By Jill Farr
It’s a feeling that many women have felt before; the sensation of eyes on you in a group class, when you’re either the biggest or least fit girl in the bunch.
When Victoria Lewis had that experience, however, she turned it around...dramatically.
“The gym where I go, Equinox, pretty much everyone there is in awesome shape,” Victoria shares.
“I remember in the beginning, in one class, I was so frustrated because it was so difficult for me and I was exhausted. I remember I felt like this woman that was in great shape kept staring at me, like what is she doing here? Part of me wanted to leave and go in the bathroom and cry. And then I just said, “No, how about I give her something to stare at, instead?” So I just whipped off my shirt and worked harder. Remember who you’re there for. Turn your haters into motivators!”
"How about I give her something to stare at!"
That spirit of self-encouragement kept Victoria going to Equinox, and trying new things, fitness-wise.
“I do kettlebell classes, I love boxing,” Victoria says. “I go to a class called Rumble, Barry's Boot Camp...New York City is great for being able to try the newest, latest greatest workout and change it up!”
“I’m just a girl that goes to the gym.”
As a plus size model for more than a decade, with the Ford and Wilhelmina modeling agencies, Victoria is accustomed to challenging traditional cultural standards when it comes to beauty ideals. Now, she applies that same spirit of contestation to the ideal that fitness just has one or a few shapes and sizes.
“I call myself "curvy fit",” Victoria says. “I really believe that healthy can come in various shapes and sizes. You don't have to have a six pack to be in shape, nor should it deter you from working out.”
Understanding the difference in visible results and accepting those variances aside, Victoria champions the power of fitness for increasing quality of life in a number of areas.
“You know, I never used to believe it (fitness) played much of a factor but it really does!” Victoria says.
“I read a lot of books about successful people and one of the common habits that they all have is working out and usually in the morning. It teaches you not to just rely on motivation, but habit. Self discipline. And those things bleed into other aspects of your life, such as diet, relationships, and work. People see someone that takes care of themselves and puts themselves first in a completely different light. They know you will not tolerate anything less than what you're worth!”
For Victoria, discovering that path to increased self worth wasn’t particularly easy.
“Well, in the beginning I really didn't love working out,” Victoria says. “I hate being on a treadmill. I love to eat, I love to drink, love to vacation.”
“At my heaviest, however, I really had had enough. I started at Equinox--I really love the instructors there. But honestly, even working out 4-5 days a week not much was changing because my diet and alcohol intake wasn't changing. I finally realized it has to be an all encompassing lifestyle. I'm definitely not perfect now, but much better.”
Loving your body’s shape and size as it is, right now--and loving to eat, drink and vacation--isn’t incompatible with a fitness focus, and Victoria is the embodiment of a balanced approach that looks toward exercise as a means to health, not just a particular body that looks like someone else’s.
That said, Victoria is one of the first to admit that the aesthetic effects of working out--particularly weight training--are a bonus she enjoys.
“I believe all women should incorporate weights into their workouts and there is a plethora of reasons why,” Victoria says. “Mainly because as we get older we have to keep muscle up to remain healthy and strong. But hey, I don't see a damn thing wrong with enjoying looking good. We work our asses off for it!”
If you’re in the place where she was, at the beginning, feeling like the fit folk are staring holes through you, Victoria wants to encourage you to keep your focus where it belongs...on you.
“I would say everyone has to start somewhere,” Victoria says. “If you feel you are at rock bottom the only place you have to go is up, right? You need to decide you are WORTH the time and effort it takes to feel and look strong and to be proud and confident in who you are and how you look. Doesn't every woman deserve that in life?”
“If you feel intimidated by other people at the gym I would say remember why you walk through the door and focus on yourself.”
You can find Victoria on Instagram at @viva_victoria