Known as @thebirdspapaya on Instagram, Sarah Nicole, 33, has been documenting her life for the last 5+ years and has gained a loyal following thanks to her relatable relationship with her body (she currently has more than 75K followers). Scroll through her feed and you’ll see a mix of family pics, well-styled photos as well as vulnerable images of her “flaws.”
I met Sarah as part of the Nike Air Society, where we got together once a week with a group of inspiring women with the intention to ‘Live, Run, and Train’ toward personal growth and inspired by the lifestyle shoe of the summer, the Nike Air Max 270. As a new mom myself, I was inspired by Sarah’s attitude toward her postpartum body (a positive attitude that she admits took several years). After having three children in her early 20s, Sarah found her weight had crept up to 225 lbs. She acknowledged she wasn’t happy and that she was actually missing out on doing things with her kids. Fast forward to today and she’s got an amazingly fresh perspective on her body and is inspiring other women along the way. So, how did she get here? Read on for her story.
When did you realize you wanted or needed to make a change in your life? Tell me about that ‘aha’ moment.
“It was actually three ‘aha’ moments! The first was when I moved back to my hometown and I lost my anonymity in public. I felt shame and realized that it was because I was so unhealthy and hadn’t been taking care of myself. The next was noting that I wasn’t participating in my kid’s childhood. I was exhausted, always on the sidelines and just not living. The final one was when a photo was posted of me on Facebook that really woke me up to how much weight I’d gained and how out of control my health had gotten.”
(Sarah isn’t alone. According to a Dove self-esteem survey, 86 percent of Canadian girls who have low body self-esteem avoid engaging with friends and family or participating in important activities outside of the house.)
Clothes have this way of giving us confidence. We wear them on our canvas as an expression of personality, style and to show off our curves, of course! 😉 However, removing them should not remove your confidence. But I got stuck there. For a long ass time. And that’s ok. Because there was a time that clothes couldn’t make me confident either. It was just a battle all around. But slowly it grew. It grew with a constant redirecting of thoughts and a lifestyle that encouraged it. Loving my body with activity and food, it wasn’t depriving it that brought me joy, but feeding it the right things. Finally, I was getting somewhere. I was changing my relationship with my body. But I still didn’t want to take off my clothes. And let me get something clear, I’m not talking about FOR anyone else. I’m talking just standing alone and naked. I was disgusted by it all. I couldn’t look. It was just removing one piece of cover up clothing to putting on another. Avoiding at all costs what I didn’t want to see. Even the reflections in the shower handles made me feel sick. In my head, I was not someone who should ever ever be seen or appreciated naked. Not by me, not by anyone. Life had left it’s mark on me and I was too ashamed. So how’d I get from there to actually being an underwear model? (Holla @knixwear !) I couldn’t even in tangibly words tell you. I just know that it was a slow journey of acceptance. It didn’t come with another human embracing me. It was ME embracing me. Understanding my worth was not wrapped up in scars and stretch marks, loose skin and cellulite. I was so much more than that. And the real twist to the story? I’m kind of obsessed with flawed skin now. I don’t know what it is but when I see cellulite on the back of a woman’s thighs, I find it gorgeous. Stretch marks make me see strength in another woman. Lumps and bumps and curves – they’re interesting and captivating! I’ve not just fallen in love with my own body, I’ve fallen in love with them all. You wanna know why this is such a THING right now? Because we are finally uncovering beauty we hid for so long. Thank goodness, because WOW babes… Y’all are gorgeous. We all are gorgeous.
What were the biggest changes you started with?
“I think this was the first time I truly recognized that I couldn’t loophole health. I couldn’t just diet and restrict my life, and I couldn’t outrun a bad diet. I had to approach this all differently. I had to be accountable for my intake and really change my relationship with food. That, and I had to start exercising. Even if it was minimal I knew it was necessary. While hard at first, now it just seems like a way of life.”
Why did you make your journey public and share it with the world on Instagram?
“I never intended to, actually. I had lost about 30 lbs before anyone really noticed or said anything. So around the 40 lbs mark I shared a little before and after, and really felt like I was finding the support and encouragement I needed to keep going. So while my Instagram was never just about weight loss, there was now a huge facet of my life that people were connecting to and it really changed the way social media played into my own journey.”
You’ve built an amazing community on Instagram and Facebook – why is this kind of support so important to your journey?
“I think personally, you always feel like there’s a wall between you and those you follow on social media. They feel out of reach. I wanted to change that. I know and recognize that I am nothing without this community, and it’s not about ‘me’ it’s about us all, and I’ve truly built friendships out of this platform. I feel like it’s this big massive extended family. So much love and support all around.”
I think it’s pretty rad the way you embrace your postpartum body – stretch marks and all. You own it and it’s beautiful. How did you get to that point?
