During the weekend of GeekGirlCon, we had the pleasure of meeting up with Robyn of Geek Girl Strong. GGS is an inclusive health-coaching community with a heavy focus on the physical and mental wellness of folks who “identify as girls/women and do not fit into any one box,” – particularly those of us that identify as being “nerdy” or “geeky.” If she looks familiar, you may have spotted her in the Jordandené catalog, sporting (among other awesome designs) her “Geek Girl Power” tank or tee.
We were elated when she agreed to a photoshoot with our photographer, Stephen Klise, and wanted to take the time to learn more about her journey to being the Geek Girl Strong. Make sure to check out the full gallery after the interview!
You’ve been pretty active all your life. Was there anything in particular that ignited your interest in athleticism?
My mom put me in dance classes at a YWCA when I was 3 years old after I wouldn’t stop dancing around the apartment. I was literally that kid who’s mom would give them pots and pans to bang on while she was in the kitchen.
Both of my parents really love music and it was almost always on. When music videos (and MTV) became more popular my mom would have that on a lot and I’d stand in front of the TV, teaching myself the choreography. She also put me in soccer at age 5, which I loved.
From there it was a string of different activities all the way through my schooling. I was allowed to quit an activity but I had to have another one lined up that I was going to try before doing so. Those included; softball, theater (mostly as a dancer), track and field, cheerleading and probably a few others slipping my mind.
I recently got back into pole dancing in a way that I haven’t been for a while. I’ve been at it for about 5 years now and have only recently begun doing it for me again (not just so that I am skilled enough to teach my clients).
I was never really a “gym person” until after I left Cross fit about three years ago, now my time at the gym is solace to me. I spend more time doing cardio than ever before (I was a sprinter, not a distance runner). I’m always looking for ways to see what my body is capable of, from brute strength with power lifting, to more muscular endurance focused movements like 100 push-ups. As I get older I’m learning how to better listen to my body, rest when I need, rehab areas when they need it, stretch… I’m in a pretty good spot currently.
On the nerdier side of things, what’s your favorite geeky activity and/or series/fandom right now?
Right now, I think reading comics, though that’s been pretty steady for the last 10 years. I’m a huge Marvel Comics fan and Image does amazing things, I also love a lot of lesser known titles and creators.
I actually just finished Nautro Shippuden after having put it off years ago when I got too frustrated by fillers during [a particular story arc, omitted for spoilers]. I’m glad I finished it up though. I doubt I’ll be watching much of Boruto but it was fun to go down a deep Wiki and YouTube hole to see what happens with all the characters.
Oh, I’ve also been going pretty hard at Mario Party ever since getting that a couple of months ago! Nintendo has really impressed me with the Switch.
“Geeky” hobbies these days have become a lot more socially acceptable than they were even just 10 years ago, but women, POCs, and people who otherwise don’t fit the “nerd” stereotype still have to work hard to be accepted and deal with gatekeeping. You’ve said that for you, “living [as an athlete and a nerd] as a teen was at times far from easy.” What kind of struggles did you find yourself facing back then?
Ooph. Well, like I use to tell my students… being a teen is just hard. You’ve got a lot going on in that body and no clue what to do with any of it. I just didn’t “fit” anywhere.
My friends from my neighborhood (of mostly low income and black folks) didn’t fully understand the part of me that went to school in Chelsea, a neighborhood in Manhattan. A lot of my school friends knew I liked Pokemon and had a boyfriend who built computers in his room while I played his video games, but I didn’t talk about that stuff with them too much. My friends on The Sims Online (yeah, I did that) didn’t know much about me at all, even though I could spend an entire day in that world.
I was a small-statured black girl living in the ‘hood, who was trying to learn how to skate board (it didn’t work out), while practicing cheerleading moves, commuting 45 minutes to school, never failed a class, and would have other kids in the building over to play her N64 (later, Playstation 2 as well). All of this, and I came home from middle school with a black eye a couple of times, to my divorced parents’ dismay. There was a lot going on and looking back I can see how it is all related.
You’re an advocate for mental health as well as physical health. What would you say is the link between the two?
I wouldn’t even say that there is a link. Instead, it is just all intertwined. I fully believe that they are dependent on one another. If one is severely lacking, the other will not thrive.
