Cover story Makaia Carr shares her new body pos­i­tive mes­sage

For well­ness ad­vo­cate Makaia Carr, the mean­ing of health has changed a lot lately. She’s said good­bye to pun­ish­ing gym rou­tines and strict di­ets to fo­cus on a life­style that’s kinder for both body and soul – and she’s never been hap­pier, she tells Sara Bu

Good Health Choices - - Contents -

She may have spent years de­vel­op­ing a loyal on­line fol­low­ing and a strong so­cial me­dia brand, but it was one Face­book post in par­tic­u­lar that sig­nalled a turn­ing point for Makaia Carr. The post fea­tured two side-by-side pho­tos of the fit­ness fan, but this wasn’t your usual ‘be­fore and after’ pic­ture. In this ver­sion, the ‘after’ im­age showed Makaia al­most 20kg heav­ier, but with a bright smile and sense of pos­i­tiv­ity that was a world apart from the photo of her slim­mer self. In the most pub­lic of fo­rums, she vowed to never again pro­mote di­ets and weight loss, to love the skin she’s in, and to make her men­tal health a pri­or­ity.

And judg­ing by the re­sponse, the sen­ti­ment struck a chord with New Zealand women.

“The ‘be­fore and after’ post was the first time I sent the [body pos­i­tive] mes­sage out. I was so scared as I thought all the haters would ap­pear,” she says. “It reached more than a mil­lion peo­ple, there were about 20,000 com­ments, and only three were neg­a­tive. From that point on I re­alised more women need to hear th­ese pos­i­tive mes­sages, and it made me feel guilty about what mes­sages I’d pre­vi­ously been send­ing on so­cial me­dia.

All the ‘This is what fit looks like’, ‘It’s all about abs and work­ing out six times a week’. I thought, ‘How have I been mak­ing other women feel?’ So I de­cided to put my voice out there, to start shar­ing where I’m at right now and how I feel about my body.”

Hav­ing re­cently sold her pop­u­lar fit­ness busi­ness, Mo­ti­vate Me, Makaia now jug­gles run­ning her web­site with speak­ing events, ad­vis­ing busi­nesses about so­cial me­dia, and work­ing as an am­bas­sador for or­gan­i­sa­tions in­clud­ing Be Pure, Choice Ho­tels and Life­line. She’s also got a book deal in the works, and while her projects keep her busy, her ul­ti­mate goal is to be happy, healthy and true to her­self.

What made you change your so­cial me­dia fo­cus from ‘fit­spo’ to body pos­i­tive?

“A turn­ing point for me was watch­ing the doc­u­men­tary Em­brace [about ‘body loathing’]. That prompted the ‘be­fore and after’ post and was the start of the self-love fo­cus. It’s in­ter­est­ing, I’m get­ting

peo­ple who are say­ing, ‘You’re not fat enough to be talk­ing about this’, ‘You’re not body pos­i­tive’, and then there are the re­ally fit peo­ple say­ing, ‘It’s ir­re­spon­si­ble what you’re do­ing; you should be en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to ex­er­cise’. But for me it’s more about a men­tal mind­set, it’s about train­ing be­cause you love your­self, or eat­ing healthily be­cause you love your­self. It’s not beat­ing your­self up at the gym or overeat­ing be­cause you hate your­self.

What’s been the most im­por­tant as­pect of your health jour­ney so far?

First and fore­most – espe­cially in the past year – it’s been about putting my men­tal health first. To help stay fo­cused, I chose a word I could use all the time when I was just get­ting too wound up or frus­trated. My word this year has been ‘calm’. It’s a word I say to my­self every time I’m feel­ing stressed. Even just say­ing it, you can feel a bit calmer – when I say it I try to slow my breath­ing down and bring my­self back to now. It’s sim­ple but it’s re­ally pow­er­ful, and it’s about what you at­tach to that word – the emo­tions and mean­ing be­hind it. You can’t just sit there re­peat­ing it mind­lessly, but if you say ‘calm’ and then know your next step is a big, slow, deep breath, that gets you re­ally en­gaged in it.

How has your ex­pe­ri­ence with de­pres­sion shaped your views on well­be­ing?

I tore my ACL [knee lig­a­ment] last year play­ing net­ball, and had to have surgery. I hadn’t re­alised how much I was re­ly­ing on ex­er­cise as my ‘med­i­ca­tion’, but not be­ing able to ex­er­cise caused my de­pres­sion to come back. Then I com­bined it with the crap food, the al­co­hol, all th­ese things you do to try to make your­self feel good. They might lift you up in the short term, but then all the prob­lems come straight back.

