GOFITJO: body positivity

When it comes to self image and body positivity, Instagram can be a rather discouraging place to turn for inspiration. It's so easy to get sucked in to social media and to find yourself feeling completely overwhelmed by the saturation of content that insists our appearance must adhere to a specific standard. Joanne Encarnacion, better known as @GoFitJo is an admirable leader in the health + wellness sphere, and she's taking back her power and calling bullshit. 

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The thing about Jo is that she's the kind of blogger who resonates. Not because she resembles mainstream ideals, but because she's the kind of influencer who feels more like a friend who makes you feel empowered. She radiates authenticity, not just in way of her fitness routine or eating habits, but in all facets of her life. Furthermore, she's honest to core and she's wildly inspirational. 

When I attended Create & Cultivate LA in February, Jo sat down in the row in front of me, and I recognized her instantaneously. When I finally came around to embracing my inner fan-girl and asked for a picture, she couldn't have been more gracious or kind. 

Jo strikes me as the kind of woman that the world (desperately) needs more of. She talks honestly about the ups and downs, sharing her personal struggles in way of self love, body image, relationships and more, and ultimately cultivates a community that exudes a realness that is contagious. She took the time to share her thoughts with me in way of body positivity, self image, confidence and beauty, and I hope it inspires you as much as it inspired me. 

VV: Jo, you’re a leader in the health + wellness field in addition to being a quintessential badass. What’s been the apex of your self-image journey to date?

JE: WOW!! Apex…hmmm, I feel like its so hard to place one thing on that pedestal but I think one that comes to mind would be the moment I saw my stretch marks as badges of honor rather than imperfections. 

VV: One of the reasons I initially gravitated towards your Instagram was that you were so real about your journey. You’ve always had this tremendous ability to be so transparent with your followers, and it really seems that you’re cultivating a new attitude and a new kind of conversation around self image. What inspired you to forge ahead in your own way?

JE: I’ve always believed in transparency and that proverbial saying of “the truth can set you free”. I chose to show up and share all sides of my story because I was so tired of feeling alone when I clearly knew that out of 7billion people inhabiting this planet that I wasn’t. I also wanted to slowly reshape the current state of social media where things seemed to be this overly cute wrapped up with a bow version of our fitness/wellness journeys. So many people were sharing how amazing they felt and no one was sharing their struggle. Some days I’m weaker than others and other days I’m strong as hell. I am both sides and I wanted to honor that and show others that they can honor that too. 

VV: What advice do you have for cultivating a positive self image and embracing the mentality of loving your whole self?

JE: My biggest advice I think is to start seeing yourself as whole rather than in segmented pieces. I feel like most of the time we see ourselves as parts and we’re trying desperately to fix one part. Its sorta like when they tell you that you can’t target train a specific area in the body. Its the same thing you can’t love on just one part of the yourself and expect to embrace your whole self. 

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VV: How do fitness and wellness work in your own life to complement one another? 

JE: Ahh well I think to me our bodies crave movement and that allows us to feel well and whole. So whatever you choose to do as far as fitness goes, do that and move your soul.

VV: What’s your reaction to recent brand initiatives that are instigating a different narrative? Like Darling Magazine’s “No Woman In This Magazine Has Been Retouched” and Aerie’s commitment to featuring unedited photography? How might these efforts work to inaugurate change in the long term?

JE: I’m so in love with it and so proud of magazines that are starting to really take a stand and changing the narrative of the female body. There’s too much perfection showcased and it really doesn’t give us any room to grow, learn, and cultivate that strong sense of self that society demands so much of. 

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VV: When you start to feel discouragement and self doubt sink in, how do you silence the negativity and get back on track? 

JE: Truthfully some days I suppress the feelings and its honestly so terrible! I hate it, but other days when I’m feeling like my inner strength can champion strong for me I think about all the things I’m grateful for and focus my heart and love into that. Gratitude has been such a practice for me and I’ve seen the greatest impact on my self worth when I’m practicing daily. 

VV: Where do you turn for inspiration? In life, in style, in wellness, etc. 

JE: I turn to fellow bloggers and friends when it comes to inspiration for work/blog. But for other things in life I honestly turn inwards for inspiration. I draw from my own personal experiences to help fill that area. But there are other times when I go to museums or galleries to find inspiration for my creative heart.

VV: How do you keep yourself inspired and maintain motivation once you’re in a groove? 

JE: OMG this one is challenging but I think once the momentum is there its hard to stop. 

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VV: Ariana Huffington’s Thrive Global named you one of the top 20 new health + wellness role models. What’s the biggest message you want to share with your followers?

JE: That self love is the key to owning your wellness journey. 

VV: #RelentlessyBeautiful is something you reference frequently in your posts. What does relentless beauty mean to you? How would you encourage other women to unleash the things that make them feel relentlessly beautiful?

JE: I am the most beautiful when I can unleash my inner goddess to be openly honest with her fears, her frustrations, her dreams, her hopes, her everything. I feel the most beautiful when I’m speaking to other women about empowerment, inner growth, and spiritual change. I feel the most beautiful when I can be who I am despite my curves and my edges. I don't need to be understood by everyone or accepted or even loved by everyone. I just want to be loved by me, THIS IS when I feel the most beautiful. My challenge to other women is to look within themselves and honor what makes them feel the most beautiful, despite what society says. 

WOMEN BUILD WOMEN

Sarah Sharp is a woman of wit and grace. She could be described as the best friend or sister that you wish you had and never knew how much you needed. I had the honor to pick her brain and now get to share some of her indispensable wisdom.