Studies prove time and time again that addressing physical activity allows for our brains to function better and addressing our mental health allows us to physically feel better.
I’ve been so depressed at different points in my life that physically I felt that I just could not get up. I know that by taking care of my mental health it will allow for me to get to the gym, make dinner, and more. I know that by staying active it helps my brain deal with stressors that are all the more stressful for me since I live with a mental illness.
Though, that is just one simple example. There are lots more out there.
I know that Geek Girl Strong’s roots are in clubs and councils you founded at the school where you worked and that encouraged you to branch out and work hard to offer more to the masses. So how did GGS get started from there? (i.e. were you setting up local workshops or did it start with online coaching? Etc)
I decided to branch out because of people at Geek Girl Brunch asking if I trained adults! They would tell me that they might have enjoyed PE if I were their teacher (a huge compliment) and were willing to see how that would be.
I attempted online coaching at first and it did not really take, I have long distance clients now but at the beginning I did a lot of in person private training. Then when a local news network wanted to do a piece on me (which ended up never happening) they asked that I have a group they could come see. That’s when I started Fangirl Health Club; it was just a room full of people I always knew who were willing to let me try teaching a group of adults for the first time since college.
What do you think is the key to motivating kids, especially young girls, to get physically active and interested in athletics?
Early on… create situations in which they can feel successful. Who wants to do something they suck at over and over again? Especially in front of their peers?!
When they do well, celebrate that. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watching young girls be reminded that they need to be smart while young boys are reminded that they should want to be physically dominant… and smart. I think we’d all be better off if we celebrated all skills and intelligences more often.
Most importantly, listen to them. Then meet them where they are, relate the activities to characters and stories that inspire them if you have to. It can be as simple as starting a game of “Steal the Bacon” off with “WELCOME! TO THE 75TH HUNGER GAMES! TRIBUTES, STEP FORWARD.”
Just let them know you see them.
What about adults? Particularly, adults that were never really into sports or being active as kids?
You know, I’ve realized in the last 3.5 years that it is almost exactly the same answer as above. Some big differences are in the fact that sometimes teaching adults movement can be difficult because they make have some un-learning todo. Kids are usually a pretty clear slate in this sense.
What’s exactly the same, is giving people the opportunity to experience success in movement. To create an environment in which they know they will not be judged for trying… and themes still work really freakin’ well.
For those of us nerds ready to get moving but not sure where to start, what are some activities we can do at home?
The first thing that comes to mind for me in terms of movement is honestly just to walk/move more. Go for a walk, park the car a little further away from your destination than you have to, take the stairs, ride a bike, go out dancing with friends… all of those things really do make a difference.
When it come to a full exercise I would suggest bringing on a professional for a least one session to ensure that you are not going to injure yourself. Apps and other digital programs becoming readily available is fantastic but the number of people I see doing things that I could really get them hurt concerns me.
In terms of movements I’ve say to have locked down? The Squat, the push-up, the plank and the ability to reach your toes. These are all movements can be done with no equipment at all and are more important than we give them credit for.
I know that I want to be able to reach down to the floor to pick things up, tie my own shoes, and get off of the floor if I do happen to fall… for as long as I can.
Then, gameify your workouts! Find a way to make the enjoyable and a part of the life you already have. You can do this by turning a Twitch-watching session into a workout game (think of how you can turn movies and tv shows into drinking games, but add squats).
Are there any upcoming events or projects we should be looking out for?
Things tend to slow down for the Holidays we’ll be having some awesome deals for Small Business Saturday and Cyber Money. Then in February we’re hosting our 4th annual pay-what-you-want 1up Challenge which happens completely online!
To stay up on all of this and more people can sign up for our newsletter here: bit.ly/ggsnewsletter
Any organizations, resources, or other fit nerds you’d like to give a shout-out to?
Definitely! The folks at Yoga Quest have always been really supportive of me and whenever I attend one of their yoga classes at conventions I have a great time!
I was recently on a panel with representatives from US Quidditch, Hogwarts Running Club, and Jedi Saber Guild. They are all out there doing some really awesome physically active and geeky things. I’ve also always really liked a lot of the geeky themed workouts shared over at darebee.com!
Thank you so much for taking the time to hang out with us and answer our questions, Robyn!
Check out the full Geek Girl Strong photoshoot below: