Tell us a little about your background?
I have an undergraduate degree in Psychology with a minor in Family Studies and Human Development. I went on to get my Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy, which was incredibly helpful in my work seeing clients struggling with eating disorders and understanding how systemic of an issue eating disorders are. Shortly after graduating, I began seeing clients at a nonprofit family counseling center, while simultaneously working at both an inpatient psychiatric hospital and an outpatient treatment center for eating disorders. I left the nonprofit counseling center to join a group practice specializing in eating disorders, which ultimately gave me the confidence to start my own private practice, Kim Gould Therapy.
I most recently opened Autonomy Movement, Austin’s first size-inclusive, body-positive fitness studio. The building is a little over 3000 square ft with 3 mirrorless movement studios, a gender neutral shower, a changing room, 2 gender neutral bathrooms, 4 office spaces, 2 waiting rooms, a screened in back porch, and a backyard for parking and events.
How long have you been in existence?
I’ve been in the process of instructor training the last few months, and we’re hoping to open late October or early November (depending on when we get city approval)
Tell us a little bit about your gym and what makes it so unique and special?
Autonomy is size-inclusive, body positive fitness studio based in Austin, Tx. I’m a licensed therapist, and I focus on eating disorders. I had been teaching a barre studio previously which was very much embedded in the diet culture mentality of using movement for weight loss and changing the body. I noticed how frequently gyms were excluding people of different body sizes both intentionally and unintentionally; it made me really sad, and these didn’t feel like safe spaces for clients in all bodies. There was too high a risk at most studios for folx to feel embarrassed or ostracized in some way. These feelings led me to start brainstorming how could I create a safe place with the knowledge and experiences that I’ve had.
It’s through that brainstorming that I decided to combine my therapy background with my fitness background and open Autonomy Movement. The studio features no scales, no mirrors, and absolutely no weight loss challenges. My goal is to make it physically, mentally, and emotionally safe for all bodies. Every instructor who coaches at Autonomy is trained in our unique Body Diversity Fitness Competency program. The space is wheelchair accessible and even features signs outside the bathroom that say, “mirror zone” to warn clients who are reflection-sensitive. Our training is trauma informed, since we never know who or what history is in the room with us, and we ask people to write their pronouns on the white board at the reception desk. We want everyone to feel safe, seen, and included.
Why are you so passionate about fitness/movement?
First of all, I think it’s extremely important that I acknowledge that I have a ton of privilege as a thin, white woman. I also grew up in a system that was very disordered about how bodies ‘should’ look and as a result, I developed disordered beliefs about food and fitness. My own experience of unlearning diet culture inspired me to do more. The process of unlearning diet culture is like walking through a spiderweb and having to continuously catch and swipe away the remaining cobwebs. You don’t even realize the remnants are still there until they are right in front of your face. I spent the last 5 years trying to unlearn diet culture, and I’m so fortunate that Austin has such a passionate anti-diet, Health at Every Size-informed treatment community.
Additionally, I understand the importance of movement because fitness provides me with community, energy, and self-care–I can only imagine how beneficial it can be for others to use it in the same ways.
Anything else you would like us to know?
While I have put so much energy and intentionality into making sure the space is safe for everyone, I want people to know that it’s not exclusively for people who struggle with body image or don’t experience thin privilege. It’s for everyone and anyone who’s ever wanted to move in a space without being told their body needs to change. I’m also always taking feedback, so if you see a need for an addition or change at Autonomy, let me know!
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