Debbie is a personal trainer. With her clients, she is a dynamic mixture of gentle, tough, challenging, and forgiving when she needs to be. She dedicates to them her full focus, absolutely never even carrying her cell phone on her during a session. Because of Debbie’s influence, she has helped nearly 100 everyday men and women turn their health and fitness around in her eight-plus years as a personal trainer. The best part of her career, according to Debbie, is the change in her clients’ overall confidence and how they feel, rather than simply what they now look like.
You would never know that her passion for promoting healthful lifestyle stems from a chronic health issue. Debbie was diagnosed at the young age of six with type 1 diabetes. It’s the lesser known sister to type 2 diabetes, which is caused by poor lifestyle habits in diet and exercise. It’s autoimmune and more severe, and only about five to 10% of people suffering from diabetes has this form of it (Mayo Clinic). Unlike the significantly more common type 2, it is irreversible. Alongside a very careful lifestyle of healthy eating and regular workouts, Debbie will take daily injections of the hormone insulin (which a healthy body produces on its own) for the rest of her life.
As a young girl, Debbie was a ballerina. She fully embraced everything the ballet world was about: the baby pink clothing, the perfectly-in-place hair bun, and particularly, the ballerina’s ideal body. While she still looks fondly at her ballet days, Debbie is very vocal about the steep price young girls pay to be ballerinas, and it isn’t only to do with the muscular demands of classical dance. Behind the satin ribbons and streamlined pointe shoes, the ballet world is filled with distorted expectations relating to body image.
The elegance and beauty we all come to associate with ballet is the result of the absolute perfectionism that is prized within its world. Elegant, beautiful lines stem from rigorous practice (ever seen Black Swan?) and a strict — and deprived — diet. Because ballet as a feat of athleticism naturally sculpts long, lean muscles, the ballet world also strongly encourages (if not enforces!) a bony, nearly curveless shape as its ideal. And the girls who dedicate their time to becoming ballerinas often buy into this expectation, with their incidence of eating disorders as high as one in five (New York Times)!
“I went to my parents’ house the other day and found a couple books I’d bought back when I was all immersed in that world,” she said. “They’re called Diet for Dancers and The Dancer’s Body Book. The material was appalling! Just to get an idea, girls lose their menstrual cycle when their body fat goes below 13% . . . The average American Ballet Theatre dancer has 14% body fat, and the average female [personal training] client of mine who is physically fit is at around 20%.”
Because of the social pressure she felt as a ballerina, Debbie struggled a lot with her body image as an adolescent. (Type 1 diabetic bodies tend to gain weight once they begin treatment.) She discovered she could manipulate her already compromised body by altering her dosages of insulin in order to easily and rapidly drop her weight. At 5’5″ and 90 pounds, after an eye-opening doctor’s visit, she learned that if she kept this behavior up, her kidneys would eventually shut down and she would end up going blind by the time she was 30.
It was this jolting reality check that urged her to take control of her own health and reject the pressure to be thin at any cost. She transformed her lifestyle to that of one that is carefully planned and executed, learning the science behind what makes certain foods beneficial and others detrimental, and incorporating very regular physical exercise. She then decided to become certified as a personal trainer so she could share what she had lived: transformation. Because of this decision, she has empowered some of her clients to lose over 100 excess pounds! Today, she manages her diabetes without issue, but because it’s with her for life, it remains the fuel for her career as a trainer.
Some aspects of Debbie’s former lifestyle stay with her. Dance has remained an integral part of her life as a source of expression and fitness, as well as contribution. (In addition to taking a weekly adult ballet class, she also teaches ballet, jazz, and hip hop to young girls at the studio she grew up with.)
Debbie came in to Art of Seduction wanting not just the unique experience of a boudoir shoot, but rather with the request that it be more personalized. “I keep companies like Victoria’s Secret in business, believe me, with all the underwear I own, but I don’t have any lingerie. I never really wear it, and I don’t think my boyfriend appreciates it enough, anyway. I would rather have Argentina tell my story as a dancer through her photography.”
In preparation for her session, Debbie slipped her feet back into her pointe shoes at home for the first time in a long time, and began practicing some poses. “I felt so empowered!” she says of that evening. “It got me really excited about my shoot.”
She came to her session equipped with both a pair of vampy heels and her pointe shoes, as well as a few photos she’d found online as inspiration for poses. “Argentina’s studio looks a lot like a dance studio,” Debbie observed, “so it was perfect.”
Of course, once a ballerina, always a ballerina. During her viewing session, Debbie couldn’t help critiquing her own dance form, but such is the nature of portrait photography — not every single shot out of hundreds is a success. Fortunately, despite her inner ballerina diva, she still managed to give the OK on some “action shots.” And she had a rough time narrowing the collection down to just a few!
Debbie’s usual tendency to keep a lower profile dissipated once she got a hold of her images. “I’m amazed at them — if I had taken them of myself I would have come out looking like a sausage, but somehow Argentina made me appear really trim.” She laughs as she adds, “As a joke, my boyfriend saw the photos and told me he should have them reported!” For several days after her session, Debbie eagerly showed her images off from her iPad to her clients at the gym.
“You should submit these to Victoria’s Secret!” one of them exclaimed. Others unanimously marveled at the images, calling them beautiful and breathtaking.
“I’m not usually one to have my photo taken or show off my body in an obvious way, but this was a great opportunity. I loved my experience from feeling like a celebrity, getting my makeup done, to posing. The viewing session right after was great, too. I felt confident and surprised at how comfortable I could be in front of the camera! I definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to celebrate conquering something significant.”
Visit our other Women of Strength stories: