Sarah Taylor is Shattering Stereotypes and Inspiring Change
Plus-Size Fitness Advocate, Sarah Taylor, Shatters Stereotypes and Inspires Change
While most of the world will be obsessing over “thinness” and disguising “diet culture” as wellness during the beginning of a new year, PLUS Model Magazine is honored to feature a young mom, author, and fitness advocate who shares her journey to redefine the narrative, proving that strength, confidence, and love can coexist in every step of our unique paths.
Get to know our cover model Sarah Taylor
Can you share a bit about yourself, your background, and what inspired you to become a plus-size fitness coach?
From a very young age, I hated my body. I came into this world a big girl – almost 10 pounds and almost 2 feet tall at birth (my poor mother) and although I grew up in a loving household I was bullied so heavily in school. I was a size 12 at 12 and I’ve been 5’11 since grade 7 and while that might be the story of so many, I think what a lot of us don’t realize is that how we are treated by our peers can shape so much of our lives but mostly shape how we see ourselves and ultimately how we show up in the world. But it wasn’t until I got out of an abusive marriage over 10 years ago that I started to do the work to change how I saw myself and it all started with how I talked to myself. I had to re-record the negative tape that played in my head and I literally had to work on every area of my life – body, soul, and spirit.
I also spent significant time reconnecting to my faith (I grew up as a Pastor’s Kid and it’s always played a very big role in my life). It took years of healing and doing the work and I call leaving my abusive marriage my first step in the journey to self-love. This is also where I started to do the work to repair my relationship with food and movement.
Fast forward a few years of healing and I started to dream and that included modeling – I made my vision board and a few months later I had a couple of opportunities, then an email asking if I was the next Miss Plus Canada, and well…that changed my life a lot. In 2014 I was crowned Miss Plus Canada Queen, People’s Choice, and Talent. My talent was a spoken word of my Journey to Self-Love, and it was then that I knew I didn’t get through what I got through to sit down and keep my mouth shut, but to help other women on their journeys. From there I started speaking and sharing my story, modeling in Toronto, New York, LA, the Caribbean, etc and doors kept opening and I kept taking one step at a time which has ultimately led me to where I am today.
How did your journey into fitness coaching begin, and what motivated you to focus on empowering plus-size women?
Fitness was such a big part of my own Self-Love Journey. I had done all this work on the inside to love myself, be confident, and be at peace with my body. I was a size 22 when I won Miss Plus Canada, but I truly loved myself. However, I was also in a lot of pain from a couple of car accidents. At the time of the pageant, I was actually scheduled for gastric bypass and when I won, I decided to cancel the surgery (there are a few reasons why) and I decided to focus on feeling my best physically because I had done the work internally. So, I focused on foods that reduced inflammation in my body and started working with a trainer to rehab – when I started I literally used a broomstick instead of dumbbells because I had to just get my muscles working. I kept at it for years and it became one of my biggest tools to manage stress, feel good, and be strong.
A couple of years into my journey and I had been attending a women’s gym that offered bootcamp classes – I had been there for 2 years, and a woman looked at me while I was in a class (doing the same exercise as her) and she said, “Are you sure you have medical clearance to be here?” I was shocked. I was about a size 16 and was the strongest I had been in my life. I knew then that I had to do something about it.
My mentor at the time suggested certifying as a personal trainer – she actually paid for half my course because she believed in me and so I did and as I was about to finish, I had an opportunity to open my first fitness studio in a shared space to run boot camp classes. I knew my focus would be plus-size women because my experience at the gym told me that there are women like me to just want to move their bodies and not be shamed for it. So, I design all my workouts for the plus size woman in mind – modifications in case you need them but don’t want to ask, a little extra rest and a trainer who might have a body that looks like you, and self-love coaching based on my own journey – because it’s not just about fitness.
I then opened a second location in downtown Toronto but had to close due to COVID-19 and now I’m 100% virtual. I taught over 350 online virtual classes since the closure and now I coach women 1:1 and offer an On Demand Video Based Membership.
Balancing motherhood and a fitness career can be challenging. How do you manage your time to ensure both aspects receive the attention they deserve?
Becoming a mom was a total surprise and my little Princess Brooke-Lynn is my greatest blessing in life. With that said it’s also been one of my biggest challenges adjusting to being a mom, running a business, and taking care of myself.
I had a very rough pregnancy and was sick my entire pregnancy and I also had a 10 cm hamstring tear that I was unaware of until a few months ago (she’s 2 now) so it explained why I struggled even more with rehab postpartum. I have had to change my personal training program multiple times to adapt to pregnancy, post-partum, and her ever-changing sleep schedule. This also meant my business model had to change multiple times. Before I had Brooke-Lynn I was teaching up to 10 live virtual classes PER week -that’s 2 a day sometimes and I had to go to 100% on Demand, then resumed live classes at 4 months postpartum (after a c-section) and I could hardly move. I’ve now transitioned to coaching women 1:1 because it’s what works for my life being a full-time mom and business owner.
I think one of the biggest things I had to learn was I had to build my business on what I desired and what would work for my life as a new mom – and not what everyone else expected of me. That’s a big change for this people-pleaser but it was essential to thrive – both for me and for her. I think the other thing here is that things will change constantly which means your plan is always changing so being agile will be important while still maintaining your boundaries and desires.
Can you share any specific strategies or routines you’ve developed to maintain a healthy work-life balance as a mother and fitness coach?
First of all, I will say, I’m still working on it. And I truly think that’s the key – any journey you are on will require different versions of you, different commitments, evolution, transition, and ultimately change so I think the first strategy is accepting that if you set out a plan, it will likely change in the future and making peace with that will save you a lot of strife.
My daughter will always be my number one priority but also for me to be able to take care of her, I must take care of myself so those two go hand in hand. When she was wee little, I worked a lot and she’d be right beside me – now she’s non-stop (talking and running around) so I work around her schedule (aka I work on naptimes and when she goes to bed) and I now do my workouts when she is awake and include her. Here are the areas I recommend making sure you focus on if you are on a similar journey.
Sleep and Rest – this is massive and completely overlooked. I’m personally useless unless I’m sleeping well, and I had to work so hard on better sleep routines – this means leaving my phone in another room at 8 pm onwards every night and having self-care before bed – usually reading my Bible or a book to wind down.
Make a plan – this is one of the biggest tools I work on with clients in my programming too and it’s because I’ve learned my lesson. Start with what you must do (work, school, appointments, your kids, meetings, etc) and then fill in around that – time for you (self-care), getting in some movement, food prepping to make sure you are actually eating, etc.
Focus on habits – this is another huge one. So many of us think – “Oh, I need to make change” and you decide you are going to change 100 things at once and 2 days in you are done. Ditch the all-or-nothing thinking and focus on small habits that you can work on getting consistent in and build on them. Start with 1-3 at a time and stack them with other habits you already do.
Keep your boundaries – set them and stick to them.
Be present with your kids – put your phone down. This was a hard one for me because I was always working but the difference in Brooke-Lynn’s demeanor and honestly my enjoyment with her was revolutionized when I was more diligent about this.
Make peace with where you are at. This has been one of the hardest seasons of my life and I’ve had to make peace with the fact that I don’t have all the answers, I don’t always know what to do and I had a choice to keep freaking out in the storm or be peaceful in it and get through it…I’m still getting through it.
Empowering Plus-Size Women:
What unique challenges do plus-size women often face in the fitness world, and how do you address those challenges in your coaching approach?
Unfortunately, the story for most plus-size women in fitness spaces (in person and online) is around being shamed, and bullied and most women who have that happen to them never go back to those spaces. It’s honestly such a shame and it’s made so many women have an even more challenging relationship with moving their bodies. Add on diet culture and the extreme fixation on ‘what we should look like’ or ‘what society thinks is beautiful’ and I believe so many are robbed of the actual joy and benefits of fitness (stress relief, more energy, increased confidence, and body awareness, better sleep, being stronger to enjoy the life you want, the list is literally endless).