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VV. Tell us a bit about yourself

SS. My name is Sarah Sharp. I grew up in a suburb outside of Portland, Oregon, where most of my family still lives. Now I live and work in Brooklyn, where I’m a copywriter at an advertising agency. Besides those things I like to cook, tweet about my feelings, blog (sometimes), I'm learning to embroider, and about to buy a new sewing machine.

VV. As a woman working in the advertising industry, what have you learned?

SS. I genuinely feel like I’m learning all the time. Gross, I know. I think it’s always that way; you just have to keep getting better. I’d say I’ve grown most in the strategic part of being a “creative,” like how to present to people I’m intimidated by; how to defend work I believe in; how to accept feedback graciously, or get what I need via carefully worded email. I’m still learning this stuff, but it’s honing these more administrative skills that lets your actual work, the ideas you have, get better and really shine.

VV. What has been one of your proudest moments?

SS. I think the moments I've been most proud of myself are small ones that symbolize a lot. I’m sentimental that way.

There was a time last spring, leaving work in that perfect not-quite-summer New York sunshine. My partner and I had finished a really productive day and the weather had us in great spirits, so we went to a nearby bar where they put an apple and a half into a juicer and juice it into a glass already half full of whiskey and you drink two and need to lie down. Anyway, we went there and had some of those apple juice drinks and an appetizer and then went our separate ways. As I was wandering through soho by myself I realized that I was just really happy. The sun was still out, I was wearing a new dress, and I had no plans. It had been a tough year—moving to a new city, getting my first real job, going through a breakup. I didn't realize how exhausting it all was until I was through it, noticing for the first time in that sunny spring moment that I had made it, that I had been making it for a while.

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VV. What would you like to see change for women in the working world?

SS. I want to see socialized feminine traits valued the same way socialized masculine traits are. It’s totally fine for women to “lean in,” but we set women up for failure when we suggest that being more traditionally masculine is the way to solve inequality, not least because it isn’t the sole job of women to dismantle inequality, but of course, because women are judged more harshly than men when they’re assertive and outspoken like we tell them to be. It’s a trap, and a mental gerbil’s wheel that gets us nowhere. And most of all: women have grown up in the same world but lived very different lives from their male counterparts. We have different skills and perspectives because of that, and they are incredibly valuable! I want women to be able to own their experience and perspective, and bring their best qualities to the table, even if they’re considered feminine. For this to happen, we have to start acknowledging all the structural bias we give more masculine traits, and make space for all types of humans on the gender spectrum to be successful.

VV. Do you have any words of advice for women and in what ways do you think that women can continue to build each other up and empower one another?

SS. Two things. One: let yourself acknowledge when things are hard or fucked up. It’s important to take time to be disappointed, angry, and just fucking annoyed sometimes, especially with someone who can relate. Sometimes all you want is for someone else to say, “Wow, that’s so unfair. I’ve experienced that too. I’m sorry.” Find that person. You can only understand the powers at be if you acknowledge they exist. You can only protect yourself, and advocate for a safer, more inclusive world if you’re honest about the need for those things. You need a safe space to have those feelings and conversations. I think we owe that to ourselves and each other.

Being a professional while compensating for privileges you don’t have is exhausting, but it’s also a type of resistance training that pays off. Processing this stuff makes you smarter. Understanding how the world works, how power works, makes you more insightful. Feeling the need for change makes you more generous. I have to believe those things win.

VV. You have a witty and humorous twitter, what inspires these tweets?

SS. I tell people on the internet my stupidest jokes and most embarrassing personal stories and in return I get validation. It’s kind of like, who needs a significant other?

Honestly, it’s a good way to practice brevity and it’s helped me develop my voice a lot. I hate that I just said that, god.

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VV. You share your own blog posts with some beautiful insights and intimate thoughts, what inspires you to write these?

SS. At work, most of the writing I do is for presentation slides. I’m stupidly optimistic so I will say that presentation writing is somewhat of an art and it has made me sharper. But in college I was writing pages and pages and pages, making up whatever arguments I wanted about female character development or why exactly a painting could make me nostalgic. I miss being able to stretch an idea over several thousand words—just to have that much space to play with.

I’ve loved writing since I was a kid, but it just occured to me in the last couple of years that I can actually sit down and write about personal things that are challenging me, and get somewhere, find a coherent argument along the way. I like sharing that stuff because, as with twitter, I like validation. I’m sort of joking, but I do like hearing or seeing that other people feel the same way or appreciate what I have to say. That’s always nice.

VV. As a writer what would you say to other women pursuing writing?

SS. Hm. I’m going to give advice I need to take, which is: just start calling yourself a writer and then write, and then keep writing—even if you’re worried you aren’t that good or that you have nothing new to say.

I learned to ski when I was five and fearless. Now I’m a competent, even good, skier but I’m also a fully-formed adult who understands physical pain and hospital bills. If I tried to learn to ski now, I’d be so afraid.

You’re probably never going be less afraid of starting than you are right now. The vulnerability, the distinct flavor of failure and rejection, your own internal pressure to be better—these are constants. Take a deep breath, remember that literally every person who writes first decided they were allowed to take up that space, to put that title by their name, and do the same even if you feel like you’re faking it.

If you’re already doing all this keep going and please give me advice.

VV. Any final thoughts?

SS. Thanks for having me! Follow me on twitter. Kidding. Sort of. @sarahissharp

VV. Seriously, follow this gal on Twitter and while you're at it, check out her blog. You won't regret it!