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Sarah Sapora

Sarah Sapora

by Liz Black

When we think of the “Wellness Industry,” images of lithe Lululemon-wearing women clutching $17 juices and raving about the latest diet craze instantly spring to mind. “Wellness” is often just a code word for “weight loss,” a billion-dollar industry built on self-hate and societal-encouraged insecurities. But who do you turn to when no one represents you? In Sarah Sapora’s case, she became the change she wanted to see in the industry.

But navigating body positivity in the wellness space was daunting, as diet culture dominated the dialogue and the belief that thinness equaled wellness still prevalent. Sapora felt that the only way to create real, transformative change of any kind is to do so from a place of self love. With that in mind, Sarah founded LIFELOVE, a weekend long personal development experience returning for its third year in Brooklyn, New York. LIFELOVE utilizes Sapora’s personal growth journey and wisdom to curate a space that allows an expanding and accepting community of women to help each other to grow and take steps to become a better version of themselves that they desire to be.

Read on to learn more about how she’s changing the conversation around wellness, how you can participate in her proudest professional moment, and why you need to just put on the damn swimsuit this summer.

Sarah Sapora
Photos by Nichole Alex and Myah Jones

Q & A with Sarah Sapora

When did you start this wellness journey and what motivated you?

I wasn’t interested in creating any change in my life (nor did I even realize that I would want to) until I got to the point where the fear and pain of staying where I was became greater than the fear of doing something different.

When I was 37, I saw two things clearly in my life. First, I saw that the excess weight I was carrying caused me to live in a nonstop state of pain; my back was constantly hurting, and my knees would buckle out from underneath me when doing simple and everyday tasks.  I was saying “no” to doing things because I knew my body wouldn’t let me do them. (That’s hard for people to understand without context, but understand that my knees could buckle out from under me while at Target or singing in the semi-professional choir I belonged in.)

More important than that was the feeling that I was watching my life pass me by; what I wanted then, and have always wanted, was to give and receive love in the context of a healthy partnership. I saw, for the first time, that I was the common thread between all of my previous unhealthy relationships. This wasn’t because of my size, but because of how I was attracting the same kind of partners again and again.

I wanted one thing – to be happier and healthier by the time I turned 40 than I was when I  turned 30. I had no idea what I would uncover when I began my journey, but I knew I would have to create a different version of my life if I wanted to experience something different in my life.

I don’t use the word “motivation” because, to me, it’s rooted in diet culture and the idea of “success” or “failure.” People believe if we have motivation we are valuable, and if we don’t have motivation, then we are lazy and worthless? No way! Motivation is something we equate to the concept of perfection and perfection is unattainable! All we can do is love ourselves so much that we are willing to get uncomfortable in order to make change.

There were, and are, things that I want to feel and experience in my life – it won’t be motivation that brings these things to me, but a deeply rooted sense of self-love for who I am at my core.

How do you respond to those who say "wellness" is just a new word for "diet"?

I would say that the wellness industry has done a great job of making us feel this way and I don’t blame them for thinking this! Let’s be honest, the wellness industry is rampant with diet culture; I think the wellness industry is broken and that’s one of the reasons I want to use my voice. Wellness should be about wholeness, and the ability for each person to find the state of wholeness that is relative for them. This should not be based on some societal standard, but on what it means for each person to uncover, and connect with, a version of their highest self, inside and out.

“Thin” does not mean “healthy” and being “healthy” is going to be relative for each person and be a balance of our emotional, physical, and spiritual health and well-being. Let’s work to redefine wellness so that it becomes less about pre-requisite and more about individuals unearthing and growing into their greater selves!

Do you feel that intentional weight loss and body positivity can go hand in hand?

This is a big question. By its definition, and as the movement was created, diets are the antithesis of body positivity; if you go by this understanding, the two cannot go hand in hand.  Which leads us to the next two points. First, are movements allowed to evolve and adapt? Second, is it possible to separate “diet culture” from “intentional” weight loss?

Body positivity as a social movement has evolved a great deal in the last few years – it has become less about socio-political progress and more about “self-love” which is certainly something all bodies are entitled to regardless of their path. If we go by its original definition, one can’t participate in body positivity and intentional weight loss at the same time. I think this is exclusive and based more on “fear” than it is a loving way to self-identify with community. Regarding the separation of “diet culture” and intentional weight loss, I believe it is possible to separate the two, though most would disagree with me.

Here is what I believe: Anyone with any body should be able to experience body liberation as it relates to them. This included anyone’s right to change the size of their body without shame. I believe that movements can be empowering and can certainly help people – I also believe they can be exclusive and rigid. At the end of the day, we should spend more time worrying about being accountable for our own lives than we should fitting into someone else’s box.

To keep it simple:

1. The ability to have hope that we can experience something in our life does not expire with age or a dress size. Hope belongs to us all.

2. We are all far more empowered to create action than we can even imagine, if we are willing to get uncomfortable.

3. There is no long-lasting change that can come from shame or self-loathing; the only way to transform your life is to do so from a place of self-love.

What makes your approach different from other wellness coaches/influencers?

I’m a plus size, 40-year old woman who is using her voice in an industry that is traditionally reserved for slender, young, and athletic women. I will gladly walk into space where I am the only body of size and open others’ eyes to a different perspective. I am comfortable having the “hard” discussions.

