I’ve struggled with my weight and body image most of my life. I was heavy as a child – or as my parents said, “compact”. The first time I was shamed about my body was when I was in elementary school. It was getting close to the end of the year and the Grade 7 classes went to a local beach and had a sand castle building “contest”. As the students went from sculpture to sculpture, everyone was running to be the first one to see the next creation. We were all in our bathing suits and one of the girls started to make fun of my “ass flapping in the breeze”. I was also given the nick name of “thunder thighs” and “hurricane hips” when I played basketball.

I didn’t continue playing team sports after that.

I’ve been body shamed all my life – more so as an adult, and more when I was “thin” and “fit”.

In my early 20’s, my weight got up to 220+ lbs – I had stopped weighing myself at a certain point as the truth hurt too bad. Despite being married to a man who loved me unconditionally, I was depressed and lonely; I hated my body and my life. I was a binge eater and covered my depression with food. It was a vicious cycle: I’d get groceries, including all sorts of crap (cookies, chips, cheese sauce, candy, ice cream…) as soon as I got home, hubby would be off to work. I’d eat junk food all day; whatever I didn’t finish, I’d hide and finish the next day when hubby went to work.

For YEARS I abused myself like this, so it’s no wonder my weight got up to where it was… until I made a tearful confession to my husband. It seemed like that confession was enough to stop that destructive behavior and I finally started getting results at the gym and lost a good portion of the weight.

It was when I was at my heaviest that I started belly dancing and this celebration of being a woman made me love my body. That love of my body and healthier eating habits made me lose even more weight – I finally had control of my body, not the other way around.

In 2005 I decided to compete in bodybuilding. I’d always loved watching Ms Olympia and Ms Fitness on TV and always admired the muscular and fit women, but I never dreamed I could ever look like those women. I decided I wanted to try, so I hired a Personal Trainer and started working towards stepping on stage in 2006.

My trainer was good; he got results. Unfortunately, I look back now and realize how unethical he was. He’d give me “supplements” in a little plastic bag with instructions on how to take them. I was eating maybe 800 calories a day, and I was working out for about 4 hours a day, including working a full time job. I’d be forced to wear clothing that covered up everything but my head – but I had to wear bootie shorts and a sport bra, so if he felt the desire, he’d tell me the take off my top and pants so he could show perspective clients how amazing he was making me look – but if the wrong person came into that area of the gym, he’d tell me to cover myself up. There was a huge rivalry between the trainers at this gym, so he didn’t want them to see my progress until the competition. I felt like his prize show dog that he’d parade around on command. The last 5 days before my second competition I lost 18 lbs.

He’d say things like “Don’t worry, after this you can get ‘fat and happy’ again”… it’s no wonder after the second competition I didn’t go to the gym for 6 months and didn’t bother using the rest of my training sessions. And, with this drastic change of activity and his attitude, it’s no wonder I rebounded so badly and was “fat and happy” by the following summer – though I was far from happy.

I spent thousands of dollars on training sessions, supplements, and the various requirements of competing – suits, tanning, etc. It cost me a social life and created disordered eating, a crappy self-image, and massive rebound. I was body shamed where ever I went. Because my body fat percentage was so low, I lost my period and had 2 miscarriages over the following 18 months. 

After that experience, I’m surprised that I wanted to become a Personal Trainer, but I think that experience showed me what I didn’t want to do; how I didn’t want to be. I wanted to lift people up and show them how to make changes in their existing lifestyles to create lasting results. I decided if I wanted to be a trainer, I needed to look the part, so once again, I started dieting and exercising. I got my certification, and became self employed.

Eventually I felt the urge to compete again – but this time, I decided to do it on my own. I figured if he could get my body in stage ready shape, I could do it a healthier way. Unfortunately, the way I knew to get in the shape I needed was the way he did it – under eating and over exercising. But, I eventually got there and in 2011 I competed in Figure and Muscle Model, and again in 2012 in Figure and I won the transformation challenge. 

I felt great stepping on stage in 2012 – I was able to prep in a more healthy way and I looked better than the previous year. Unfortunately at the time, all I could see was my flaws – everything that needed improving. I also got a lot of negative reactions from people. A friend of mine did some photos a couple weeks out and when he posted on social media, my photos were attacked by his “friends”. “Give that girl a sandwich”, “She’s too skinny”, “She’s unhealthy”… I educated a couple people, but it gets really disheartening – putting in all that work and having people just slam you!

A few months after my last competition, I was off to basic training. I’m going to skip the next 5 years as nothing terribly important happened, but it was while I was on an international deployment that I was finally able to address my Self, what was wrong with my life, and how I overcame self-hatred, body image issues, putting on a lot of weight when I got home, and why I’m okay with it. 

I still don’t really understand why it happened. The closest I can figure is that while in Kuwait, I was SO removed from everything and everyone; I was limited to what I could do, what I could wear, where I could go, and when I had contact with my family. I was on a very regimented schedule – some work requirements and others self-imposed as it was either throw myself 110% into the gym otherwise I’d go insane.

Coming back from that situation, I was forced to evaluate my life; like being taken away from it for that period of time, then being thrust back in made me look at things differently.

