Cover Photo: John Arano / Unsplash

Find out what motivates Monica Dizon, Marilen Concepcion, Ida Paras, and Katrina Razon to train, and what they have to say about outdated stereotypes

While many tout the Philippines as among the most progressive with regard to gender equality, our society is certainly not free of patriarchical beliefs. Yet, no matter how long these restrictive values may persist, us women have proven time and again that our spirits will prevail, one debunked gender norm at a time.

This International Women’s Day, we speak with instructors Monica Dizon, Marilen Concepcion, Ida Paras, and Katrina Razon—four powerful women who don’t just reject the stereotypical norms of beauty and fitness, but empower others to do the same through movement in all its forms.

We hope that this serves as an important reminder to celebrate our bodies, resilience, and strength, not just today but every day forward.

See also: Why Do We Need International Women’s Day?

Monica Dizon — Cycling Instructor, Saddle Row

Tatler Asia
Monica Dizon
Above Monica Dizon

Why do you train? What motivates you?

Like many who start out, my motivations were purely vanity and weight loss. Living in the Philippines where the standard of beauty didn’t look like me, I felt the need to lose weight to fit a certain mould. Eventually, I realized that no amount of training or dieting would ever get me to look like what society perceived as “fit”. Now, I work out to get my mind right. When I train hard, I feel so much more productive and focused on everything else I need to accomplish.

I love being able to prove people wrong.
Monica Dizon

How did you first get into fitness?

I come from a very active family! We all have our own hobbies that revolve around fitness and the activities we do as a family. From a young age, it was instilled in me that being fit was a lot more than just working out—it’s a practice in self-discipline and teamwork, and allows you the freedom to move your body the way you want to.

What has your personal fitness journey been like?

It’s still got a long way to go! As a woman coming into my late twenties, I feel a lot more secure in my body than ever before. I've come to accept that I will never satisfy everyone’s ideal “fit” body; I have curves and hips and that’s okay. I am strong and capable of doing what I want to do. I can honestly say I train now to feel good and be productive rather than “skinny,” or what I thought a typical fitness instructor should look like. I’d rather count the reps I’m able to do than the number on the scale.

Why did you want to become an instructor? What do you love most about being an instructor?

At first, I was very hesitant. Once I realised that I could do it, and be good at it, there was no turning back. I love the freedom I have to express myself through music and movement, which I had never had the chance to do, and I love the performance aspect of instructing. Meeting new people, hearing their stories and struggles with health is also so inspiring. The connections and friendships you make become so strong over the mutual struggle you share while sweating.

See also: Top of the Heap: Gyms and Dance Studios that Suit Your Fitness Regimen

What is it like to be a woman in the fitness industry? What are some of the greatest challenges you have faced and how did you overcome them, if any?

As a woman, you’re faced with so much criticism—in and out of the fitness industry. People are constantly talking about what you look like rather than your ability. I love being able to prove people wrong.

Any advice or tips for fellow women who are just starting their own fitness journeys?

Find what you love! Your passion will always speak for itself.

Tatler Asia
Monica Dizon
Above Monica Dizon is a cycling instructor for Saddle Row

What do you want to say to women about stereotypical beauty/fitness standards?

You’re never going to satisfy everyone. People will always have something to say, so just do you! Work hard but work smart.

See also: CrossFit, Yoga, and... Hip-hop Dancing? Tatler Friends Reveal Their Secret to Keeping Fit at 50

Marilen Concepcion — Pilates Instructor, B+B Studio; Cycling Instructor, Electric Studio

Why do you train? What motivates you?

Movement has been a part of my life since I was a young girl. I danced, joined cheerleading squads, and eventually became an avid gym-goer. I train because it makes me feel strong. I derive motivation from my own desire to stay healthy, mobile and strong.

How did you first get into fitness?

I started going to the gym when I was in my teens. This eventually led to strength training and competing in a powerlifting contest. As I got older, I found ways to keep myself going and injury-free and took up pilates.

Tatler Asia
Marilen Concepcion
Above Marilen Concepcion

What has your personal fitness journey been like? 

