When it comes to fitness on social media, we tend to be inundated with the same images: Thin bodies. Flat abs. Tight butts. In short, “perfect” bodies or at least, to society’s standards anyway. On Instagram, the idea of “fit” only looks a certain way, leaving many people especially women of color out of the picture.
But Lita Lewis, a fitness influencer based out of L.A., is teaching women how to love their bodies no matter what. With over 500 thousand followers on Instagram, the 35-year-old Aussie has inspired many by using #ThickFit and hosting boot camps all around the country. She wants to show the world that women that “fit” comes in different shapes and sizes.
Lewis is so passionate about what she does because for a long time she didn’t fully embrace her muscular frame. It took her some time and she understands what many other women go through when it comes to self-acceptance.
Shadow League contributor and fitness instructor Adele Jackson-Gibson spoke with Lita about that journey, how she moved through depression to self-love and how fitness can be a form of activism. Here’s to real #BlackGirlStrength.
Adele: So when were kids, we dont typically think of getting fit or fitness at all. We tend to think “I’m playing”. But I know everyones different. What was your relationship like to fitness when you were young?
Lita: My relationship with fitness started with sports at a really young age. My mom will recant stories often about how active of a child I was. She would throw me into sports just simply so she could get a break. So to me, it was just common sense and just second nature to be active.
I actually excelled in track and field at a young age. It became a little more serious to me when I was going to state and national track meets and making top three in my events. By 16, the track became my life.
#flashback: my first role model, inspiration and leader of our tribe. I miss you and miss you again! Homesick #mama & #millilita #lilali3 #polynesianqueen #robertstuitama
2,676 Likes, 48 Comments – Lita Lewis (@followthelita) on Instagram: “#flashback: my first role model, inspiration and leader of our tribe. I miss you and miss you…”
Adele: That’s amazing. What events did you run?
Lita: I ran the 100, 200, the 4×100 relay and the long jump.
Adele: Awesome! I did the same thing. This is interesting because I know at that time, you were not so in love with your body. You talk a lot about how people used to call you thick and you hated it. At the same time, you and your bodys abilities were being validated on the track I can relate to those conflicting feelings.
Lita: Yeah. I was an African American girl/Polynesian girl growing up in suburban Australia. I was one of three people of color in my entire high school.
Adele: Wow. Really?
Lita: Yeah so I did carry a much different body frame than everybody else. I had these round deltoids and big quadriceps. So I was always sort of referred to as “little fit chick”. It never sat with me. When you feel vulnerable and you’re growing into your own skin, being different is not necessarily a cool thing. That was always kind of a struggle for me , especially in my teen years. Trying to be somewhat feminine but then have to deal with having a muscular body. I sort of just took that as a negative, which Im sad to admit.
Adele: Like you said, though, thats kind of a common experience for young women who are trying to figure out how to love themselves.
Lita: But you know what helped? My mother is Polynesian and half my family on her side are built like brick houses. All thick, powerful people. Many of them played professional rugby and were phenomenal athletes. So back home, my body was always normal. It really is a sense of pride to say that I am Samoan and I don’t take that very lightly. Often here in the States, people refer to me as black. And Im proud to be black. But I’m also quick to say I’m Polynesian, too.
3,753 Likes, 80 Comments – Lita Lewis (@followthelita) on Instagram: “Oh, hello #thickthighssavelives”
Adele: I’m also wondering if your move to Brooklyn changed your body image. I can imagine that you were surrounded by more black women like yourself?
Lita: Absolutely. It might sound funny but I remember when I just moved to the States how Id get goosebumps from just by seeing other women of color walk by me.
Also here the idea of being voluptuous or curvy was something that was highly favored by the opposite sex. The idea of being thick was a good thing. So with my fitness brand, thats how the idea of “Thick Fit” came about and something that I started using on social media.
Adele: The way you blew up on social media is amazing. I read that you had no intention to get to become an Instagram influencer. What do you think clicked?
Lita: Yeah no intention at all really. It was very surprising and also a blessing. I started using social media, specifically Instagram, when I wasn’t in a very good place in my life. I would use it like an open diary where I was just posting things that made me feel better like fitness. I never set out to help other people. I turned to fitness very … broken and it was essentially the only thing that gave me any type of sense of confidence. Soon I started traveling. I started reading. I started meditating. I started praying.
