to market ethically. I don’t believe in manipulating people, making them feel like they “need” what I offer, or making them feel like they’re unworthy as they are, which is the bulk of effective marketing strategies out there.

I take pride in my ability to sell by simply telling stories and sharing my thoughts in an authentic way, but I know I’m leaving a lot of money on the table by doing it that way, and also it’s challenging to scale up my business without more structured marketing.

It’s an ever-evolving practice.

When was the last time you practiced self-care and why is self-care important to you?

I consider self-care to be a 24/7 job. Everything I do stems from self-care. I check in with myself constantly, and notice what I feel, what I want, and what I need.

I check in and notice which tanks are full, and which tanks are empty… and then I move toward whatever feels like an inner YES or move away from an inner NO.

For example, some days I wake up and crave connection and food and sunshine and people.

Other days I wake up and want quiet, and time to process, and hours alone to write.

Some nights I want to watch netflix and text my friends and eat candy.

Other nights I want to go on a date, or go to a party, or write a chapter to my book. ALL of these paths are self-care, because they reflect exactly what I wanted and need in the moment. Nothing I do ISN’T self-care, and that’s something I’m extremely proud of.

It’s years in the future. You’re on stage to accept an award for your life’s work.  What’s your five word acceptance speech?

Always listen to your body.

Who are a few amazing people that we should follow and why?

OMG How do I pick?! There are million accounts I love, but at the top of my IG right now are @bodyposipanda @rachel.cargel @girlsgonestrong @Iamchrissyking

Learn more about Jessi + connect

Jessi is a writer, speaker, and body image coach. She is on a mission to help women break free from body perfectionism, obsession with their perceived “flaws,” and the constant anxiety about food, fat, weight, and exercise. Twitter. Website.

Published by Sinclair P Ceasar III

Sinclair Ceasar is a speaker, podcaster, and higher ed professional committed to helping people live a better story, and be more hopeful. He sends weekly inspirational emails to over 1K readers each Monday. Email him at hello@thesapronextdoor.com or connect with him via Twitter @Sinclair_Ceasar

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