"My body is my greatest tool when it comes to being able to do my job effectively," says Christina DiPiazza
Growing up, Cristina DiPiazza had a lot of experience with diets. Thanks to a chaotic home life (she says she was raised in a family where physical, verbal, and psychological abuse were rampant), she started experimenting with controlling her weight as a way to control her life. Unfortunately, DiPiazza says, both the dieting and the abuse took a toll on her mentally and physically. Police officers called to her house repeatedly chose to turn a blind eye to her nightmare living situation, and her weight fluctuated drastically throughout her childhood and young adulthood thanks to her volatile living situation. Eventually, her dieting turned into an eating disorder and she became bulimic in an effort to ditch her "thick and curvy" frame.
But the Pittsburgh native realized that she would never fully escape her past or her body, so she decided to embrace them both and turn them into something positive. Rather than becoming bitter about the police officers' inaction, she decided that one day she would be come a police officer herself so she could help other people in abusive situation. And in 2012, at the age of 29, she did exactly that. (Another woman shares: "I'm 300 Pounds and I Found My Dream Job—In Fitness.")
Once she was accepted into the Police Academy, DiPiazza quickly realized how physically demanding the job was. She recognized she couldn't put her body through bingeing and purging or starve it and then expect it to be able to be strong and agile for training. So, even though she'd never considered herself a runner in the past, she took up the sport as a way to increase her endurance. For the first time in her life, she began to truly love fitness and looked forward to her daily sweat fests. And not only was she getting stronger and faster by the day, but she found she no longer had to worry about her weight. By the time she hit the streets as a newly minted officer, she had gained some serious respect for her body and everything it could do.
"My body is my greatest tool when it comes to being able to do my job effectively," she says.
And her job can be incredibly demanding—not only does she have to pass regular tests (a mile and a half run, a quarter mile sprint, bench press, sit-ups and push-ups, in case you're curious), but she also has to be prepared to chase down criminals or wrestle men twice her size to the ground.
This is why it's so important to DiPiazza to continue to take excellent care of her body. "I am a gym rat, no doubt about it. I do a little bit of everything: cardio, free weights, spinning, yoga, and running," she says. "It's my me time. I put in my headphones and tune out the world. No calls. No texts. No social media. This is my time to reconnect with myself and fix anything that needs fixing." (These Women Show Why the #LoveMyShape Movement Is So Freakin' Empowering.)
Working out may come easy to her now, but eating a healthy diet was trickier to figure out. "Police officers get a bad rap for their eating habits because of our crazy schedules, so I had to set some rules for myself," she explains. At first, she only ate once or twice a day and relied on junk food to get her through long shifts, but she quickly learned that her body did not like that. Now, to stay alert and energetic, she eats small, healthy snacks throughout the day and makes sure to keep water bottles in her patrol car.
All of this emphasis on taking good care of her body has had a big effect on her self-esteem. She once cowered in her body, feeling powerless in the face of all the abuse she suffered and witnessed, but now she says she feels strong and, best of all, powerful. And, she adds, it's especially helped her understand that being a woman doesn't mean being weak.
"As a female police officer, I have an advantage over male police officers. I'm more approachable to the public, especially women and children. Oftentimes victims are women, and to see me, a woman in an authoritative position, when they are at their most vulnerable makes bad situations more bearable," she explains. "True strength is not only about being big and strong, it's about knowing how to handle yourself by communicating."
That's why she uses her newfound self-confidence to help other women as an ambassador for the Dare to Bare campaign for the Movemeant Foundation, an organization that aims to help women and girls learn to love fitness and feel positive about their bodies.
"I still have my days where I don't like this or like that, but I'm over it. I love the shape of my body now. I even appreciate the parts of my body that I was never all that crazy about because they complement the ones that I do appreciate," she says. "Sometimes as I'm running or lifting weights I catch a glimpse of my shadow or reflection and I think 'Giiiiiirl, that's you! Curvy and beautiful, strong and capable!'"
For more information on the Movemeant Foundation check out their site or sign up to participate in our upcoming SHAPE Body Shop events in LA and New York—proceeds from the ticket sales go directly to the foundation. Can't make the in-person events? You can still help!