How this fitness guru overcame a ‘toxic’ relationship with body image and movement: ‘I thought my life was over’

Kelly Brabants on rediscovering her love for her body and movement. (Rachael Lynsey; designed by Quinn Lemmers) It Figures is Yahoo Life’s body image series, delving into the journeys of influential and inspiring figures as they explore what body confidence, body neutrality and self-love mean to them.

Perfectionism is a difficult standard for Kelly Brabants to look past after growing up as a dancer surrounded by girls of different statures in teeny leotards whose reflections were amplified by the many mirrors that walled the rooms she was often in. But even though she is a fitness professional who has built an empire from her brand Booty by Brabants , that standard is exactly what she strives to do away with.

Born and raised in Boston, Mass., Brabants belonged to an Irish-Brazilian family who taught her to embrace her background and the very curves that her mother’s side of the family gave her. As she looked around her dance classes as a young girl, however, the body acceptance that was demonstrated at home was challenged.

"I’ve always had Brazilian curves, I always had a butt and thighs. Even when I was tiny, I always had more curves than the other ballerinas that I was dancing with or the other dancers in the room. So at a young age, without even realizing, I was playing a comparison game," she explains. "With costumes, for example, just seeing the different sizes of costumes that everyone had to wear and realizing that everyone had different body types."

Brabants explains that she was never "overweight," but instead had an athletic build that helped her as a dancer. Still, 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 to eat "healthier" in an effort to lose weight.

"In high school is when my body started to change even more. I just didn’t fit that perfect physique that everyone thought that you needed in the dance world where you had to be stick skinny and like 6 feet tall to be considered a ballerina," she says. "There was always a mold that I felt like I had to fit into, whether it be longer or thinner legs. I constantly wanted to be something else instead of just embracing where I was at and just trying to thrive with the body that I had."

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