Once mocked at the gym for her weight, Kenlie Tieggman now works there, making sure everyone feels comfortable working out

By Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Updated: March 12, 2019

"I'm a plus-size woman who was harassed pretty hard at the gym for being fat," Kenlie Tieggman says. Once you read about the terrible fat-shaming she endured at the gym, you'll know she's putting it mildly. But she didn't let the haters keep her out of the gym then, and she certainly isn't letting them keep her out now. Not only does she still work out regularly, she's actually landed her dream job working at the gym.

Tieggman, a regular at the YMCA of Greater New Orleans, loved exercising and saw scoring a job there as the next step in her journey to get healthy. Before she'd started to get fit, she never would have imagined herself working in a gym, but now she couldn't think of anywhere she'd rather be. So when Tieggman saw a job opening, she decided to go for it. The manager agreed that she'd be a perfect fit, with her bubbly personality and knowledge of the facilities and quickly hired her as a member service and marketing coordinator.

Working in the same place she works out has some serious perks. "I'm constantly around people working towards the same goals as I am: to be healthier, fitter, and happier," she explains. And it's one the easiest ways to ensure she never skips her workout. "I'll do my BodyPump and BodyCombat classes first thing when I get to work," she says. "Being there eliminates any excuse I could ever think of." (Meet more Women Who Show Why the #LoveMyShape Movement Is So Freakin' Empowering.)

There's also a built-in system of supporters and cheerleaders at the gym, and Tieggman often works out with her boss. Even though she had already overcome her fears about working out in public, being part of the gym staff has helped her feel even more comfortable there. One part she still struggles with: when she takes her nametag off and people see her again as someone who doesn't fit in.

"People see my size and automatically assume it's my first day," she explains. "I've had people give me all kinds of unsolicited advice about diets or exercise. People do try and be nice about it, but they still sound really condescending," she says. "While I appreciate any encouragement, I didn't start exercising yesterday!" she says.

But her favorite part of her job is getting to be the cheerleader for other people, especially those who might be intimidated by a gym environment or who are worried about not looking like a typical gym rat. "What some people really need is to feel included and accepted, no matter what they look like," Tieggman says. (We've got 11 Tips to Banish Gym-timidation and Boost Confidence.)

"I get calls all the time from people saying they want to get healthy but they don't know where to start," she says. "I just tell them, 'Come in and I'll stop whatever I'm doing and work out with you!'"

As for the people who still criticize her or give her that look while she's working out? She doesn't pay them any mind. "Once I stopped judging myself by society's standards and instead saw myself as God made me, I quit the self-loathing and moved to self-love," she says. "Now I no longer feel like I have to 'fight back' and can just love people who clearly need love."

And now that she's the seasoned gym veteran, she does have one piece of advice she likes to tell all the newbies: "It just feels good to do healthy things," she says. "You don't have to get to your goal weight or have the 'perfect' body to start feeling good; you can start feeling better right now!" (P.S. Can we please Stop Judging Other Women's Bodies?)

#LoveMyShape: Because our bodies are badass and feeling strong, healthy, and confident is for everyone. Tell us why you love your shape and help us spread the #bodylove.

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