So my goal is to help women learn how to enjoy working out and creating new habits, provide modifications if they need them (without having to ask for them and feeling shameful – there’s no shame in modifying), and infuse them with my self-love banter and coaching because there is so much more to life than just your body and you deserve to feel amazing – body, soul, and spirit. I also don’t promote weight loss and never have. With that said, that’s what most clients come to me for – my goal is to help them shift their perspective to realize they are as beautiful as they are, and we focus on feeling your best. So much of the work starts on the inside so my hope is to challenge you and help you grow so you are no longer bound by your negative thoughts but walking in freedom living your best damn life.
How do you foster a supportive and inclusive environment for plus-size women in your fitness programs?
There are several things here and I’m always working on finding more ways to do this because I think it’s important. I think one of the biggest things is not having assumptions – not having assumptions someone wants to lose weight as their goal (I have women tell me their goals – not the other way around).
Another big one is not assuming women can or cannot do something. If I had a dollar for every time someone thought I couldn’t be a personal trainer because I’ve my size, I’d be rich – It’s part of the reason I show modifications in all classes as well as all my video demos – choose your level – I’ll show you usually 3 and attach no value to them. You might be new to fitness and doing something like a jump squat might scare you, you might have an injury, or you might be wearing the wrong sports bra that day – just move that beautiful body.
Community is another big piece – I’m very big on checking the vibe – so if you aren’t the vibe then we aren’t fit and that’s ok. It’s important to me that my community feels safe, protected, and supported. With that said, because I’m clear in my marketing and how I coach I’ve never had an issue where I had to address a woman. I lead by example here.
Fitness Journey and Transformation:
Have you personally experienced a fitness journey? If so, how has it influenced your coaching style and the way you connect with your clients?
My fitness journey has been a hot mess and it’s also been beautiful.
When I was 21 I decided I was going to get skinny because I thought it would make me happy. I did 3 hours of cardio, 6 days a week, and threw up after every workout. I lost 80 pounds in 6 months, and I still hated myself. I was also hardly eating. It was so toxic. Of course, I gained it all back and then some and then ended up in the abusive marriage I mentioned before and as part of my healing journey had to try an entirely different way. It’s what my program and my new book are based on.
A healthy and sustainable fitness journey (in my opinion) starts on the inside. You have got to fix how you talk to yourself and have a healthy relationship with exercise and food. You also need to re-record the negative tape that plays in your head because you are not going to make long-lasting changes through the lens of self-hatred – true change comes through the lens of self-love. I share very openly and candidly with my clients and my following and always have (I’ve been sharing online for over 10 years) and I hope to show women if I can do it, they can too.
Can you share a success story from one of your clients, particularly someone who has experienced positive changes in their life through your coaching?
I have a client who has been with me since my first gym – so over 6 years. She’s now coaching with me 1:1 as well. But when she first started with me she was obsessed with weight loss – she thought that is what was going to make her happy. In coaching with me, she realized there was so much more to life and she fell in love with the journey and is no longer obsessed with the scale. I think this is just one of my favorites because I’ve watched her have freedom in all areas of her life because of this shift in her mindset – her relationship with herself and others, her career, etc.
There are so many amazing things that have happened over the years – women who were pre-diabetic and in 4 months of working together no longer pre-diabetic. Another client had bad knee pain and had to wear a brace every day she hated exercise and wearing workout clothes in public and within 6 months of training her knee pain was gone and she’s so confident to wear what she wants. I’ve had clients come to me who wanted to prepare their bodies for having babies and now have 1 or 2 babies.
These are the reasons I keep going -seeing changes and transformations in women – body, soul, and spirit.
Building Confidence Through Fitness:
How do you incorporate body positivity and self-love into your fitness coaching to help plus-size women build confidence in their bodies?
If I’m honest, I stopped referring to myself as body-positive years ago because a lot of people didn’t understand you could be body-positive and work out (which is a shame) but essentially, I work on helping women make peace with their bodies and learn to love themselves. I think so many of us grew up thinking we had to look a certain way that there has been one ideal beauty type and that the only way we would be happy is if we were thin.
Essentially, I coach around making these mindset shifts and that includes utilizing tools like affirmations, journaling, actually looking at yourself in the mirror and doing mirror work, talking about the importance of taking care of yourself, and focusing on how you feel. In my classes, I always have self-love banter all through the class and share personal stories and in my 1:1 coaching I actually have video-based lessons to help women start doing the work to make those changes and my book goes through all these things as well to teach you how to re-record that negative tape in your head.
In your experience, what role does mental and emotional well-being play in achieving fitness goals, especially for plus-size individuals?
My personal experience has told me that if I don’t work out – my mental and emotional well-being suffers greatly. Moving your body can literally be a game changer in helping manage things like stress, anxiety, overwhelm, sleeping difficulties, sadness, happiness, joy, and all the emotions. I have heard repeatedly from clients they see the difference as they get consistent as well. It’s honestly one of the biggest reasons I have clients focus on how they feel rather than what the scale says. With that said, it is also work to connect to your body to see how you actually feel but when you do, it’s an absolute game changer.
I’m currently in one of my hardest seasons of life – rebuilding my business post covid, working on feeling like myself after having a baby, ending my 7-year relationship with her father 6 months ago, moving back in with my mom just before turning 40 and the 2 things that have remained constant in keeping me grounded and peaceful has been my faith, and making sure I’m consistent with working out. I would likely be a mess without both of those.
Tailoring Workouts for Plus-Size Clients:
How do you customize fitness routines to meet the unique needs and abilities of plus-size clients?
The first thing is having clients tell me where they are at and what their history is like (history with their relationship with fitness as well as if they are currently active and previous fitness history). I don’t assume anything. I have an extensive intake for my 1:1 clients so I get to know any injuries, preferences, and potential issues we might need to work through. We then look at how many days they realistically think they can commit to, and I refuse to program 5-7 workouts per week if they are currently doing nothing. We focus on building habits that will sustain them and we usually start with 2-3 workouts per week however I’ve also had some clients start with just 1 per week because their relationship with movement is so damaged and that’s ok – it’s a great place to start. I also offer modifications, a little more rest in between exercises and I’m mindful of belly’s, boobs, and thick thighs as I show you how to complete an exercise. I also always offer a low-impact option in exercises.
What advice do you have for plus-size individuals who may feel intimidated or hesitant to start a fitness journey?
I think one of the best things to do is sit down and write out how you currently feel – body, soul, and spirit. Go into detail. When you are done, read it out loud. Then ponder this question, if you were to keep going as you are now, will you be happy or will you feel a ways about it?
Then take some time to write out how you want to feel. Read it out loud (there is power in reading it out loud, trust me) and pull out 1-3 things that you believe you could immediately start to work on and make a plan to start doing it. But be mindful as you make this plan – you don’t have to go all or nothing and you don’t need to take on the world to start. For example, if you want to start exercising – you don’t have to commit to an hour a day, 5 days a week. Start small with something like three 20-minute walks a week. Get consistent with it and then consider adding to it. Focus on how you feel and how you want to feel and let that be the driving force.
Community and Support:
Can you tell us about your book FITNESS + SELF-LOVE?
My book is a labor of love that I am so proud of. It is a cumulation of all the things I’ve learned to be effective on my own Fitness & Self-Love Journey and it’s my signature coaching program that I coach my 1:1 clients with as well. It is right to the point to give you practical tools to see long-lasting change. I share my story briefly, go through all the lessons, and then there are 12 weeks of tracking designed to help you start your journey and support you through it. There are monthly goal setting and calendars, weekly reflection, and daily tracking as well. I also have a second version with just the tracking pages for when you want to continue your journey.
Plus-size individuals often face stereotypes and stigmas related to fitness. How do you challenge and overcome these stereotypes in your coaching and advocacy work?
To be honest I think just being a plus size personal trainer and showing up as I do online and with the brands I work with is helping to fight the stigmas. When I started out, I was only aware of a handful of plus-size personal trainers and now there are so many and all of us are putting in the work to show that plus-size people deserve a safe space in the fitness community.
On a client or potential client level just showing up shows them if I can do it – they can do it and that alone is pretty cool. Then add on working with brands like Nike, Under Armour, Adidas, Joe Fresh, Knix, Penningtons, etc, and being a fitness expert on shows like Breakfast Television & Cityline just pushes the agenda even more. I know I didn’t grow up seeing bodies like mine in media let alone fitness so being that representation is such a dream but also such a privilege that I don’t take lightly. For the 5 negative & ignorant comments on campaigns like those, I get 100 from women who are inspired, see themselves, and realize they can do it too and that’s what counts.
What message do you hope to send to society about body positivity and fitness for plus-size individuals?
My hope is that society would stop seeing plus-size individuals as less than. Literally, everyone in the world is unique and we all carry something in us that no one can – and imagine if we really all looked alike – how boring. Because we are plus-size does not mean we are not capable, it doesn’t mean that we are worth less, it doesn’t mean we are defective, it doesn’t mean you are better than and should treat us poorly. We are deserving of feeling good and safe in spaces just like everyone else. We are not a different species and I know that sounds kind of extreme but the comments I’ve heard from people sometimes just blows my mind.
Future Goals and Impact:
What are your future goals as a plus-size fitness coach? How do you envision expanding your impact and reach in the coming years?
I don’t often share my full vision and if I’m honest it’s because the last few years have been so challenging in my personal life as well as in business. But my grand vision includes hosting events globally for women to empower them in every area of their life – with a focus on fitness, wellness, and faith. There is something so significant about community for women and fostering a community that is safe for growth. Fitness is one of many tools that I believe we need in our lives but what I’ve learned in coaching thousands of plus-size women around the world is, so many women are hurting emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
So many women think if they can just be thinner, or they can just lose weight or look like what they see in media they will be happy – it’s what I thought too. So many women are hurting and have no idea how to heal and although I don’t have it all figured out, I’m doing the work and have learned some significant tools along the way. One of the hardest parts of healing is making difficult decisions and I’ve had to make several of those in the last 2 years, but they are all leading into my next chapter. I know what it is like to hate yourself and how that affects every single area of your life, but I also know that when you live out of a place of self-love – it transforms your life and that’s what I want to help women do – transform beyond their wildest dreams.
Are there specific projects or initiatives you’re currently working on to further empower plus-size women in the fitness realm?
I recently launched a 1:1 coaching program with a new app. This was a huge project that I am so proud of, and the goal is to help women make real, lasting changes in their lives while working on their fitness journey in hand with their relationship with food, themselves, and others. There are over 200 fitness demo videos with modifications, self-love coaching videos, amazing meal plans to keep you nourished habit tracking to help you stay consistent, and of course weekly check-ins to not only keep you accountable but support you every step of the way. I do also have an on-demand membership in my app for those who are not quite ready for 1:1 coaching, and it has over 150 on-demand full fitness classes with modifications and my self-love banter. I am also always open to opportunities to work with brands and media to push inclusion further as well. I will also likely have some more in-person classes and events in the New Year.
If there’s one piece of advice you could give to plus-size women who are considering starting their fitness journey, what would it be?
The first step is the hardest – so decide that you are ready for change and then pick 1 or 2 things to work on and ease your way into them to make it consistent. Through it all, focus on how you feel – focus on feeling good, feeling strong, and feeling empowered. Then just keep taking one step at a time, one foot in front of the next.