Body Language: Her message is to be healthy; accept whatever your size is.
By Art Carey, Philadelphia Inquirer Columnist, 11/14/04
Kelly Bliss was 25 years old. She was depressed, suicidal. She hated her body. She was pigging out, then throwing up, six times a day. Sick of herself and her life, she looked in the mirror. "What's wrong with you?" And then, as she says: "Mick Jagger saved my butt."
The words that came to mind: "I can't get no - satisfaction." But how to attain it? Then the epiphany: "If you want satisfaction, you must begin enjoying food and enjoying your life."
She decided to declare a truce with her body, to stop using food as an instrument of self-flagellation. She would view it not as her nemesis but as a gift. She would eat only because it was enjoyable and satisfying. And she would work toward "building a life that's wonderful, one choice at a time."
Bliss, now 50, is still building. What the Lansdowne woman has achieved so far is impressive. A single mom, she has reared two children to adulthood. She has built a thriving practice as a psychotherapist and life coach. And she has become a hero and inspiration to many "plus-size" people by helping them find hope - and possibly, bliss - through healthy eating and exercise.
"My goal is to free people from body loathing and yo-yo dieting by promoting healthy living and self-care," Bliss says.
"Self-care, independent of weight, is my primary focus.
If you take care of yourself, your weight will take care of itself."
At the Garden Church in Lansdowne, Bliss leads exercise classes and offers instruction in "intuitive eating" (eat when hungry, stop when satisfied; meet emotional needs without using food).
To expand her reach, she has written a book, Don't Weight: Eat Healthy and Get Moving NOW! (Infinity Publishing.com, $16), and produced a dozen workouts on video and DVD. She has also created an Internet site, www.PlusSizeYellowPages.com, that's a virtual department store for an array of products that make life for plus-size people more pleasant (examples: extra-wide shoes, bike seats, sturdy desk chairs).
Self-acceptance is fine, Bliss says, but she pushes her clients beyond that to self-appreciation. She wants people, no matter their size, to rejoice in their sound bones, strong muscles, and yes, their round, soft flesh.
She refers to others as "plus size," but calls herself a "cute little fat chick." She's just over 5-1 and just under 200 pounds, and not a bit ashamed.
"Fat is a characteristic, not a character flaw," she says. "I eat lightly. I teach a fitness class five hours a week. I power-walk 10 to 20 miles a week. Yet I'm still fat. I've come to appreciate myself as a natural plus-size person. Your ideal size is whatever size you are if you're living as healthy as you can."
That realization did not come easily. Determinedly inactive as a child, Bliss, who grew up in Chicago, was skeletal till puberty. With plumpness came self-hatred. She starved herself, surviving only on water. At night she cinched her waist tight with a two-inch-wide belt, hoping for an hourglass figure but causing only blood blisters.
Even after the Mick Jagger epiphany, she remained an "exercise bulimic." She swam and ran for hours a day. In 1980, after hobbling through back-to-back marathons in New York and Philadelphia, she blew out her knees. The lesson: "If you're exercising because you hate your body, that's pathological and psychologically harmful."
In a 1991 car accident, her head struck the dashboard. Result: constant epileptic seizures. For two years, she existed in a medication-induced stupor, sleeping 22 hours a day.
But for Bliss, every obstacle is an opportunity. Fearing incapacitation, she hatched the idea of reaching people through videotapes and the Internet. "Teaching is my nature," says the resolutely cheerful Bliss. "From my life and my clients, I have learned hope, and hope is contagious."
Her exercise class is open to people of all ages, sizes and fitness levels. She seeks to create a comfort zone for those afraid of gyms, self-conscious about their bodies, embarrassed by their klutziness or lack of fitness. Some of her pupils weigh 400 pounds or more. Some are disabled. One was born without arms and legs. Some perform the exercises sitting in chairs.
"I tailor the workout to whomever shows up," Bliss says. "With the correct instruction, anything is possible." Her workout mantra: "Oh, yes you can!"
A typical class consists of 30 minutes of no-impact aerobics, 20 minutes of muscle-toning exercises on the floor or mat, and 10 minutes of gentle stretching. Her pupils are loyal; many have been coming for years.
"She's inclusive and makes you feel like you belong there," says Joanne Naughton, 48, a QVC marketing manager who lives in Aldan. "She's always talking to you and giving you motivational tips. She makes you feel like you can do it, and she keeps reminding you that it's not about how you look but how you feel."
Thanks to Bliss, Naughton has shed 50 pounds, and her flexibility is "incredible."
"Kelly is an absolute artist at creating a sense of inhabiting your body with joy," says Deborah Zubow, 53, a child health advocate who lives in West Philadelphia. "She makes exercise seem like a reward rather than a punishment. She's a healer."
For more information about Kelly Bliss, call 610-394-2547 or visit www.kellybliss.com
Back to Top List