The instructor opens up about the ripple effect of kindness and how she keeps a positive mindset despite feeling like a "punching bag" at times.
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Kendall-Toole-Interview
Credit: Courtesy of Peloton / Kendall Toole

Despite what her Peloton classes might make you believe, Kendall Toole hasn't always been a tough cookie — an instructor who radiates positivity, preaches kindness, and brushes off the bitter comments left in her Instagram DMs like they're NBD. When she first started her gig at the company in 2019 and was suddenly thrust into the limelight, Toole says her openness on social media helped her create relationships with members all over the world. But with that vulnerability also came hate from randos on the internet.

"Initially, it felt kind of like being bullied on the school yard," she tells Shape. "When you're in the third grade, you're so innocent; you think everything is amazing. And then all of a sudden, someone says something negative, and it tears you down. The first time it feels like, 'Oh, that hurt my heart. That feels like a sucker punch a little bit.'"

Over the last two years, however, Toole says she's learned to soften the blow, starting by having empathy for the folks critiquing her, as difficult as it may be. When a nasty message lands in her inbox, she reframes the situation and thinks about what the sender must be going through to write such harsh words to a stranger like herself, says Toole, who recently partnered with fragrance brand Good Kind Pure to spread kindness. "If that day I'm somebody's trash receptacle or punching bag, I've been through tougher fights. I've been punched by much harder things, and by much tougher people," she says. "So if this is how somebody is trying to find a way to deal with their pain, I don't necessarily condone it, but I can give them a little bit of grace for the fact that they're struggling." (Related: Lizzo Got Real About the Hateful Comments She's Received: 'It's Unfair')

Recognizing her own self-worth and nixing the need for external validation helps, too. "As young women, in particular, we're told exactly who we're supposed to be, how we're supposed to act, what size our body should be, what our face should look like — all these terrible, terrible things that are always changing, so we never win," says Toole. "We win when we realize it all starts with ourselves…Those comments matter less when you do become more full of yourself in the most positive way."

To build up that necessary confidence and IDGAF attitude, Toole says she practices gratitude journaling and self-compassion, reminding herself that it's totally okay to not lift as heavy or cross as many to-dos off her checklist as she had planned. "Sometimes, it's literally as simple as looking at yourself in the mirror and saying, 'You know what? I am a fucking badass. I know I did the best I could today. I know I'm not perfect. I know I made a mistake, but I'm not going to make it a failure — I'm going to make it something that I learned from,'" she adds.

Of course, Toole isn't made of steel and, at times, her mental well-being takes a hit from all the negativity. Along with attending therapy, Toole says she practices the 7-4-5 breathing technique — exhaling for seven seconds, inhaling for four, then holding for five, and repeating the process three times — to feel grounded and get back in that positive headspace. The instructor also mentally escapes to Sicily, Italy, where she has fond memories with her family; thinking about how the island felt, smelled, and sounded, "kind of resets the clock a bit," she explains. "You can mentally travel to a space, kind of like a mental oasis, where you can touch back to something that brought so much joy." (Related: How to Get the Mental Health Benefits of Travel Without Going Anywhere)

That said, Toole isn't one to bury her emotions and force a smile when the criticism becomes overwhelming. "The idea that we have to be 'up here' all the time is the most insane expectation, especially as a fitness instructor. It's like asking someone to max output for 60 minutes straight or 24 hours a day — it's physically impossible," she says. "So why do we emotionally and mentally expect ourselves to be operating at this crazy high level of ultra-positivity all the time?" Instead, she gets all up in her feels, blasts Adele, and allows herself to "be a mess." "The best part about life is when you live it fully, and to maximize life means that you're living the highs and you're really living those lows, too," she adds. (FTR, here's why it feels so damn good to cry to sad music.)

Above all, Toole treats herself with kindness in those moments, which she says has a ripple effect. "I think when we practice it ourselves, and the more that I'm kind to myself, the kinder I can be to other people," she says. "Then when I get those negative messages, they matter much less because I know that person is going through a lot. And to quote Princess Diaries, or really Eleanor Roosevelt, 'No one can make you feel inferior without your own consent.'"