In posting about these things, I started receiving DMs from women from all walks of life that would start like Hey, Lita. Youve helped me to Women would share incredibly inspiring stories about how they’ve evolved and turned hard times into triumphs. I was just absolutely flabbergasted and stunned by the impact and the influence that I was having on perfect strangers. I started looking at social media very differently since then.
Qu: Describe your favorite type of workout? Me: Let me show you! . #legday #funday . Music: “Hot Boyz” Missy E Gym: @niketraining, Los Angeles
2,784 Likes, 63 Comments – Lita Lewis (@followthelita) on Instagram: “Qu: Describe your favorite type of workout? Me: Let me show you! . #legday #funday . Music: “Hot…”
Adele: I know you were experiencing some dark depression during that time of your life, and many people such as yourself say theyve used fitness to help them recover from mental illness. But I know it wasnt that simple for you and many other people for that matter. I mean at some point in your journey, the gym was a harmful place for you.
Lita: Yeah. In the beginning, I became addicted to the gym in a very unhealthy way. It was the only thing that made me feel a certain way outside of feeling sorry for myself or depressed or thinking of hurting myself. So I would go to the gym every day after work and put in a minimum of two and a half to three hours, just going crazy.
At the lowest point of my depression, I had dropped 30 pounds in less than three months. I looked very gaunt. And when I started working out, not only was I growing lean muscle, I had also finally got my appetite back. My body looked strong, athletic essentially healthy. However, I would still go home and cry myself to sleep every night without fail.
Adele: So then what did it take for you to feel happy again?
Lita: I had to change things up. I continued to still be active, but I started reading a whole lot. I was the one who wrote positive affirmations on Post-its and posted them all over my apartment. I created vision boards. I got into meditative practices. Praying. I became very, very particular about the energy that I kept. I lost a lot of friends in the process because I only wanted to be around positive people that weren’t wasting their time gossiping or talking about the last man that broke their heart or B.S. like that.
And then slowly, I realized that my mental conscious kept growing lighter. Gradually, it no longer mattered to me how much I squatted or how much I was curling. To me, optimum health was more important. Thats my mental, emotional, spiritual as well as physical health.
#tbt On this day @guyfernandezjr and I hiked Bear Mountain, NY. Admittedly under my direction we got lost, very lost, in fact we found ourselves on a trail we later discovered led to the state of Georgia. This is our story: . I beg Guy to join me on a hike upstate NY. Guy, against his better judgement finally agrees. I’m hype. We arrive and get basic instructions from the Rangers then hit the trail confidently. We get to the very top of the mountain peak …and pose for consecutive selfies many of which were against Guy’s wishes. . We then realize rain was approaching so we decide to head back. Only “down” meant up a little farther then I recall suggesting to go right. Guy debates me, he remembers the Ranger instructing us to take the left (but who really knows! ) We go right, hike for another 3.5 hours (something seemed odd since it only took 1.5hr to get to the top ) . Before too long we grew tired, hangry then highly pissed (mainly at one another!) We definitely were disturbing the peace up in that forrest. . Finally found a “pro” hiker man equipped with every gadget a hiker would need to hike to Georgia who kindly gave us instructions back to a main road. . Found the road, called an Uber, rode back to our vehicle and Guy vowed to never go hiking with me again. LOL Ohhhhh the memories!! At least we looked cute in our @thickathletics_apparel
8,775 Likes, 145 Comments – Lita Lewis (@followthelita) on Instagram: “#tbt On this day @guyfernandezjr and I hiked Bear Mountain, NY. Admittedly under my direction we…”
Adele: So you talk about how you approached depression holistically, but what perspective do you have on medication?
Lita: I am not a doctor. However, because total wellness has helped me cure myself I definitely am an advocate for holistic means in order to pull yourself out of a bad place. There are different ways we can move our bodies, ways that we can feed our minds that will always be my primary go-to versus taking a pill. It’s worked for me and I’ve been in a very dark place where I have thought about hurting myself. I always say, “If I could do it, anybody can.” It’s just a realization in discovering self-love first and foremost that can aid you in the right direction.
Adele: You call yourself self-love ambassador right?
Adele: Well I want to talk to you about that because there was one quote that you posted the other day that really struck me: “Narcissists are lonely, lovers blossom.” I think there’s some confusion about what self-love actually is. To some people, it means being conceited. But what is your definition of self-love?
