It Figures is Yahoo Life's body image series, delving into the journeys of influential and inspiring figures as they explore what body confidence, body neutrality and self-love mean to them.
If Katie Austin has learned one thing as one of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit's 2022 Rookies of the Year, it's that comparison gets you nowhere when it comes to your relationship with your body. That's why she's paved her own lane.
"I'm just like the real normal girl in Sports Illustrated. I think I represent that, to be honest, because I’m not like the traditional model," she tells Yahoo Life. "I just really want to represent that normal girl. And that goes for my fitness brand, too."
It might seem like an unlikely goal for the daughter of '80s fitness icon Denise Austin, who developed her career during a time when women's fitness was marketed as a means to lose fat and drop pounds. Katie, however, says that those outdated ideas about working out were never preached in the household.
"A lot of her tapes are like, 'Lose the last 10 pounds,' and they are about weight loss as well. But during my childhood and growing up, there was nothing about weight loss and the numbers on a scale or anything like that," she explains. "I think that's because I was an athlete. My dad was a professional tennis player, so it was always about working out to get stronger and training for something, it was never about the aesthetic. I wasn't working out or running because I wanted abs and I wanted to lose weight or I wanted to drop so many inches on my waistline."
Her parents's combined philosophies when it comes to exercise placed an emphasis on physical health and even mental health before that conversation became mainstream. "Working out because it's good for your heart, it’ll make you feel better, it'll give you confidence," Austin recalls learning.
But that didn't mean that she would be immune to the toxic messaging of diet and exercise culture that she was exposed to once she was out of the house — especially as a college athlete.
"In college, there was no emphasis on mental health and it was all about powering through. ...It was always a battle," she says. "That's when my anxiety really started, when I got to college and I started playing lacrosse."
So much attention had been paid to Austin's diet and exercise as it pertained to her success on the field. While her body image coincided with her identity as an athlete for so much of her upbringing, it was just after college that that relationship started to really suffer.
"I had never in my life had a weird relationship with food but as an athlete, they just feed you so much and carbo load and you have to chug two Muscle Milks after practice just to make sure you get the protein in," she explains. "I wasn't training like that anymore, so my body couldn't take it."
Austin says she not only experienced a sort of loss of identity as her athletic career came to an end, but also faced dissonance with her body for the first time since she was no longer training for her sport. For about eight months, she got into running. "I accidentally lost way too much weight," she says. She then recognized the need to focus on identifying a new regimen that would fit her updated lifestyle.
"I stayed very internal about it. I don't think I ever vocalized it," she says, wishing that she had. "It can be really hard to get out of something, if you're in a rut or if you're not motivated, you're not inspired. To have a community and to seek help about it is really, really important."
When she couldn't find that community, Austin sought to create it. Her mission was to be her own coach after having lost that team structure in her life, but also to be relatable in her approach. It wasn't her intention to follow in her mom's path as a fitness professional. However, she embraced the opportunity to reiterate on Denise's journey for her own audience.
"I feel like I have a very unintimidating brand because I really am the normal girl. I workout for 30 minutes a day, I eat honestly bad like 70% of the time and I just want to show that like, you can do both, you can be both. And then you can also grow a brand, be an entrepreneur and be in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit," she says.
Even after walking alongside her 65-year-old mom on the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit runway and being named Rookie of the Year with her best friend and fellow Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model Christen Harper, Austin is steering clear of comparison and prioritizing her own happiness when it comes to setting her 2023 goals.
"It's really important to remember why you work out. It's not to fit into these beauty standards, it's to make sure that you feel like your best self. Work out not because you hate your body, but because you love it," she says. "I have the best relationship that I've ever had with my body and it's not an overnight thing."
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