I’ve been away longer – for Basic Training and my first level of Trades training, but I think because I was still in Canada, people still spoke English, had easy contact with family and friends, I still had a lot more freedom and rights, so it didn’t affect me the same. Yes, it changed me, but not like this. 

When I got back home, it was “what do you mean I can choose and make my meals?”, “You mean I can take the vehicle and leave the city?”, “I can wear sleeveless tops and skirts?”… It was completely different to how I had been living my life. It took me a couple weeks to feel comfortable being back in Canada, but I still had that restlessness I couldn’t put my finger on…

They always say, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear” and that’s what happened.

I can’t remember which platform it was on (FB or IG) – could be both – but I had probably been staring at the ad for Reiki training for weeks before I realized that it might be a sign. I’ve had a Reiki session years ago and I’ve always had a curiosity about the “unknown”. I was into Wicca as a girl (pre-teen / early teens) so was into the crystals and in my 20’s I was into Feng Shui and such, so believing in chakras and energy healing seemed so natural.

So late summer, I really started my shift, though I know it started weeks before that jump!

During that time, I was still having self-image issues. I went from training at the gym twice a day, 7 days a week… then the first month home, I went to the gym once. I went from ripped beast to fluffy bunny… but I didn’t seem to mind. I was having a few problems adjusting my thinking about my body as I realized I was putting too much effort into my physical shape. I was more upset in the fact I was trying to convince myself that I wasn’t okay with putting on the weight than I was putting on the weight. Yes, a healthy physical body is important, but I realized I was severely starving my mind and soul.

My husband, who has always been there for me; pushing me, encouraging me, and helping me reach my goal – no matter what it is - kept on telling me I should add some cardio – because the last he heard was I wanted to be a complete bad-ass at the gym. Bodybuilder mode. But my heart wasn’t into it! I pushed back with my husband – telling him that adding cardio wouldn’t fix the problem. I was convinced it had to do with my head. I needed to change the way I thought – about myself, the gym, my diet, my body… I needed balance in all those areas, not just trying to “fix” my physical self.

Let the real shift begin!

On Instagram I found Non-Airbrushed Me (NAM). I don’t even know HOW I found them – or maybe they found me. I followed them and I loved the message they sent! It’s about living an authentic life. So many people “edit” their lives to only show the best on social media. One of the reasons I joined IG was because I didn’t have my mom on there so I could be more real – especially around the death of my dad. I needed some place I could “vent” as I worked through it. After a while, I needed it less for that and it was just everyday living – the good, the bad, and the ugly!

The biggest thing that NAM reinforces is loving yourself no matter what – no matter how “big” or “small” you are. No matter the cellulite, scars, stretch marks, blemishes… YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL!!! YOU don’t need to change – its society’s view of what’s beautiful that needs to change!

So this was the shift that really started me down this path. Loving and accepting my body unconditionally. To change because I love myself and because taking care of myself makes me happy! I started using positive affirmations and getting into Reiki more. I started doing yoga and adjusting my workouts. Trying to readjust things to get them more balanced – but not doing too much too fast to leave myself spinning.

And yet, through all this, I was still dealing with cravings and binge eating… but that’s okay. I just needed to be consistent. I needed to continue going to the gym, continue with my Reiki, continue with meditation and yoga… and, most importantly, if a binge happens, acknowledge it, forgive myself, and release it. And you know what? Things got easier! The binging became less frequent and less intense – most I could even resist! And even through the holidays, I allowed a few treats, but for the most part, it was perfectly acceptable! I certainly wasn’t going to punish myself for being human!

I started listening to my inner voice; my intuition. And from that, I decided to go Vegan. Something I’d played with over they years but never committed to as I was doing it for the wrong reasons. This time I was listening to my body – the very core of my being – and knew I could do it this time because it’s what my soul wanted and needs.

And all of this finally led me to what I’ve searched for; touched on, but never fully achieved: I wanted to help people. Other women. But not like I had done in the past as a Personal Trainer – though I’ll always have a passion for exercise – but on a deeper level. Helping women find their true passion and loving themselves unconditionally. I’ve received my Life Coaching certification and I’m working towards my BA in Psychology as I want to focus on eating disorders and addictions.

There comes a point in your life that you have to say “enough is enough!” and live your life how YOU want to. No one else is going to do it – despite everyone always having an opinion on what you should do. Everyone is going to judge, so you might as well do what you love; what makes you happy and sets your soul on fire. The most important thing in your life is YOU – not your husband or even your children, because, you know what? If you get sick or are depressed and unhappy, what good are you going to be to anyone else? If you are a happy, vibrant, energetic person – like you’re supposed to be! – then everyone wins! Everyone will benefit from your mood.

Do what makes you happy. Love yourself as you are – but if you want to change, do it out of love, not hate. Self-love has been the single most powerful tool I’ve discovered – and it took 41 years to find it.

More About Kaylee

Kaylee Norton is on a self-love journey. She is a proud ambassador or Non-Airbrushed Me, which is all about loving yourself.
Kaylee is also a military chick and gym addict. She is passionate about body positivity.