She may have spent years developing a loyal online following and a strong social media brand, but it was one Facebook post in particular that signalled a turning point for Makaia Carr. The post featured two side-by-side photos of the fitness fan, but this wasn’t your usual ‘before and after’ picture.
In this version, the ‘after’ image showed Makaia almost 20kg heavier, but with a bright smile and sense of positivity that was a world apart from the photo of her slimmer self. In the most public of forums, she vowed to never again promote diets and weight loss, to love the skin she’s in, and to make her mental health a priority.
And judging by the response, the sentiment struck a chord with New Zealand women.
“The ‘before and after’ post was the first time I sent the [body positive] message out. I was so scared as I thought all the haters would appear,” she says. “It reached more than a million people, there were about 20,000 comments, and only three were negative.
From that point on I realised more women need to hear these positive messages, and it made me feel guilty about what messages I’d previously been sending on social media. All the ‘This is what fit looks like’, ‘It’s all about abs and working out six times a week’.
I thought, ‘How have I been making other women feel?’ So I decided to put my voice out there, to start sharing where I’m at right now and how I feel about my body.”
Having recently sold her popular fitness business, Motivate Me, Makaia now juggles running her website with speaking events, advising businesses about social media, and working as an ambassador for organisations including Be Pure, Choice Hotels and Lifeline.
She’s also got a book deal in the works, and while her projects keep her busy, her ultimate goal is to be happy, healthy and true to herself.
“A turning point for me was watching the documentary Embrace [about ‘body loathing’]. That prompted the ‘before and after’ post and was the start of the self-love focus.
It’s interesting, I’m getting people who are saying, ‘You’re not fat enough to be talking about this’, ‘You’re not body positive’, and then there are the really fit people saying, ‘It’s irresponsible what you’re doing; you should be encouraging people to exercise’.
But for me it’s more about a mental mindset, it’s about training because you love yourself, or eating healthily because you love yourself. It’s not beating yourself up at the gym or overeating because you hate yourself.
What’s been the most important aspect of your health journey so far?
First and foremost – especially in the past year – it’s been about putting my mental health first. To help stay focused, I chose a word I could use all the time when I was just getting too wound up or frustrated.
My word this year has been ‘calm’. It’s a word I say to myself every time I’m feeling stressed. Even just saying it, you can feel a bit calmer – when I say it I try to slow my breathing down and bring myself back to now.
It’s simple but it’s really powerful, and it’s about what you attach to that word – the emotions and meaning behind it. You can’t just sit there repeating it mindlessly, but if you say ‘calm’ and then know your next step is a big, slow, deep breath, that gets you really engaged in it.
How has your experience with depression shaped your views on wellbeing?
I tore my ACL [knee ligament] last year playing netball, and had to have surgery. I hadn’t realised how much I was relying on exercise as my ‘medication’, but not being able to exercise caused my depression to come back.
Then I combined it with the crap food, the alcohol, all these things you do to try to make yourself feel good. They might lift you up in the short term, but then all the problems come straight back.
I was in a bad space, so I went to my doctor and said, ‘I’m out of ideas, I need some help’. I was really reluctant to go on anti-depression meds, but they changed my life. The medication has helped bring me back to a place where I can operate properly and make better decisions for myself.
I find when you take away negativity, you start opening yourself up to opportunities; you start having that respect for yourself and you want to do things that show you value yourself. You start looking at things from the perspective of ‘you’re enough’, and that’s awesome.
What are your top tips for managing stress?
There is a lot of advice out there, like go to a yoga class and be more mindful, but sometimes you need to have a change of scene too. My husband and I try to go away regularly, and we make sure we’re actually having some time off.
It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, and you can do things like family activities, go on a hike, and take a digital detox at the same time. Often people go away on holiday but are still fully attached to work, to social media, devices, the daily grind, and still organising stuff back at home. We’re not having a break and leaving everything behind, which can be a huge de-stressor.
I saw a survey that said 71 per cent of Kiwi women and 60 per cent of men reported feeling stressed [‘Need a Break’ Report, Choice Hotels]. The top three stressors were pretty understandable: money, career and family issues, but for women housework was a big thing too and that didn’t rate for men!
I feel a lot of women don’t openly acknowledge that they’re stressed. They might say, ‘I’m crazy busy’ , but they’ll never say, ‘I’m not coping’ or ‘There’s
too much on my plate’.
It’s at the point where if people aren’t stressed out they start to think, ‘Have I done enough today? What am I missing?’ It’s a worry, that we feel like we have to be maxed out every day, to feel like we’re of value.
What are some of the key wellbeing concerns you keep hearing from women?
The most common discussion points on my Facebook page are around body image. People say, ‘When I’ve lost 20kg I’m going to do this’ , or ‘I can’t wait to do that but I need to lose some weight first.’ It’s this mindset of ‘I have to drop weight before I’m letting myself do something’, and I think it’s really sad and frustrating. So many emotions come from a comment like that.
There are also a lot of discussions about people thinking their lifestyles aren’t good enough. Comments like, ‘I can never afford to do that’. It’s this comparison with others all the time, which sometimes can be meant as a judgement to the other person as well. It’s social media that drives this sort of discussion, because it often wouldn’t happen in person.
For someone like me, whose whole career has been developed over social media for the past five years, I’ve got a real thing with it. It can be so good and yet so bad; it’s really double-edged.
How has social media impacted on our modern lives, and on our health?
I think social media is driving a lot of that stress among women, especially young women. Facebook has been around for 14 years, and we’re in a stage where we’re more developed around how we filter information and what we take on, but the younger generation aren’t. They grew up with social media everywhere, without any education around the realities of it, and they think it’s the world.
Instagram is about eight years old, and we’re now seeing the effects of that on children who have grown up with it from a very young age. What are they seeing or thinking is normal for a girl to look like, behave like and share? It has opened up a whole new perspective for us as women; we need to love ourselves and have this beautiful, positive self-image and embrace who we are, but also pass that on to our daughters.
My daughter is 12, my son is 19, and that generation needs to understand that what you see on social media every day is not what you have to look like as a woman, and it’s not necessarily the typical women you’re going to be surrounded by. Social media is in our face 24/7, but we have to let young people know that you don’t have to buy into it.