IMOGEN - PARIS

 

Imogen Roy is a brand and marketing strategist for startups and SMEs. She’s a tri-lingual Scot who now lives in Paris. As a child, she dreamed of being a novelist but she likes to say that “the Internet Age had other plans.”

All images by Matt Thomas

All images by Matt Thomas

Raised as an athlete, she grew up practicing ballet, swimming and ski racing. Along the way, she learned the hard way that twisting your life far out of alignment is never a good thing for your body. Today, she is slowly rebuilding her mind-body connection, including a heavy dose of rest and self-compassion.

 

Was physical education a central element of your identity at school when you were a kid?
Yes. I’m so grateful to my parents for raising my siblings and me as athletes. There’s a great photo of me aged 5 or 6 at my first school sports day. I have six ‘1st Place’ stickers on my chest - I’d won every race. As a child I was sent to try every sport at least once, and ended up sticking with ballet, swimming and ski racing into my teens. I trained several times a week and did competitions at the weekends.

What sports heroes do you remember from childhood?
My family lived in Wimbledon for four years, so tennis stars were a big part of the local conversation: athletes like Andre Agassi, Steffi Graf and Pete Sampras. I hated tennis, though!

My sports were a place I could hide from the world.

What’s the first sport you ever practiced?
I was in skis at 2 years old, and probably dancing not long after I could walk. Like many girls,  I fell in love with horses and was desperate to learn to ride, but the local stables said I was too young. However, I was not too young for the volting class. So I learned to do gymnastics on a moving horse before I learned to ride!

And the first one that made you feel confident?
That’s a really interesting question. I loved being an athlete but I was never comfortable being on show. As I got older, I was more and more drawn to sports with a barrier between me and the spectators. Like swimming, where the crowd is just a noise that rises at each breath, or skiing, where muffled in your helmet you feel like the only person on the mountain during a race. My sports were a place I could hide from the world.

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How would you define the relationship that people from Paris have with the active lifestyle? Is it totally different in Scotland or England?
I would say that traditionally, Paris has always struck me as an inactive, almost anti-active city. When I first moved to Paris in 2011, people would look at you like you were mad for jogging in the streets. And gyms were not a place I generally felt welcome as a woman. But I think things have really changed lately; the boutique fitness movement is starting to get a foothold.

In terms of sports culture for women, I think almost all countries have the same problem: girls lose their body confidence and drop out of sports at school, and then really struggle to reconnect with themselves physically in their 20s and 30s. The U.K. is starting to recognize this though, and great initiatives like This Girl Can have emerged. Their goal is to help 3 million “un-sporty” women find the right exercise approach for them and fall in love with what their bodies can do.

Climbing in particular is absolutely booming. I guess people are starting to get fed up with sterile gyms and want to approach exercising more holistically.

What activities say Paris the most?
Swimming in public pools. Honestly, it surprises me no end how popular the public pools are. In London, they were always dead.

Are self care and working out the new nightlife in Paris these days?
Not amongst my friends! And I still consider dancing at Les Bains until 4am a great workout.

What is your ideal performance piece?
These days, it’s a pair of fleece-lined leggings. It’s freezing at the ice rink.

Your favorite activewear brands?
F
or environmental reasons, my wardrobe is pretty much 90% vintage or second-hand, so I’m a bit of an essentialist when it comes to activewear. I wore the same Nike Running outfit I got as a press freebie for 7 years. That’s some good quality kit! However recently I treated myself to a stunning No Ka Oi two-piece for spinning and Lululemon winter-wear for skating.

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What lifestyle rituals or routines do you do before or after working out?
I don’t. For me, the workout is the ritual.

What about beauty?
Throughout my teens and early 20s, beauty for me was all about embellishing: make-up, make-up, make-up, fake eyelashes and hair extensions. Now I’m starting to approach beauty in terms of nourishing and protecting what I already have. After years of having short hair, I’m growing it out as long as I can and lavishing it with care. I do a 30-minute mask with Philip Kingsley’s Elasticizer every week and brush it as little as possible. I also take biotin and iron supplements every day to boost growth.

