Start with 1. Life is overwhelming, especially for women. When we want to add or change something in our lives, it can feel insurmountable. We’re tempted to change everything all at once or do too much too soon, and then we get overwhelmed and freeze. I’ve been putting off cleaning out my garage because there’s so much stuff. It occurred to me recently that I don’t have the clean the entire garage all at once. I can start with one corner, one hour, or one box.

As a part of my series about women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kimberly Marx-Steele.

Kimberly is the owner/operator and instructor at The Bar Method fitness studio in Santa Clarita, CA. She holds a Master of Public Administration degree, as well as a master’s in Sociology with an emphasis in social inequality. Kimberly has two daughters, ages 17 and 21.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I was the first person in my family to attend college. After completing my bachelor’s degree, I went on to a PhD program so that I could learn everything possible about social inequality and later do advocacy work. Once I was in the doctorate program, I learned we were being trained for a life of academia and publishing papers, which I had no interest in. After multiple pivots, I ended up completing two master’s degrees with the goal of finding a job that would allow me to support my family. I’ve done work in legislative analysis and sales tax budgeting, which I also had no interest in! Eventually, I became a Bar Method client and decided to pursue studio ownership, which is more aligned with my values.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?

“Interesting” is an interesting word for this question! Can we say terrifying? Let’s go with that. I signed on to become a Bar Method studio owner in early 2019 and I was set to begin my studio build-out in the Spring of 2020, right when COVID-19 hit. The boutique fitness industry was collapsing quickly and as a result, my bank halted my loan. Everything froze and all I could do was eat Cheetos and fail at bread-making while watching my future potentially disintegrate. After several months of waiting, I was able to “open” my studio on Halloween Day, 2020. I put that in quotes because my opening day consisted of 4 people taking class on the sidewalk outside my studio.

Due to restrictions in Los Angeles County, we held classes outdoors and over Zoom for five solid months, which made it almost impossible to build my membership base. Very few people were willing to tuck and pulse in front of anyone who might be driving or walking by. And it wasn’t until 2022 that we were able to operate indoors at full capacity without masks. I wasn’t building a business from the ground up — I was building it from miles beneath the ground. To be clear, I was in favor of public health measures, but I struggled to build a business in that environment.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about a mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I first started, I was uncomfortable selling. I’m an introvert, and being “salesy” is not in my nature. However over time, and out of sheer necessity, I’ve become comfortable with it. I had to increase my sales if my studio was going to survive. More importantly, I believe wholeheartedly in the service I provide because I’ve seen how The Bar Method transforms women’s lives. Their physical health improves, often dramatically, and their confidence skyrocket. Now, I can talk about and sell these benefits all day long.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to sell according to your personality and values. You don’t have to do it the way books and podcasts tell you or even the way your friends do. You can certainly find ideas and inspiration from those sources, but you can still do it your way. I have found a way to sell that’s authentic to me and I never compromise my values of honesty, transparency and trustworthiness. I try to listen carefully to what my clients are looking for and guide them toward the best option to meet that need. I have never, and I will never, steer someone toward something that doesn’t match their stated need or want.

Let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

I focus heavily on two things in my work: 1) providing a comfortable and welcoming workout space and 2) raising awareness and reducing the stigma around domestic violence.

Regarding the first one, I am determined, with my whole heart, to change the way people think about exercise. A lot of people have had terrible experiences in gyms and fitness classes, myself included. These bad experiences lead people to think they hate exercise, and they might! However, I believe most people will enjoy exercise if they find a workout they like. We have a lot of fun at my studio and we provide plenty of variety in the workouts. My clients have told me our workouts are the only ones they’ve ever stuck with.

Women have been taught to hate their bodies and believe they’re not welcome in a fitness space if they don’t look a certain way. Many are afraid to join a group fitness class (especially barre) because they’re concerned that “everyone will look like a skinny ballerina except me.” My team and I reassure everyone that our community is diverse and welcoming, and they will never be judged here.

I try to be mindful about not using language that can be triggering to people with eating disorders and/or body dysmorphia. At the studio and in our classes, my team and I avoid talking about weight loss, calorie-burn, earning your dessert, fitting into your jeans, “lean” muscles, and so on. This is extremely difficult because most women want to lose weight, burn calories, fit into their jeans, and develop lean-looking muscles! I’m hoping as we de-emphasize these things, it will encourage others to do the same. We want our messaging and our workouts to focus on strength, mobility, and confidence.

Regarding domestic violence awareness, we dedicate the entire month of October every year to domestic violence (AKA domestic abuse) awareness. Our fitness challenge always includes our local 5K Walk to End Domestic Violence, we wear purple all month, and there’s an educational component. Last year, I created a poster with four different sub-topics about domestic violence because it’s critically important to inform our community about this issue. There’s very little education about domestic abuse, and what is out there is often wrong or misleading. It’s dangerous because victims of abuse often believe they’re simply “having a hard time” in their marriage or relationship, when in fact, they’re being harmed, and no amount of effort or marriage counseling can fix it. Moreover, marriage counseling is contra-indicated for abusive relationships because it can further empower the abuser.

Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.

Oh no! Lifestyle tweaks? My lifestyle is Bar Method, pizza, and TV!

  1. Start with 1. Life is overwhelming, especially for women. When we want to add or change something in our lives, it can feel insurmountable. We’re tempted to change everything all at once or do too much too soon, and then we get overwhelmed and freeze. I’ve been putting off cleaning out my garage because there’s so much stuff. It occurred to me recently that I don’t have the clean the entire garage all at once. I can start with one corner, one hour, or one box.
  2. Commit to yourself. Women are often told to put themselves first and I’ve realized to “put yourself first” is not helpful advice. We can’t always put ourselves first — it’s not realistic. Women are socialized to push their own needs aside — simply advising someone to stop doing that is ineffective. With all our obligations and commitments, how can we truly put ourselves first? I say instead, commit to yourself. What do you want or need for yourself and how can you take the first step toward that goal? If you want to start working out, schedule and commit to one class. If you want to see your friends more often, schedule and commit to one lunch. Start with 1.
  3. Stop dieting and throw away your scale. Diets don’t work and they do more harm than good. The number on the scale does not tell you if you’re healthy. Your appearance does not tell you if you’re healthy. Aside from that, “health” has become a barometer for morality I don’t subscribe to at all. You’re still a valuable person if you eat fast food (that’s me!), if you never work out, or if you hate vegetables. More importantly, people with chronic illness, pain, or disability are often blamed for what they’re experiencing, or treated as less-than. I want to be part of something that helps people feel good about themselves no matter where they’re at in life.
  4. Say, “No, I don’t want to.” This phrase is powerful! You’re setting a boundary without an explanation that someone can try to counter. For some reason, people don’t push back when I say I don’t want to do something. This is particularly important for me as a former victim of domestic violence because my wants and needs didn’t matter for most of my life. I love having the power to decline something for no other reason than my preference.
  5. Be a person everyone can trust. This is human decency and speaks for itself.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I wouldn’t start a movement because there are already plenty of experts and activists in this space. However, I want to do more work around accountability for perpetrators of domestic violence and sexual assault. I’ve been a victim of both for most of my life, and never once has an abuser been held accountable. I’m not alone in this — it’s exceedingly rare for abusers to face any consequences. Of course, prevention is just as important and that’s ultimately the goal. My focus on accountability stems from the fact there are so many victims and survivors out there currently. Although it’s too late to prevent what happened to us, I want us to be made whole. I am intentional when I refer to myself as a “victim” instead of a “survivor” because to me, the term “survivor” denotes a rosy outcome, like you’ve triumphed and you’re fine now. Although I am in a safe place now, I live with the financial, mental, and emotional damage from domestic violence daily. This is true for many victims/survivors and a lot of us say that the lack of accountability is as painful, or more painful than the abuse itself. Perpetrators of domestic abuse and sexual assault are rarely held accountable and are often rewarded. For example, it’s common for abusers to gain custody of their children after separation or divorce. And according to RAINN, “Out of every 1,000 sexual assaults, 975 perpetrators will walk free.”

As it relates to the Bar Method, our studios tend to be close-knit communities and our clients share a lot of things about their lives: job changes, marriages, divorces, pregnancies, pregnancy loss and infertility, illnesses, injuries, and deaths. However, it’s exceptionally rare for someone to share that they’re experiencing domestic abuse. Women and children live with abuse and violence every day. This doesn’t just impact us in the moment; it’s more of a permanent tattoo on our psyche. It is, as the now famous saying goes, “indelible in the hippocampus.” If women and children could be completely free from domestic abuse and sexual assault, or at least see people being held accountable, their overall wellness would improve dramatically.

Sustainability, veganism, mental health, and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

Mental health, without a doubt. All the aforementioned causes are extremely important and

I’m happy to see groups of researchers and activists working toward better outcomes. Mental health is dearest to me because it’s common and often stigmatized, As a society, we are pathologizing people for having normal reactions to traumatic events. I also find it incredibly difficult it is to access good mental health care. It’s extremely expensive and good clinicians are hard to find. The phrase, “Go to therapy!” is thrown around a lot, and I encourage people who say that to stop and think about the barriers to accessing effective therapy.

What is the best way for our readers to further follow your work online?

On Instagram and TikTok, @barmethodsantaclarita. I regularly post content highlighting our workouts, clients’ milestones, and fun themes and activities at the studio. I enjoy leveraging my business for charitable causes and we host multiple fundraisers throughout the year. We’ve raised money for cancer research, children & teens in the foster care system, a local nonprofit supporting black moms and kids, and our local domestic violence program. October is a huge month for us because we focus on domestic violence awareness and fundraising. You’ll see all of this content on our Instagram and TikTok accounts.

Thank you for these fantastic insights! We wish you continued success and good health.