I’m not a coach, and I deeply dislike the word “influencer.” I’m a certified Kundalini yoga teacher, a speaker, and someone who shares her own journey in the hopes of making it safe and accessible for others to examine their own path. My focus is not on “likes” and sponsored social media posts; I am committed to creating spaces online and offline for women of every size to explore their path of self-love.

I want to meet regular, everyday women where they are in life. I speak my heart and create space for others to follow if my message resonates.

I don’t believe “fat is better” and I also don’t believe “thin is better.” What I do believe that we all have the right to live in a state of being in their body and life that empowers them. If you want to lose weight, do the work to unpackage how you can do this without buying into the value-system of dieting. If you don’t want to lose weight, don’t!

What matters is, what can we do individually, to find wholeness in our life.

What is your proudest achievement thus far?

Professionally? Running LIFELOVE is the single hardest and most beautiful thing I have ever done. In 2016 I went to a personal growth event and was the only “fat” body in the room. This hurt me to my core – women of every size deserve to feel safe exploring what it means to create real change in their life. Inclusivity in personal development is a necessity. I promised myself that, one day, I would run an event where women of every size felt welcome and safe.

LIFELOVE returns for its third year this September to Brooklyn, NY. I low-key describe LIFELOVE as “Super Soul Sessions + Church (without religion) + meditation + karaoke dance breaks + badass speakers + connecting to a community of 150 women with a HUGE open heart.”  LIFELOVE is a weekend-long experience and the feeling of seeing women show up for their beautiful human selves is unreal. That first time you look out into the room and you feel everyone breathe together is powerful beyond words.

Personally? It’s the simple idea that I am evolving my reality. Yesterday I woke up and wasn’t in pain. I calmly made the bed and walked down the steps without my knees hurting; my house was clean and clutter free. I made breakfast and I sat there without the internet or TV and mindfully ate breakfast. I sit through pain; I don’t hide from it. I’ve stopped using coping mechanisms to numb feelings. I am an active participant in my life, which is not something I could have said twenty, ten, or even five years ago.

Do you feel that your industry has become more inclusive in recent years?

Personal development is still very exclusive. Which is deeply broken – we need to see more bodies, more ages, and more people using tools to improve their experience in life outside of “diet culture.”

There are two “archetypes” you see in mainstream personal development these days – one is a white, powerful man and the other is a slender, relatively young, white woman. There need to be more bodies of size, persons of different age, and persons of color, and sexual orientation all sharing their transparent journey to living a greater life.

What more can wellness and fashion be doing to become more inclusive?

68% of women in the United States are plus size. Just over 50% of women are over 35 years of age. Brands need to invest in more diverse partnerships. Seek out diverse bodes who have subject authority to teach, connect, and serve. Vary the bodies that you use in your advertisements and treat all bodies that represent your brand with the same respect. Be willing to work with “quality” over “quantity” even if that means partnerships with lesser established persons of influence.

Who are some people in your field whose work you find inspiring and why?

I consider myself to be a body-inclusive face for personal development and gravitate towards teachers who lead with their own authenticity. Mark Groves, John Kim, and Vienna Pharaon talk a great deal about releasing unworthiness and I love their work. Pema Chödrön is a deeply revered American Buddhist nun whose writing has been deeply impactful in my understanding in the importance of pain. Melissa Hartwig, the creator of Whole 30, does an amazing job at authenticity in communication, especially as she talks about addiction and changing self-limiting behaviors. Neil Strauss talks about his journey of love-addiction and how that impacted his life.

The majority of voices I see doing the work seem to serve the same, homogenous, bodies of people. This is part of the reason why I work to bring body diversity into personal development!

Is there a motto you live by?

“Embrace the suck.” We do a lot of things in life to avoid feeling discomfort and pain. The hard part is that life and growth require discomfort and pain from us. I’m not saying I believe that we should walk around feeling miserable in life; we shouldn’t. What I do believe is that we are responsible for creating the life we experience. So much of what happens around us is not for us to be in control of in any way, but we can control how we take in life.

Strip it back. Remove the noise. Embrace the suck and love through it. That is how we grow!

How would you describe your personal style?

My style is simple and has evolved quite a bit over the years. When I first began my work in plus size fashion, I felt the pressure to try every trend – now I stick with what I love and want I feel works for me. I never shy from figure-hugging styles but I always work to find balance.

I would describe my style as minimalist casual meets Southwestern.

Summer’s finally here, and with warm weather comes swimwear, something that so many women insist they cannot wear. What advice can you offer to someone who feels they don’t have a “swimsuit body”?

Wear the damn bathing suit.

Look, I understand. The idea of “loving your body” can be daunting, especially when you are baring it all. I’m not going to patronize you and tell you that everyone can easily love their body or instantly wake up feeling peaceful about the skin they are in.

Rather, let’s put this in perspective. Your kids don’t care what you look like in a suit, they just care that you splash in the water with them. Your partner just wants you to be happy. Life doesn’t wait for you to feel like you are perfect. Life happens. Days pass, seasons go by, and you can either jump in as you are, or sit on the sidelines and watch other people experiencing life the way you feel you should.

Show up as you are. Do things that bring you joy.  You have a body and that is all you need for it to be “beach” friendly. Focus more on how you feel than what your body looks like.

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