By Ela Howard

On 9 September 2019, WISE HK hosted a body image workshop, Healthy Me | Powerful Me | Strong Me at Calibrate Studio. Steph Cuvelier, founder of Calibrate has always been a supporter in using fitness and sports to help women and girls with their body image. She is all too aware of the detrimental effects that the sport and fitness industry can have on individuals’ perception of themselves. Which is why, when she founded Calibrate, she decided on helping everyone and anyone reach their genetic potential rather than focus on aesthetics.

Steph grew up with sports all around her. After studying exercise physiology and then pursuing a full-time professional career as a rugby athlete, she decided to start her own business to create an awareness of what exercise physiology is, and how everyone can create ways to better their health. By going down the personal training route (as opposed to the physiotherapy route), she uses her skillset from her educational background and her experience as an athlete, to help people reach their fitness goals. Although she enjoyed working as a freelancer, it was tough working in other people’s spaces. There was a lack of culture in the freelancer space, and she wanted to somehow create a safe environment for her and her clients. One day, the opportunity presented itself for her to open her own space. Although it was scary she knew it was the right move for her, and she would now be able to create an environment suitable for her values and beliefs.

「I wanted to open a safe space for my clients to train in.」

When she first opened Calibrate, she was the sole personal trainer, which was incredibly daunting. Slowly, Steph allowed other freelance personal trainers to use her gym for their clients; however they had to share the same values as to what Calibrate stood for — an honest and safe space where everyone can gain access to good health customised for their individual needs.

Positive impact of pursuing good health, not aesthetics

Steph’s goal is not to only help people with physical fitness, rather it is the education that lies behind it all; incorporating exercise, nutrition, mental health and overall balance into our daily lives. She makes a clear emphasis to current and prospective clients that above all else, health matters most. Priorities shift over time, and aesthetic goals are not long term consistent goals, rather they are often fads that change based off of what they see on the media.

「Everyone deserves access to good health; we just don’t know how to get there.」

I have witnessed the impact that Steph has had on her clients. A friend of mine referred her parents to Steph to help them maintain a healthy lifestyle. Although her mum was keen to attend classes, her dad took some convincing as he was set in his ways and beliefs that he did not need help when it came to improving his fitness. Eventually, she convinced her dad to attend classes. 6 weeks later her dad came back to her, and said “Thank you for convincing me to go to Steph, she has truly changed my life.” To this day it brings tears to my friend’s eyes as she knows how headstrong her dad can be, and how much it took for him to admit that he needed help to change his lifestyle, and make it healthier in every aspect.

Using fitness to strengthen the human connection

It is clear by the variety of classes that Calibrate offers, that Steph caters to a wide range of clients. Steph has decided to focus on the connection and bond that she has with the individuals. “It is the human connection that gets through to people,” she tells me. She also finds it useful for her clients to hear her own story and struggles of maintaining a healthy life, and reaching her own genetic potential. At the end of the day, we are all human and we have all faced challenges especially when it comes to fitness, self-love, and body image.

As an elite athlete Steph is in a unique position as she sees the amount of mental and emotional stress that many athletes are put under to look a certain way, as well as perform to a certain standard and this can create body image issues, which few are willing to discuss. It is difficult to be truly healthy regardless of what level of an athlete you are, if you do not know, understand and accept your body’s mechanics. It was eye opening for Steph to see the number of people who lack any understanding of what their body is capable of.

To that end, Calibrate offers much more than being a place to become a fitter and healthier person. Coming to Calibrate is about learning and understanding your own anatomy and knowing that you are not alone in feeling external pressures from society.

Don’t blindly jump on the bandwagon; find what works for you.

Good health and self-love for all through

Steph believes that everyone deserves a chance at being healthy. In addition to her work at Calibrate, she regularly works with the Love 21 Foundation, a non-profit organisation in Hong Kong that brings health and fitness to families and people with autism and Down syndrome. Once a week, Steph runs fitness sessions for them. What started off as a session for the children has gradually became a family activity, with parents and guardians joining in. It has slowly evolved to a great community and now sometimes even when their child cannot attend sessions, parents will call up Steph and ask if they can join without their child being present.

Even though you may be challenged in different ways, this doesn’t mean you need to approach it entirely differently. You are still educating them on the basis of what good health is.」

Steph’s story is a clear example that sports and fitness don’t have to before a specific group of people. It should be open to everyone and anyone who is willing to better themselves and their lives. It is with people like her who take the extra step to help people access good health, that are truly making a difference in people’s lives.