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Beautiful Brown Bodies empowers women by focusing on fitness

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Growing social network group encourages women of color to embrace a healthy lifestyle.

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Three members of the Washington-area fitness group Beautiful Brown Bodies strike a yoga pose.
Three members of the Washington-area fitness group Beautiful Brown Bodies strike a yoga pose.

WASHINGTON, DC:  At a time when many are indulging in shopping sprees, packing on the pounds through unrestrained, unhealthy eating and drinking binges, a social network group is growing in popularity with its steadfast focus on fitness and all the ensuing health benefits.

Beautiful Brown Bodies (BBB) is a stellar support group on social media giant Facebook for women of color encouraging them to embrace a healthy lifestyle. Inspired by the worldwide group which boasts a membership of 32,000-plus, Virginia-based IT professional Isha Setia created a BBB group in 2015 geared towards residents of the Washington area. The goal is similar: To motivate and educate members about adopting a healthy lifestyle by incorporating changes – mental, physical or both.

About the original global group, Isha told us, “What was lacking was the one-on-one connection with members where I could meet someone and discuss both my struggles and successes. I craved to reach out to that person on the other side and arrange a meet-up for coffee or cocktail just to talk” and share insights about fitness.

“As a woman, we have to juggle so many roles – that of a mother, wife, daughter, sister, co-worker – which take priority over the role of being a friend to someone. While I didn’t lack in friends, I did struggle to find a group of women who shared my experiences and travails with weight loss. So, I created a BBB group for the Washington area to connect with like-minded women who want to incorporate healthy choices in their busy lives,” Isha explained.

What she said next would appeal to many: “Our goal isn’t just to lose weight but to build stronger women who uplift each other.”

Psychologist Poornima Madhavan debunks myths which eulogize maintaining an ideal weight without having to work for it. “I am one of those people who has never had to battle any major weight-related issues in my 40 years, but I believe it is people like myself that often fall through the cracks when it comes to fitness,” she told us.

Poornima has been working out at the gym regularly for the past 15 years and is quick to admit, “If I didn’t have to set aside time for exercise everyday, I’d just stay glued to the computer.”

She says: “It is a common misconception that an exercise/healthy diet regimen is purely meant for ‘weight loss’ (or, in a few cases, weight gain). So, people who are naturally in the ‘normal’ weight range do not need to exercise or watch what they eat. I strongly disagree.

“To me, fitness is not about weight loss or being a particular size. It is about being strong, feeling confident in my own skin and achieving a work-life balance.” Wise words which clearly resonate with her fellow BBB members.

What started with just a handful of enthusiastic friends a year ago, the Washington area group has now grown to 425-plus women passionate about being healthy and fit. Together with Isha, the group’s administrators include Mangala Murthy Upadhye, Shanon Brar Roy, Shalu Rana and Anumeha Sharma.

Most of the members are Indian American ladies in their thirties and older. “Beautiful Brown Bodies is an amazing community of South Asian women who are focused on fitness, health and happiness”, Shalu told us. It doesn’t have to be a ‘Brown’ group, she mentioned, noting that it being one “is an added bonus. Many of the women can relate to my personal experience, background and lifestyle,” she says.

Members of the Washington area Beautiful Brown Bodies group which encourages women of color to embrace fitness and a healthy lifestyle. Seen at top, second from right, is the group's creator Isha Setia.
Members of the Washington area Beautiful Brown Bodies group which encourages women of color to embrace fitness and a healthy lifestyle. Seen at top, second from right, is the group’s creator Isha Setia.

Activities and programs are wide-ranging and feature hikes, runs, walks, yoga sessions, picnics, dinners or just sharing nutritious recipes. Administrators often collaborate with area businesses that offer discounted services such as OrangeTheory Fitness in Dunn Loring and Lather within the Mosaic District of Fairfax County, Virginia.

BBB enjoyed its biggest turnout this past Sunday when 38 ladies packed a special room reserved for the largest groups at the Tysons Corner location of Seasons 52, a restaurant known for its healthy food options. Spearheaded by Mangala, the event, a holiday dinner, offered members an opportunity to meet and mingle in a relaxed atmosphere. The attendees were refreshingly candid, sharing insights about their lives and goals.

Anumeha, a DC-based physician in her early thirties, disclosed that during the course of her training, she experienced fatigue, was stressed and quite unwell. Fortunately for her, things changed for the better with the transition from training to independent practice. “I transformed from a work-out hating, food-obsessed, borderline obese, under-confident, cranky couch potato into someone who worked out 3-4 times a week, a mindful eater, happier and more confident person,” she says.

About BBB, she believes, it is a support group in the true sense of the word – non-judgmental and genuine. Anumeha particularly likes the accountability factor which keeps her on her toes, and fit.

Mangala moved to the Washington area some four years ago from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she had always lived, and initially found it difficult to adjust to a new place. Having a small child didn’t make matters any easier.

“I found myself spending a lot of time focusing on my child, my husband and work. There was no time for myself. After joining the Beautiful Brown Bodies group, I was able to connect with like-minded women,” she told us.

Mangala was pleasantly surprised by “how positive and encouraging everyone was about focusing on yourself and your overall health.”

 Beautiful Brown Bodies member Poornima Madhavan, a psychologist who works for a US Department of Defense research facility, believes fitness "is about being strong, feeling confident in my own skin and achieving a work-life balance."

Beautiful Brown Bodies member Poornima Madhavan, a psychologist who works for a US Department of Defense research facility, believes fitness “is about being strong, feeling confident in my own skin and achieving a work-life balance.”

Just how important is a group like BBB?  Well, the statistics are startling!  A staggering 75 percent of weight gain by Americans takes place during the holiday season — that festive time between Thanksgiving and the New Year. Reportedly, on average, a person gains 5 pounds of body weight at a time which is meant for strengthening bonds with family and friends. Losing the extra weight is, more often than not, a monumental task.

A recent review published in Physiology & Behavior revealed that most people who gain even a pound do not lose it and, worse still, every season the additional weight piles up leading to health hazards such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

For Mangala, health is wealth and she was determined to be a role model for her daughter. “I didn’t want her to pick up my unhealthy habits and be in a continuous state of flux trying to lose weight,” she said.

Joining the BBB group helped Mangala to lose 20 pounds. “This is the most weight I’ve ever lost in my life and the best that I’ve felt,” she gushed. “It really was a full circle moment for me, realizing that by focusing on myself, I was able to become a better mom, wife, daughter, sister and friend.” Quoting Randy Pausch, she said: “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”

Mangala often takes the lead in organizing events for the BBB group, including the super successful holiday dinner.

“It’s great to have such a vast variety of strong women in one room representing different phases of life, career and domain,” Isha enthused, clearly elated by the turnout. It was a fitting finale to a fruitful year of activities and an impetus for many more to come.

Beautiful Brown Bodies group administrator Anumeha Sharma, a physician by profession, is seen here during a hiking trip. Anumeha underwent a transformation -- from flab to fabulous.
Beautiful Brown Bodies group administrator Anumeha Sharma, a physician by profession, is seen here during a hiking trip. Anumeha underwent a transformation — from flab to fabulous.