Bianca Russo is not your typical fitness trainer. When you take a class or have a session through her D.C.-based virtual fitness program, Body Positive Boot Camp, you can feel the tension in your body melt away. Instead of focusing on counting calories or losing weight, Russo encourages her members to feel confident about their bodies and puts them in charge of their own workout preferences. She took the time to speak with District Fray about supporting all bodies and abilities, creating safe spaces, and finding self-love.
What drew you to personal training?
I was victimized. [Someone in my life] took advantage of me financially and used my information to purchase several brand-new vehicles under my name. This ruined my credit and all of my credit history. I was having trouble finding employment with that credit history, so without having any employment opportunities, I realized I had no other option than to start my own business. It’s difficult for me to even admit, but it was like a blessing in disguise where this terrible situation ended up creating an opportunity for me that I absolutely love now. Now, I’m entering my fourth year of being a personal trainer with Body Positive Boot Camp. I have a bachelor’s degree in art and photography, and the creative, outside-the-box problem-solving I learned and the philosophy of my art classes have helped me figure out how to solve unique problems I have faced. I later pursued a personal trainer certification with an organization called NASM, which is the National Academy of Sports Medicine.
How does self-care tie into body positivity?
It’s critical to acknowledge the work that women of color and Black women have done to create the body positive movement. We can’t talk about self-care without acknowledging the work they’ve done to start this. The relationship between body positivity and self-care in my work is connected by an acknowledgement of our truth, which only comes after introspection of how we’re feeling in our bodies and minds. It’s an individualized journey for whoever is trying to exercise self-care within body positivity. It’s a matter of looking inside yourself, seeing how you feel, honoring that voice, and then acting accordingly to do or not do whatever it is we think is best in the moment. All of those ideas I absolutely credit to other trainers, like nonbinary trainer Ilya Parker from Decolonizing Fitness. I learned a lot from them, and they absolutely deserve the credit and recognition because they are a leader in the community.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to be proud of their body?
I think this ties into the practice of radical acceptance. Having pride in our bodies is messy and difficult, and a journey. We must swim upstream and unlearn a lifetime of what we’re taught is good, healthy or accepted as beautiful. Once we turn all of those ideas inside out, we can acknowledge our own abilities and definitions of beauty and realize only we can define what is healthy and beautiful. I think it’s also a matter of rejecting white/white supremacist-like beauty standards and being proud of who we are right now, despite those harmful constructs that have been shoved in our faces for lifetimes.
Your brand is about celebrating all body types. How do you promote this idea as a personal trainer?
I celebrate all body types, body backgrounds and sensitivities, and gender presentations and abilities by asking what someone’s needs are, listening to the words they use to describe their experiences in their body, and honoring their voice when they say what they need or don’t want. [I am committed] to delivering my personal training services within my scope of practice to the best of my ability to give people what they’ve asked for, which is to be able to – and feel safe to – participate in physical activity in a safe space.
How has the local community embraced Body Positive Boot Camp?
Where there are lovers, there will be haters. The trendiness of body positivity can help or hurt, depending on who you ask. Given that we are able to continue into year four of business, I would say things are going well. I thank my community for their support.
How have you had to adjust your work during Covid?
[It’s been a] 180-degree shift. Nothing is the same. I actually prefer online to in-person, too. There’s more privacy, and a better ability to focus on individuals.
How do you adjust workout routines for different ability levels?
[We] make zero assumptions, ask questions, explain slowly and in detail, demonstrate movements, [and are] sure they feel safe yet challenged.
What sets Body Positive Boot Camp apart from other fitness programs in the area?
We are fat positive and committed to disability justice. There’s space for everyone here: All bodies, all abilities.
How is your 2021 so far? Up and down and upside down. I’m trying to be positive, but we’re all struggling. What are you looking forward to this year? Receiving my Covid-19 vaccine and continuing to train my service dog. What drew you to D.C.? My chosen family moved from New York City to Maryland and invited me down here, and I loved it. What is one District staple you can’t live without? Ice cream shop Here’s the Scoop! on Georgia Avenue in Northwest. Where is your favorite spot in the DMV to go to get away from everything? Belle Haven Marina in Alexandria, Virginia, where I love to go sailing. What is your favorite local restaurant? Heat Da Spot. Oh my God. Can I tell you real quick? They are so loving. I ordered a burger from them yesterday, and in the order notes I wrote, “Can I have ketchup please? And I love you.” Then when I received my food, the receipt said, “I love you too, Bianca.” Like so sweet. Favorite local bar? As someone who doesn’t drink, No Kisses Bar. They have delicious mocktails. Pick a D.C. icon to have dinner with: Michelle Obama, for sure. How do you like to unwind after a long day? I love to bring my cute rescue dog Coqui to the Upshur Dog Park. What’s something no one knows about you? I’m a knot nerd, in a non-sexual way. I love learning all types of new knots to tie. Tell me you’re a personal trainer without telling me you’re a personal trainer. I love to watch people workout. Any advice for Washingtonians wanting to get strong post-quarantine? Be patient, be realistic. Accept that this journey is lifelong. What’s the best part of your day? Training Coqui.
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