Lita: For me, self-love is something that we should all recognize from a positive perspective. How I define self-love? It means that above all else, you choose yourself to lead and maintain a happy lifestyle. And what that means for me will be very different for the next person. So I leave the definition of happiness really up those who want to define it for themselves.
Adele: Well, how do you practice self-love?
Lita: I have to give myself quality time with myself. I share life with my boyfriend who’s the most amazing partner, but even he knows that sometimes I need to be left alone. I need to take a walk or be still. I love spending time in nature and detaching myself from the hustle-bustle to breathe. I also need to spend time and connect with family. Sometimes that just means on WhatsApp and just sharing GIFs and pictures. And of course, self-love for me means moving my body and treating my body with love. If I am angry, my boyfriend will often say, “Wait, have you worked out yet? Or have you eaten yet?” Because if those things don’t happen, you might not catch me in the best light.
Adele: It seems like you’ve really mastered or are mastering your emotions in the sense you know that they are showing you what it is you need to do to be happy. That’s a really important skill to have.
Lita: It’s just a learning of self. I don’t think Ive mastered it. Ive just spent enough time with myself to realize what is important in my life. I think a lot of people go through life without realizing the magnitude of what that can actually mean for you and your well-being.
Humbled. My problems are small in comparison to my gratitude for life. Problems minuscule, gratitude colossal! There is no better time to be reminder of this then when I am completely surrounded by nature. . . . I practically have to drag @guyfernandezjr to do these things with me lol, he was irritated by me wanting to hug every tree and kiss every stone …and hike without a map @guyfernandezjr . #sequoianationalpark #gianttrees #naturegirl #outdooradventures @myfreedomretreat #myfreedomretreat2018
1,522 Likes, 15 Comments – Lita Lewis (@followthelita) on Instagram: “Humbled. My problems are small in comparison to my gratitude for life. Problems minuscule,…”
Adele: Very well said. Who is your favorite athlete right now?
Lita: I think one of my favorite athletes of all time is Serena Williams. She’s tough to trump. She not only is literally the best in the world at what she does, she’s also somebody that we can identify with. She is “the other” in her field and yet shes the best. That’s what I absolutely love and respect. She carries a thicker frame. She’s a woman of color. And now, as someone who does look to other chapters in my life where I strive to be a mother one day, she’s now a mother and now balancing being a professional athlete, her career and other avenues of business and now a family, a wife, a mother. I’m just inspired by her overall not just what she brings to the court.
If you missed this, here goes! The GOAT, @serenawilliams shared this and I for one was left with goosebumps. Can anyone remember having this amount of focus, discipline and passion for something? Anything?! The level of respect I have for anyone willing to give 100% effort is ten fold. . In a time where they reward kids for losing in sporting events I can’t help but think about the old days where we were taught old fashion tough love. And although we knew everyone is worthy we knew that not everyone will have what it takes to come in #1. What did that teach us?! It drove us to give more, to dedicate hours to our craft, it taught us how to be disciplined, made us resilient, have tough skin and it also taught us to have a deeper appreciation for talent and work ethic, it taught us to be humble. Which in turn made us overall better humans. . This video to me means more than a motivating NIKE commercial, it sparked an old fashioned memory of what it costs to be the BEST and the importance and significance of a fathers love and guidance. . Much respect to you queen @serenawilliams. One of my favorite athletes of all time! #giveeverything #goat #justdoit #reallifesuperhero @nike @nikewomen
4,028 Likes, 81 Comments – Lita Lewis (@followthelita) on Instagram: “If you missed this, here goes! The GOAT, @serenawilliams shared this and I for one was left with…”
Adele: So many people have compared Serena to Muhammad Ali for being the GOAT and I think underneath all of that praise is a nod towards the impact shes had on society. Weve seen athletes take up social causes. Youre a trainer, do you believe that fitness can be a form of activism?
Lita: That’s kind of a loaded question, right? I exist in more of an influence phase of health and fitness so I’m motivating women to move and honor their bodies. I think that can absolutely be defined as activism depending on whether youre looking at activism broadly or narrowly. As soon as you asked that question, I thought of the NBA where many athletes got together and stood for something. I think for me there’s definitely a level of activism in sharing a message with the masses. So to answer your question in short: Yes. Absolutely.