I was in a bad space, so I went to my doc­tor and said, ‘I’m out of ideas, I need some help’. I was re­ally re­luc­tant to go on anti-de­pres­sion meds, but they changed

‘I de­cided to put my­self out there, to start shar­ing where I’m at right now’

my life. The med­i­ca­tion has helped bring me back to a place where I can op­er­ate prop­erly and make bet­ter de­ci­sions for my­self. I find when you take away neg­a­tiv­ity, you start open­ing your­self up to op­por­tu­ni­ties; you start hav­ing that re­spect for your­self and you want to do things that show you value your­self. You start look­ing at things from the per­spec­tive of ‘you’re enough’, and that’s awe­some.

What are your top tips for man­ag­ing stress?

There is a lot of ad­vice out there, like go to a yoga class and be more mind­ful, but some­times you need to have a change of scene too. My hus­band and I try to go away reg­u­larly, and we make sure we’re ac­tu­ally hav­ing some time off. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, and you can do things like fam­ily ac­tiv­i­ties, go on a hike, and take a digital detox at the same time. Of­ten peo­ple go away on hol­i­day but are still fully at­tached to work, to so­cial me­dia, de­vices, the daily grind, and still or­gan­is­ing stuff back at home. We’re not hav­ing a break and leav­ing every­thing be­hind, which can be a huge de-stres­sor.

I saw a sur­vey that said 71 per cent of Kiwi women and 60 per cent of men re­ported feel­ing stressed [‘Need a Break’ Report, Choice Ho­tels]. The top three stres­sors were pretty un­der­stand­able: money, ca­reer and fam­ily is­sues, but for women house­work was a big thing too

and that didn’t rate for men!

I feel a lot of women don’t openly ac­knowl­edge that they’re stressed. They might say, ‘I’m crazy busy’ , but they’ll never say, ‘I’m not cop­ing’ or ‘There’s too much on my plate’. It’s at the point where if peo­ple aren’t stressed out they start to think, ‘Have I done enough to­day? What am I miss­ing?’ It’s a worry, that we feel like we have to be maxed out every day, to feel like we’re of value.

What are some of the key well­be­ing con­cerns you keep hear­ing from women?

The most com­mon dis­cus­sion points on my Face­book page are around body im­age. Peo­ple say, ‘When I’ve lost 20kg I’m go­ing to do this’ , or ‘I can’t wait to do that but I need to lose some weight first.’ It’s this mind­set of ‘I have to drop weight be­fore I’m let­ting my­self do some­thing’, and I think it’s re­ally sad and frus­trat­ing. So many emo­tions come from a com­ment like that.

There are also a lot of dis­cus­sions about peo­ple think­ing their life­styles aren’t good enough. Com­ments like, ‘I can never af­ford to do that’. It’s this com­par­i­son with oth­ers all the time, which some­times can be meant as a judge­ment to the other per­son as well. It’s so­cial me­dia that drives this sort of dis­cus­sion, be­cause it of­ten wouldn’t hap­pen in per­son.

For some­one like me, whose whole ca­reer has been de­vel­oped over so­cial me­dia for the past five years, I’ve got a real thing with it. It can be so good and yet so bad; it’s re­ally dou­ble-edged.

‘I find that when you take away neg­a­tiv­ity, you start open­ing your­self up to op­por­tu­ni­ties’

How has so­cial me­dia im­pacted on our modern lives, and on our health?

I think so­cial me­dia is driv­ing a lot of that stress among women, espe­cially young women. Face­book has been around for 14 years, and we’re in a stage where we’re more de­vel­oped around how we fil­ter in­for­ma­tion and what we take on, but the younger gen­er­a­tion aren’t. They grew up with so­cial me­dia ev­ery­where, with­out any ed­u­ca­tion around the re­al­i­ties of it, and they think it’s the world.

In­sta­gram is about eight years old, and we’re now see­ing the ef­fects of that on chil­dren who have grown up with it from a very young age. What are they see­ing or think­ing is nor­mal for a girl to look like, be­have like and share? It has opened up a whole new per­spec­tive for us as women; we need to love our­selves and have this beau­ti­ful, pos­i­tive self-im­age and em­brace who we are, but also pass that on to our daugh­ters.

My daugh­ter is 12, my son is 19, and that gen­er­a­tion needs to un­der­stand that what you see on so­cial me­dia every day is not what you have to look like as a wo­man, and it’s not nec­es­sar­ily the typ­i­cal women you’re go­ing to be sur­rounded by. So­cial me­dia is in our face 24/7, but we have to let young peo­ple know that you don’t have to buy into it.

Makaia’s post that got peo­ple talk­ing

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