My personal fitness journey has been a long one and will keep going.  It's been a road with a lot of lessons along the way.  All in all, it has been very gratifying as I decided to make a career out of it, teaching and sharing what I love.

Why did you want to become an instructor? What do you love most about being an instructor?

I think that when you love what you do, you naturally want to share this with other people. When you feel good about yourself, you want others to feel the same. This is what made me study to be a teacher. I felt the benefits of a moving lifestyle, and I wanted to let other people know that they can enjoy the same. I love it when I see my clients get better, become pain-free, and become more independent because of their physical wellbeing.

See also: 5 Ways To Incorporate More Spinach Into Your Diet

When you feel good about yourself, you want others to feel the same.
Marilen Concepcion

What is it like to be a woman in the fitness industry? What are some of the greatest challenges you have faced and how did you overcome them, if any?

Women are definitely needed in the fitness industry. Fitness is not just about who can carry the heaviest barbell or who runs the fastest. It also includes one’s mental and emotional ability to be dedicated and consistent. It's about embracing one’s self, accepting your shortcomings, and taking on the challenges.

Any advice or tips for fellow women who are just starting their own fitness journeys?

To the women who are beginning their fitness journey, congratulations! Making the first step is the biggest step. Find what makes you happy so that it will make you move. Feel free to try a variety of exercise classes and even a personal trainer.

What do you want to say to women about stereotypical beauty/fitness standards?

Just be yourself. We were all made differently. Do what makes you happy and that will go a long, long way for you.

See also: Fitness Focus: How to Make Workouts Fun With Electric Studio's Yessa Yu Caparas

Ida Paras — Fitness Coach and Creator; Co-founder, The Movement Studio

Why do you train? What motivates you?

I train to stay grounded. For as long as I can remember, I have always turned to my sport (Brazilian Jiujitsu) or strength training whenever I’d feel lost or defeated. Pitting yourself against constant defeat and failure in a controlled setting makes it far less scary to face in the real world. If there is one thing I learned from sports and training, it’s that we always get back up.

I train myself as well as others in pursuit of mastery. While being able to instil positive change in one’s own body and lifestyle is a good start, being able to instil it in a diverse set of people is the only way to achieve mastery.

Finally, I train because it makes me strong, keeps me healthy, young—but mostly, it’s just so damn fun!

How did you first get into fitness?

I first got into fitness because I needed an outlet from dentistry school (yes, I was once a dentistry student), and luckily my now-fiancé was into Brazilian Jiujitsu, so I joined him. I got so obsessed with developing my strength, speed, and power in order to keep up with all the boys. Every sparring match was a UFC heavyweight title bout for me since no guy wanted to “lose to the girl.” 

What has your personal fitness journey been like?

It has been challenging, to say the least. Fitness might seem like a viable career path now, but back when I was starting out, you’d only get strange looks from people if you told them you were “into fitness,” my parents included.

When I first set out in the world of personal fitness – it was the exact opposite of today’s over-saturation of “fitness advice.” Back then the best information most of us knew about came from simply mimicking what the world-class bodybuilders did but arbitrarily scaled down to what we considered analogous to ourselves. Plus, what little reliable gen-pop information existed out in the wild, it was even sparser for women. So, my now-fiancé and I became our own guinea pigs throughout the years. Today, we can almost instantly spot a fitness scam or ridiculous fad and laughingly go “remember that thing back in X year, well it's back but now called Y.” 

See also: Where to Buy Stylish Workout Gear: 6 Filipino Brands You Should Know

If there is one thing I learned from sports and training, it’s that we always get back up.
Ida Paras

Why did you want to become an instructor/trainer? What do you love most about being an instructor/trainer?

I never intended to be. It just kind of happened. Those who know me well know that when I love something, I can’t help but hype everyone to join in the fun. Later, I discovered I really enjoyed doing it—so I just kept going.

What is it like to be a woman in the fitness industry? What are some of the greatest challenges you have faced and how did you overcome them, if any?

Changing long-ingrained perceptions has been a truly herculean challenge for me over the years. If you thought changing bodies was difficult, try changing people’s minds!  For example, women continue to pedestal abs as the be all end all goal when it came to fitness. I get it, I’m a woman too—but doggedly chasing one thing for all the wrong reasons always ends in regret. Fortunately, women are starting to realise that there is more to life than weighing as little as possible. My dream is to live in a world that champions “health over abs.” 

