At the age of 20, Free’s modeling career appeared to be a dream, with travel and extravagance.
“I went overseas, South Africa twice, for three months,” Free recalls, describing her first experience abroad.
“It was an amazing experience, the first trip I went on was like the movies, getting into the clubs and living in a big model house.”
However, Free’s experience in modelling quickly took a turn.
“The second trip, I was just a little bit older,” she says. “The people weren’t as friendly and there was just so much competition, I felt so much more pressure.”
To meet the thin standards often associated with models’ appearances, Free recalls that she had rapidly lost weight to meet the standards of thinness often associated with the industry. But the agency’s response, she says, was still negative and unsettling.
“They were still pinching me everywhere, like ‘Oh, you have to lose inches here and inches there’ and it was really getting to me.”
Upon returning from, what would be, her second and last trip of her modeling career, Free began to acknowledge her bad eating habits.
“I would eat nothing all week and then I would have a cheat day where I would eat till I was sick. I remember thinking, ‘This is so bad,’” she says.
“I didn’t even catch on for a while that it wasn’t healthy but soon I was starting to realize that every thought was around calories, weight, food; it was just so consuming and I wasn’t having any fun.”
Soon, her self confidence began to wither.
Free reflects on how she was beginning to feel, “I still wasn’t good enough, never good enough. It just came to a point where I said, ‘I am never going to be good enough.’”
After she acknowledged that her life was going in an unhealthy direction, Free re-formatted the way she viewed herself.
Free says she learned to love her body through the concept of intuitive eating introduced in a novel by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, Intuitive Eating, A Revolutionary Program that Works.
Inspired by the way her changes in body image improved her energy level and joy of life, Free felt compelled to assist other women make similar changes.
Along with the help of her partner Lauren McAulay, the pair created The Body Love Society, an online support group for women on body positivity journeys.
Free and McAulay first met a year ago via Skype, connecting over intuitive eating and body acceptance, when the common desire to start a coaching program arose.
McAulay, a Body Love Coach herself, recalls that the pair instantly trusted each other. “We said ‘Yeah, let’s do it!’”
The two started their partnership that very day, starting with the name. The next month, the online support program was created.
McAulay says her hope is to “just help one woman at a time.”
She says, “I think we’re doing something important and hopefully, that can just keep spreading.”
While rigorous diet and exercise are the basis of many weight-loss and body-consciousness programs, Free focuses instead, on promoting the concepts of intuitive eating. She teaches women to break away from the restrictions of dieting.
Free’s program encourages women to accept the bodies they’ve been given. But she also encourages them to read Intuitive Eating and then put the book’s plan to initiate any desired transformations.
Free comments that dieting is, “So complicated because we are so rooted in diet culture. To try and unlearn that thinking is really hard, so that is mainly what we do.”
The Body Love Society aims to assist in that shift of thinking, through online support group calls and motivational podcasts as well as using Intuitive Eating as a tool.
But Free says, “When people read the book they aren’t like, ‘Oh, I’m an intuitive eater now!’”
“You have to really work on it.”
Free’s business has taken off, with 81 clients joining the program within its first year, even reaching clients over video chats from not only Canada and the United States but also South Africa, England, Brazil and Australia.
Client Jessica Murray from South Africa comments that with the guidance of Free and the program, she has transformed her relationship with food and her self image.
“I have completely transformed my relationship with food and my body. I am also present and engaged in all aspects of my life in a much deeper, more profound way,” she says.
“This is not an easy program and the odds often seemed insurmountable but Jenna helped me tackle every challenge with a gentle and highly skilled approach.”
As for the future of The Body Love Society, Free hopes to bring on more instructors to allow for a more one-on-one experience.
In addition, Free hopes to encourage talk within society, addressing the needs for positive body image. She explains that when working with clients, a lot of women struggle with dieting because they believe they are the only women dieting all week and then “In the pantry with a box of cookies, hiding.”
As for her long-term goals, Free says, “I think everyone should be more open about their struggles with food, dieting and body image.”
“Then we wouldn’t all feel so alone and we would all realize, ‘I am actually normal.’”
Editor: Sam Nar | firstname.lastname@example.org