Jess Takimoto’s Story On Finding Self-Confidence Through Fitness

As we dive head first into another school year, refreshed after the awesome summer break, many of us are eager to get back into a routine. We have probably pondered some goals we want to accomplish this school year, and for many, these goals are related to fitness. Year after year I hear people say, “As soon as the new year starts, I’ll get a gym membership and get fit.” Yet, before the 21-day mark hits, they fall out of their routine and don’t create the habits that they wanted to form.

I believe that the difference between the people who create successful fitness routines, and the people who fall off track, is their mindset. Starting any new routine – especially one that is inherently linked to our perceptions of body image – can be intimidating, overwhelming, and downright challenging. For many of us, we are not yet confident in our skills at the gym, and if we don’t find a routine we can stick to, we stop trying altogether. Because of a lack of confidence, we miss out on the true benefits of exercise: strengthening the mind, body, and soul. 

Jess is a 3rd year Commerce student, up-and-coming fitness influencer, and self-proclaimed Instagram addict

Queen’s University student, Jess Takimoto, shared her fitness journey with me. She was once a gym-newbie and is now an up-and-coming fitness influencer. Jess told me about her experiences with gym-timidation, finding a routine that she could actually stick to, and becoming a group fitness instructor. 

Overcoming Gym-Timidation

After quitting competitive dance at 16 years old, Jess knew that she wanted to stay active and decided to get a gym membership. When she first set foot inside the fitness world, she described, “I looked to my left and saw machines that could have belonged on a spaceship. On my right, I saw people with their headphones in, eyes down, lifting weights that were heavier than me. In front of me, the salesperson grilled me about my “fitness goals”. Did I want to lose ten pounds? Gain muscle? Look a certain way? I felt out of place, overwhelmed, and felt as if all eyes were on me – watching me, judging me.”  This is a classic example of the gym-timidation that many new gym-goers face. In terms of fitness goals, Jess reflected and said, “Believe me, I did not need to lose weight, gain muscle, or look any other way than I already did. What I needed was an outlet to have fun, relieve stress, and stay active.”

                                             Jess’ group fitness class after an awesome workout!

However, unrealistic body ideals on social media quickly changed Jess’ goals.  She tried incessant calorie counting and rigid (and boring) workouts in pursuit of a physical ideal (i.e. “a six-pack, thigh gap, and butt like Kim Kardashian”). The one workout that she did stick with was group fitness. She said, “I loved going to classes. The loud music, encouraging studio atmosphere, fast-paced workouts, and motivating instructors made me feel like I was dancing again. Plus, the workouts were created by professionals and they made me sweat like nothing else!” 

Managing IBS

                                          Two-second transformation of Jess' stomach when bloated vs. flexing

As her passion for fitness grew, Jess was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and her perspective on fitness changed. She said, “If I ate highly processed foods or stopped exercising for more than three days, I would get extreme stomach aches, bloating, gas, and other symptoms that are definitely TMI.” She soon realized that the purpose of exercising and fueling her body with nutritious foods was not to achieve a certain body type, but rather it was essential for her daily functioning. Jess also noticed that her nutrition and exercise routine had a direct impact on her energy, self-confidence, and ability to manage stress. After recognizing that so many people were also embarrassed about having IBS, Jess decided to share her story on social media to help others realize how common IBS is. Being open about her symptoms empowers people with similar experiences to know that they are not alone.

Advice on Creating a Fitness Routine

I asked Jess what advice she has for someone looking to start a fitness routine and how they can stick to it. She said, “No matter where you are in your fitness journey, this advice applies to you: find something you love and do it. This could be anything from walking, dancing, running, weight lifting, intramurals…anything!  When you find something you genuinely enjoy, you’re going to stick with it and prioritize it. When it gets tough or there’s other people farther ahead, it won’t matter because you love it. Eventually, you’re going to improve and your confidence will increase. Then you try new things – maybe things you were scared to try before.  You will realize that you can do them. Your confidence will increase even more. It’s a reciprocal cycle that just keeps getting better.”

                                           Sweaty selfie after teaching a class at the Queen’s ARC

For Jess, the form of exercise that she loved was group fitness. Not only was she eager and excited to go to the gym, but she also became so passionate about it that she decided to get certified as a Group Fitness Instructor in 2018. Jess began teaching at the Queen’s Athletics and Recreation Centre, and one year later, she is now widely regarded as one of the most energetic and motivating instructors in the facility. She said, “When you walk into my class, you will never hear me talk about “sculpting our bums” or “toning our abs”. I tell everyone, I don’t care how many pushups or squats or burpees you can do – and yes, we do all those things in my class – the only thing I care about is that you walk out feeling stronger, happier and more confident than you did when you walked in.”

Instagram and Fitness Motivation

Instagram was a significant part of Jess’ fitness journey. When she first started working out, Jess created a private fitness account to track her progress, as well as get inspiration and ideas from other accounts. However, this year she decided to start sharing publicly on her fitness account, in the hopes that she could inspire or help people who are starting their fitness journeys.  She said, “I want all of my followers to know that I have felt fear and self-doubt, and more importantly, that I am here for them. I want to motivate, encourage and cheer them on in their fitness journeys.”

Jess often works out at home when she is short on time & shares often that you don't need a gym or fancy equipment to do an effective workout

Over a few months, Jess has transformed her Instagram account into a source of daily inspiration, motivation and “realness”, in addition to informative posts about her fitness classes. Jess is devoted to bringing transparency to social media, revealing her struggles with IBS, and illustrating what her fitness routine looks like beyond the photos. She believes everyone deserves to have confidence and wants you to remember that every time you look at her account. 

Overcoming Self-Doubt

When I asked Jess about how each of us can overcome self-doubt she said, “Self-doubt breeds self-doubt. There is nothing – nothing – I can say or do to help you love yourself more. I can preach to the mountains and post as many pictures and stories and videos as my heart desires, but at the end of the day, self-love comes from within. Nobody is going to give you permission to love yourself, only you can do that.” She then gave some insight into how we can build confidence and overcome our inner-critics. She said, “The good news is, confidence is not reserved for the rich or famous. It doesn’t require a special skill or talent. If you can be kind to others, you can be kind to yourself. Take it from someone who crossed that bridge; you can do it. However, it requires you to wake up every day and actively choose to be kind to yourself.” 

                                   Need a reminder to love yourself when you look in the mirror? Here's a solution!

It has been just over four years since Jess stepped foot inside a gym and you can clearly see the growth in her mindset. When I asked Jess if she had any final thoughts, she said, “If you are exercising to make your body look a certain way, please stop. You don’t need to change any part of your body. You are enough as you are. However, I’m not saying stop exercising altogether! Exercise is incredibly important for your physical, mental, and emotional health. Plus, it creates endorphins, which literally means it is a foolproof way to become happier and more confident!” Jess’ journey has demonstrated that we are all born with confidence; it is our choice to share it with the world. 

Want to get to know Jess? You can catch her wandering the halls of Goodes while researching countries to visit this winter on “academic” exchange, or ordering venti black coffees at Starbucks. Alternatively, check out her Instagram @jesstakimotofitness to find out when you can try one of her fitness classes at the Queen’s Athletics and Recreation Centre (which are pretty awesome)!