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I think we can all agree that, as some point in time, we have been bombarded by fitness-themed New Year’s resolution posts on our personal feed or FYP. Instagram influencers and fitness gurus alike are probably peppering you with “new year, new you” workout challenges. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably contemplated a diet and fitness change and, for a brief moment, you tried to convince yourself that this year is going to be different. 

But most of us don’t know what healthy truly means. We’re told that healthy is more veggies than carbs on your plate, religiously working out five times a week, meditating and drinking non-caffeinated tea. And while these tips might work for some of us, most of the time, these switches are too dramatic and too drastic to be implemented in a sustainable way. And even if you do make a more permanent commitment to these goals, how can you be sure that this is what healthy looks like for you? 

In September of 2020, I decided that I was ready to implement a gym-based workout regime into my lifestyle. I gave myself strict boundaries regarding my visits to the gym. I would only go if I wasn’t forcing myself to (disciplining yourself is different than bullying yourself into doing something), if I wasn’t using it as a way to procrastinate, and if it made me feel good about myself. I couldn’t yet put into words why I made those boundaries, but then, in December, I had the opportunity to take a SHINE class, and talk to Olivia, the class leader. After a very sweaty, dance-y, and FUN, workout, she said: “Thank yourself for respecting yourself today”. And when she said that, I remember being very tired, with jelly knees and smelly armpits, and thinking: This should apply to every part of our lives, and how, the ways in which we respect ourselves change every day. Somedays, it’s a workout, some days it’s a small walk with a coffee that’s basically just milk and sugar, and sometimes, it’s staying in with your housemates and drinking blue “wine” (I do not recommend this “beverage”).

I later had the pleasure of sitting down with Jess Takimoto, founder of SHINE Strength & Confidence. Surrounded by yoga mats and busy fitness instructors who were sanitizing and preparing for the next class, she was very much at home. Once we introduced ourselves to each other, she told me that after having to leave her exchange to Singapore early because of COVID-19, she decided to turn her quarantine workouts into live Instagram streams for her friends and followers. As a previous ARC instructor, Jess had plenty of experience, and a very willing audience.

Soon, there were upwards of forty people tuning into her Instagram lives every day. Jess had no intentions of starting a business at first, but then realized that teaching whatever, and whenever, she wanted, made a lot more sense for her lifestyle and her goals. Armed with a background in business, and a passion for fitness, Jess went on to grow her business through building strong relationships with participants, and expanded her business through word-of-mouth and strong connections. 

Also in an accelerated program at Queen’s, she went from doing live streams in her backyard and the driveway of her parent’s house to running a federally-incorporated business and having a team of six instructors. SHINE rented out The Spot and turned it into a fun and energetic space for anyone who wanted to move their body, make friends, and sweat out their stress.  While her online classes and live streams are as popular as ever, back in December she was still doing in-person classes – an outlet that she felt most students really needed during the long days of winter coupled with online school. People come for the workout, Jess says, but they stay for the community. For those who feel intimidated going into the gym, and are looking for a positive way to get moving and get sweating, SHINE is the place to start. It’s a great way to incorporate having fun, exercising, and meeting new people. Before we got started in my trial in-person workout class, we were asked to talk to the people around us (all of us had our own socially distanced, marked spaces) and introduce ourselves. I loved it. It made me feel less alone in my nervousness, and it felt good to just chat like normal.

During our chat, I brought up the fact that SHINE makes it a big point to go against diet culture heavyweights like 30-day ab challenges, transformation pictures, calorie goals, hitting a new BP or working out so hard you can’t walk the next day. Instead, the motto is simply “Work hard, have fun, and cheer each other on.” Personally, I find it quite easy to participate when there is dance music, smiling instructors, and people around you who are there for the same one goal.

Jess brought up the fact that 91% of women are unhappy with their bodies, and how SHINE is working to provide a different outlook on working out and body image. Mental illnesses are the leading cause of premature death in Canada, and eating disorders have the highest overall mortality rate (National Initiative for Eating Disorders, 2020). In Canada, 12% to 30% of girls, and 9% to 25% of boys aged 10-14 have reported dieting to lose weight (National Initiative for Eating Disorders, 2020). Jess said that SHINE is not a fitness class but a way to help you build confidence, and healthy relationships with yourself and the people around you. On her personal social media page, Jess shares unfiltered versus filtered pictures, and prides herself in sharing #reallife as a fitness instructor and entrepreneur. SHINE has themed workout classes, such as beach day, Halloween, and Christmas, and if you follow them on Instagram, you’ll see tons of posts and stories reminding you that you don’t need to earn your treats, waist size isn’t an indicator of your health, and that exercise should be fun and not stressful.

As I interviewed Jess, taking up more and more of her time with my barrage of questions, two of her instructors bustled around us, making sure everything was clean and sparkling for the next slew of participants ready to get their sweat on. When I asked what kind of culture exists at SHINE, she passed it to Alexis, who was getting the next livestream ready. Alexis explained how SHINE aims to help people get better together. Both Alexis and Jess state “we rise by lifting others” is a core tenet of SHINE.

Jess still considers herself as just a fitness instructor who’s doing something she loves while figuring things out along the way. But it’s clear that she has started something big. SHINE has seen people tuning in from all over, from the GTA to Alberta to New Jersey.

And it’s just getting started.

Check out Jess and her business at @jesstakimotofitness and @shine.s.c!


National Initiative for Eating Disorders. (2020). Eating Disorders in Canada. https://nied.ca/about-eating-disorders-in-canada/

Solana Pasqual

Queen's U '21

I was born in Sri Lanka, a beautiful island in the Indian Ocean. Currently studying as a Global Development major at Queen's University, my other passions include mental health, womxn's rights, the rights of those in prison under cannabis convictions, and eliminating diet culture. Being a lawyer may be in my future, but I'm open to anything that will enable me to help people and pursue joy!
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