How this health guru overcame a ‘poisonous’ relationship with physique picture and motion


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 that explores the journeys of influential and inspiring personalities as they explore what body awareness, body neutrality, and self-love mean to them.

Perfectionism is a hard-to-miss standard for Kelly Brabants after growing up a dancer, surrounded by girls of different stature in teeny leotards, whose reflections were enhanced by the many mirrors that walled the rooms she often dwelt in. But even though she’s a gym professional who has built an empire with her Booty by Brabants brand, that very standard is what she’s aiming to do away with.

Born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, Brabants belonged to an Irish-Brazilian family who taught her to embrace her background and the curves that the motherly side of the family gave her. However, when she looked around her dance classes as a young girl, the body acceptance exhibited at home was questioned.

“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 room. So at a young age, without realizing it, I played a comparison game, “she explains.” With costumes, for example, just seeing the different sizes of costumes everyone had to wear and realizing that everyone had different body types . “

Brabants explains that she was never “overweight” but had an athletic figure that helped her as a dancer. Yet she struggled to exist in a space where certain body types were idealized. She was even pressured by teachers to go to the gym and eat “healthier” diets in order to lose weight.

“My body started to change even more in high school. I just didn’t fit the perfect build that everyone thought was needed in the dance world where you have to be thin and six feet tall, to be considered a ballerina, “she says. “There was always a shape I had to fit in, whether it was longer or thinner legs. I wanted to be something different all the time, instead of just looking at where I was and just trying to work with the body I had to thrive. ” . “

The story goes on

Ultimately, the pressure literally broke when Brabants, aged just 18, suffered a severe fatigue fracture in two places on her back. “I had a back brace for a year and it was really traumatic,” she says. “I had to miss so much of my junior and senior years [of high school]. “

For someone who relied on exercise for so many years before that moment, she also had to reassess the way she treated her body after she was healed. That eventually meant she was leaving her dream of pursuing dance as a career behind after feeling that so much of the trip had become “toxic”.

“I thought it was the worst decision of my life. I thought my life was over,” she recalls. To her surprise, however, it was the push she needed to restore the relationship she had with both her body and her movement.

Without the pressure to look particular, Brabants quickly began rediscovering movement by practicing movement to improve their mental health. From then on, her perspective on her body began to change.

“Instead of just thinking about having six packs or being slim, exercising became my stress reliever,” she says. “I’ve really changed completely as a person. I just felt healthier.”

She also strived to feel happier by bringing more joy into her exercises and incorporating the parts of the dance that she loved without exceeding her limits.

“I was yelled at by dance teachers and made to cry all the time. I was pushed to my absolute limit where my feet were bleeding because I wasn’t allowed to wear dance shoes,” she says. “I’ve been pushed to so many limits and everything it’s ever done hurt me. It takes the fun out of me and it works. And I think fitness should be fun.”

Brabants kept the same things in mind when they started training clients and courses. So much of her growth, she explains, is due to the things she learned from the people who participated in her workouts and the challenges she hoped to overcome in their personal lives. “I realized that the main reason people come back to me is because of the connection I make with them,” she says. “I felt like I was her therapist in a way.”

Even while building the Booty by Brabants brand – which now consists of sportswear, accessories, a line of natural energy drinks and a virtual training platform – the 31-year-old continues to strive to embrace inclusivity through her 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 it, ”she says. “Confidence doesn’t have to be around the clock, 365 days a year. It’s an exercise for me.”

She has even started to see imperfection and insecurity as her strength – something she previously thought was impossible as a public figure in the fitness arena.

“I’m proud of my struggles and proud of my vulnerability, and that builds my confidence,” said Brabants. “I think that it is especially important for fitness professionals to normalize the good and the bad days and to be transparent about both.”