Any advice or tips for fellow women who are just starting their own fitness journeys?

The top tip I can give that is most relevant today is to vet your sources, and do not blindly follow the most jacked guy or sexiest girl on social media. These people aren't always the most knowledgeable or the best teachers for what they are trying to sell. I know it can be hard, but a little research can go a long way. Having said that, do not fall into the trap of over-researching before you even begin. 

Second, train with the mindset of doing this for a lifetime, instead of chasing short term goals and hacks. The former is the solitary road to success, while the latter only leads to failure and heartbreak.

What do you want to say to women about stereotypical beauty/fitness standards?

Health should always come first before aesthetics. These so-called “beauty standards” plastered all over social media are not real life, and should not be treated as such. Don’t beat yourself up too much for not looking like those perfectly sculpted ladies online—because not even they look like that in real life.

See also: Quarantine Routine: 7 Home Gym Equipment Essentials For Beginners

Katrina Razon — Yoga Teacher

Why do you train? What motivates you?

I practice movement because it brings me joy, not for aesthetic purposes or to be validated by other people’s gazes. My work life, events around the world, and the climate emergency bring me anxiety. Moving my body makes me stay grounded in the present moment.

How did you first get into fitness?

I avoid using the term “fitness” as it is a term that originates from eugenics and ableism. We need to understand that being healthy includes the biopsychosocial model—our relationships, exercise, emotional states, spiritual practice, environment and personal events that shape who we are.

Tatler Asia
Katrina Razon
Above Katrina Razon
My dharma or service is to empower people with the knowledge about their brain, body, and inner strength to enhance their lives for the better.
Katrina Razon

What has your personal fitness journey been like? 

I battled bulimia from high school to shortly after college. By forcing my body to be less than it should be, I lived a life that was less than, too. Unfortunately, eating disorders are all too common and people suffer in silence as a consequence of society’s judgements. My body, I have realised, has kept me alive throughout tough times. It has supported me through grief. It took me many years to learn how to be kind to myself. To be clear, yoga is more than just a physical (asana) practice. It is a spiritual practice from India that involves meditation, pranayama (breath awareness), mantra, philosophy, ethics and much more. Yoga can help us stop talking and start listening—to ourselves, to our community, and to the wildlife of our natural world.

Why did you want to become an instructor? What do you love most about being an instructor?

During the lockdown, I realised I needed more than just exercise to help me cope with the uncertainty of the pandemic. I studied Awakening Yoga and neuroscience, which forged my path to becoming a teacher. I noticed that people were stuck at home and working long hours over the computer. I started teaching classes and launched my YouTube channel to encourage others to find joy in movement. The brain and body follow the adage, “If you don’t use it, you lose it”. What is remarkable about the brain is that it is the only organ that can rewire itself from experiences. My dharma or service is to empower people with the knowledge about their brain, body, and inner strength to enhance their lives for the better.

See also: Cover Story: Katrina Razon On The Beauty Of Nature And Her Travels In The Maldives

What is it like to be a woman in the fitness industry? What are some of the greatest challenges you have faced and how did you overcome them, if any?

One major challenge of being a yoga teacher is that brands always assume that we will work for free or in exchange for gifts. Exposure does not pay the bills. It is a bad practice upheld by the industry in the Philippines. As yoga teachers, we invest in our training not for ourselves, but for the practitioners who choose us to be their teachers.

Any advice or tips for fellow women who are just starting their own fitness journeys?

In terms of physical practice, start small. Establish your baseline and work up from there. Your movement practise must never be viewed as punishment for what you eat. Spend time laughing with your family and friends. Offer a helping hand to those in need. The days of being our own worst critic are over! Move in a way that brings you joy.

What do you want to say to women about stereotypical beauty/fitness standards?

Unrealistic standards of beauty and elite performance are a result of the patriarchy and misogyny. It is time that society stops commenting on the appearance of human bodies—we are all unique. You never know what a person is struggling with. It is a rebellion to love yourself for the multi-faceted person who you are.

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