“After losing 100 lbs and being faced with the reality that I still hated my body but now there wasn’t anything I could do to exercise my way out of (loose skin and stretch marks) I started reevaluating my mind and thoughts around my body. I was exhausted that after all this work to achieve a new healthy lifestyle I was still battling daily with self-loathing. I had anticipated that losing weight would solve that issue. But you can’t hate yourself happy. So, with that, I began shifting my thoughts over and over. Practicing it, and filling my feed with women who inspired me to break out of my own discomforts. I stopped feeling so alone and wanted others to stop feeling so alone. So I began to share, too.”
You recently had an almost heartbreaking situation where your Instagram account was temporarily deleted – what was going through your head when you realized what had happened?
“Shockingly, I was more devastated over all my words. My writings! My Instagram, intended or not, became an online journal of the last 5-6 years of my life. My entire journey through losing weight, going through divorce, single motherhood, embracing my body, and finding love again. I felt gutted. I felt like I lost my community and my friends and everything I’d built. But, in the end…that community showed up! They wrote messages and emails and made phone calls and it was able to be revived just short of 2 days later.”
What did you learn from that experience?
“I learned that it mattered, all of it. It wasn’t fluff of social media. It mattered. It mattered to me, it mattered to others. That first post (besides announcing I was ‘back’) I knew was going to be huge. I wanted it to be intentional, so I did the one thing I was always too ashamed to do before – show my stomach in its reality…up close, squished together, and with love. I handed my 10-year-old the camera, and she prompted me to put my hands into a heart. She snapped the photo, I posted it. I freed myself of the shame the moment I shared it, and I think I might have helped some others with a similar body do the same.”
I guess since it’s impossible for a heart to grow stretch marks, they had show on your skin instead. So they could tell a story. A story of growth, love, sacrifice and a body that is capable of miracles. See them for what they are, and they’ll lose their power over telling you what you are not. These are not marks of weakness, but of strength. You don’t have to love them, because that’s a pretty hard ask. But don’t for a second allow them to make you feel like less. How much sense would that make? Your body grew children, and it shows signs of that. Or maybe you lost weight. Maybe you just grew. Your body is strong and capable, and these are the marks of proof. ❤️
Social media can be an amazing way to find your tribe but it can also open you up to unwanted criticism (the trolls!). How do you stay positive?
“I didn’t always stay so positive! It used to really break me down and wear me out. But, once you really know your truth and grasp your worth, it’s easier to laugh away when someone tries to really tear you down. It’s a dark side of social media that many don’t even know exists for those who put themselves out there daily, but it does, and I’m happy that in the end I’ve been able to really push through those efforts to tear me down.”
Related: 16 Epic Clap-Backs to Body Shaming
We got to take part in a journalling workshop with Temi Marie of HERDAY to wrap up our journey with Nike Air Society. What message did you take away from that session?
“It was fascinating to talk about our bodies and our life and our goals in such an open yet intimate way. I’d forgotten how writing down things really made a message register differently. It was a beautiful experience I felt so grateful to be a part of. From exercising our bodies together, to exercising our minds and hearts. Such a great experience.”
I was just so wrong. It’s a hard message to sell when you’re talking about weight loss and also the reality that it won’t make you happy. But that was my truth. I think it’s the truth of many. We fight to love our bodies. We place that worth in the idea that a size will help us get there. If we just reach THAT number, happiness is there. Then the number comes. And you look in the mirror and still feel it. That punch in the gut that you’re still just not good enough. And you realize, maybe it wasn’t about the number, after all. So then what. I preach weight loss being a side effect of a healthy lifestyle because I know what it’s like to lose weight and fall short of anything considered self confidence or body positive. I got it all wrong. I’d been a bully to my body for far too long, so to think simply changing how it looked would somehow bring me to new happy heights was ludicrous. But I’m still glad I lost the weight. I’m glad that it forced me into self care. Because self care perpetuated the habit of care at all. I got in the habit of doing for ME. At the time it was to lose weight, but when that didn’t make me happy there was still an ability to redirect. That self care turned into now finding my passions, speaking, writing, creating, loving. Exactly as I see fit. Let me repeat that…exactly. as. I. see. fit. Losing weight didn’t make me who I am, it was just part of the process of becoming who I was meant to be. Which is very simply one thing: Someone un-stuck. I encourage you today to remember this. To do right where I got it wrong. To perpetuate love throughout your transformation. Whether relational, body, career, or more. When we drive with hate we reach destinations of loathing. When we drive with love we reach destinations of fulfilment. It’s not an easy thing to start, but it can begin with simply redirecting that bully mentality within. It can move forward with simple acts and pushbacks on the things you wish were different or know in your heart are just unhealthy (mentally, physically, emotionally). It’s taking back the strongholds other people, places or things have on your life and heart. From there you can own it. Your life. ❤️