Meet Nest at Night Speaker Lee Ann Jolly, Ph.D.
Throughout different seasons of life, it can be difficult to give ourselves grace. When you also take into account the growing pressure from media outlets and fitness fiends to look a certain way, it’s especially important to have real moments and check-in with ourselves to maintain healthy minds as well as healthy bodies.
Lee Ann Jolly, creative director and founder of Jolly Bodies, recognizes the struggle of finding this balance and is the voice of inspiration we all need right now. The Nest is so excited to feature this incredible lady at our fall Nest at Night event on Sept.15!
We sat down with Lee Ann to learn how she became a fitness trailblazer, and to hear her spill the tea about how changing your mindset can change your body too!
Q: How did you get your start in the fitness industry, and was it something you’ve always wanted to do?
A: It all began in 2005 during my sophomore year at the University of Arkansas. I waltzed into a group fitness class, had a blast and continued attending classes. One day, I was approached by a student instructor who changed my life with a single comment: “Hey, you come here a lot and you seem to really enjoy it! Ever thought about instructing?”
The rest is history. At first, I didn’t know how I was going to carve out a niche for myself in the fitness industry, so I spent the next 10 years developing and teaching formats before or after my regular classes until I completed my Ph.D. program in physiology at UAMS. Now being steeped in the fitness world, I realized how little oversight the fitness industry had (and still has), which has directly led to the propagation of massive amounts of misinformation at a high rate due to the growth of social media.
By the time I completed my dissertation work, I knew what I was going to do with my life: combine my education as a trained scientist in physiology with my knowledge in strength and cardio format development to form Jolly Bodies. I sought to develop a company with a focus on creating unforgettable experiences through group exercise classes filled with education, love, hospitality and innovative technology. Jolly Bodies offers a combination that lends itself to what we call “immersive escapism.” World off, fun on. We want you sweating with goosebumps.
Q: With your husband being a partner in the business, how do you two balance working together vs. being a couple?
A: Ah yes, let’s talk about Burke. A few years into my doctoral studies, we met and I quickly pulled him into becoming a group exercise instructor with me. In turn, he pulled me into what lies at the core of Jolly Bodies – love. Our relationship and collective skill sets are complementary and led to the development of Jolly Bodies’ balanced foundation. Burke and I were both eager to work together full time and agreed to seize the opportunity as soon as we got the chance.
One of the great things about Jolly Bodies is that the business itself is a living version of our two personalities combined. As someone who lies right in the middle of the introvert/extrovert scale, I gravitate towards spending time alone. My strengths are in design, organization, logistics and all things creative as I have a love of technology, color and daydreaming. Burke is 100% an extroverted, people-person 24/7. Where I find myself emotionally depleted after teaching a few classes, Burke becomes more energized. I recharge by spending time at my desk cooking up new ideas, while Burke recharges through conversations and connection with others.
During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we decided to lean in hard to be exactly who we are and allow our business to be a direct extension of that. At times it felt risky because we see examples in our society of people who have received backlash or judgment for being themselves. However, having a teammate who completely understands that and still encourages you to be yourself despite the outside world is invaluable. The support we give each other is paramount for the well being of both the business and our personal relationship.
Q: During your presentation at the recent Soirée Women’s Leadership Symposium, you made some powerful statements about how the fitness industry (and society in general) has made women feel about their bodies. What is your biggest piece of advice for women when it comes to battling body shaming?
A: Identify your triggers, immediately. When the thought arose that made you feel bad about yourself, take a moment to consider the following:
- What were you doing?
- Who were you with?
- What was said?
- Did you see something – like a scale, for example – that triggered a rabbit hole of negative thoughts?
Whatever it is, draw a boundary or if necessary, get rid of it, completely. Starting your journey with internal reflection is an act of reclamation for yourself. Don’t judge yourself for having a negative thought about your body. It’s impossible to avoid this stuff when it’s designed to follow you everywhere you go. Pause and reflect to identify the triggers, ponder about it, then act as soon as possible.
Even if the process feels bumpy, working on fiercely guarding your headspace is going to make a positive impact. You can never go wrong by investing in your mental health.
Also, if you are in a situation where you see or hear body shaming happening – act. I know it can feel risky, but the reality is that if we want things to change, we must act. Your voice carries more power than you realize.
Q: You guys are all about pure JOY in your fitness classes at the Jolly Bodies Lab. Why is the fun element so important to you as personal trainers?
A: I love this question. Remember the Disney movie Monsters, Inc.? If you haven’t seen it, *spoilers ahead.*
At the beginning of Monsters, Inc., we learn the factory employs skilled monsters as “scarers” who venture into the human world to scare children and harvest the energy from their screams to power the city of Monstropolis. Now hold that thought; the idea here is that fear generates power. Hopefully you see where I’m going with this. Fear-based marketing is a dime a dozen in fitness. Ever heard these “motivating” quips?
“Your larger bones make you less attractive to men – you should focus on lowering your weight.”
“Run faster if you want to melt the belly fat!”
“Standing there doesn’t burn calories!”
These are all real interactions that people in our daily fitness circles had previously experienced during a workout, and they all have one thing in common … besides being terrible.
They’re fear based.
When we grow up, we transition from being kids who are encouraged to adults who are not. We spend our childhoods dreaming of possibilities and using our imaginations, and yet when we grow up, we’re told that such things are frivolous. Our culture constantly reinforces the message that if what you’re doing doesn’t have a “ROI” attached to it – or worse, you’re enjoying it – then it’s not worth your time. Unfortunately, a workout class can often feel the same. While we support having fitness goals that involve increasing or decreasing various numbers, which often serve as the “ROI” of working out, we believe that such things can take a back seat to something greater: pure delight.
By the end of Monsters, Inc., the monsters have discovered that the energy from children’s laughter is much more powerful than the energy they get from their fear. We believe wholeheartedly the same is true for fitness. Jolly Bodies is the antithesis to the fear-based language and tactics used to scare consumers into conforming in fitness. We prioritize JOY.
When you start prioritizing joy in fitness, you realize that the initial thing you set out to do – whether it’s to lower your blood pressure, lose weight, get stronger or another personal goal – can happen WITHOUT being in an environment that induces fear, anxiety, shame, inadequacy or guilt. By creating an environment filled with laughter, nostalgia, education, energy, hype, care, safety and love, we’ve had the privilege of watching humans connect fitness to pure happiness for the sake of happiness – not because of a result – and blossom before our eyes. THAT is the magical moment. When people realize they can get their long-desired results by putting joy center stage in the process, everything changes for them. We’re the happiest workout place on earth, and we’re here for it.