For face, I love Aesop’s Amazing Face Cleanser followed by Cleanance Mattifying Eau Micellaire by Avène and the Almond Moisturizer from Neal’s Yard. I’m also into Caudalie’s Instant Detox mask. And after showering, I apply a drop of Aromessence Serum by Decleor. Just a drop, mind you. It was a generous gift from a friend and I’m not sure I can justify the cost of replacing it!

When I was 25, I had to have surgery for a severely herniated disc in my neck. I had suffered back pain, paralysing muscle spasms, and even a couple of black-outs over a period of several years, but still I totally ignored my body’s cry for help.

From street to studio, define your style.
‘70s vintage mixed with modern basics. I bike almost everywhere so I have two style modes: cycling and not-cycling. On not-cycling days my style is more flamboyant. Getting dressed every morning is a creative exercise for me and a ritual in itself. I have never had a ‘uniform’.

What lifestyle trends do see happening?
Activities that connect you with nature, like surfing, rock climbing, triathlons and hiking are definitely getting more popular. Climbing in particular is absolutely booming. I guess people are starting to get fed up with sterile gyms and want to approach exercising more holistically. Mindfulness meditation is on the rise too, which can only be a good thing.

What activities have you recently discovered or want to try?
My husband introduced me to indoor climbing, which I really enjoyed, but not enough to sacrifice my signature long red nails for it!

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What is the strongest wellness experience you went through?
When I was 25, I had to have surgery for a severely herniated disc in my neck. I had suffered back pain, paralysing muscle spasms, and even a couple of black-outs over a period of several years, but still I totally ignored my body’s cry for help. I didn’t go and see a specialist until it was too late. It’s a deep regret of mine and I certainly learned my lesson. The surgery was not a success, either; I had to have revision surgery only 18 months later. So the past few years have been very challenging for me. Having been an athlete my whole life, I had to deal with a new reality of being a fragile, injured person, constantly in pain.

I was living my life so far out of alignment that I was twisting my own body.

Ultimately,  the slipped disc was just a symptom of a much bigger problem. And so despite everything, I’ve come to thank my damned C6/C7 intervertebral disc for telling me what my heart and my head could not: I was living my life so far out of alignment that I was twisting my own body. For so long, I denied the existence of stress so I could keep up with the lifestyle my career demanded of me. I unconsciously sent stress straight into my body instead. And the body keeps the score.

I made the decision to remove myself from the corporate rat race in 2018, and have since started to design a life that serves me better: much less stress, much more balance and much more joy. I’m now on a journey to rebuild my mind-body connection from the ground up. Even now, a period of overwork or stress sends me into the chiropractor’s office with one leg 1.5 cm shorter than the other. It’s a process.

How do you strive to find balance in your life?
Well, now I really am striving for it. I make a big effort to work fewer hours - 4 to 5 per day ideally. I  move more, I stand up more and maintain a regular fitness routine centered around building core strength. But the biggest challenge for me is learning how to relax, both physically and mentally. It’s a new thing for me, to check-in with my body, listen to what it wants, and to rest. I’m having to develop a great deal more compassion for myself.

Where does mind/body training fit into your life?
I began a meditation practice last year and it’s been transformative. I feel the results. I’m definitely 0% better at meditating but probably 1% better at life. And I use visualisation rituals to connect with my deeper self and with my inner child, especially before I make a big decision. Along with listening to my body, I’m trying to get back in contact with that very essential, childlike part of me that was drowned out when I was chasing a dream that wasn’t mine.

Do you ever feel intense emotions during your workouts?
Oh yes. The euphoria that comes from pushing yourself to your absolute limits in a spinning class - there’s nothing like it. Yes, I have cried in a studio before. That’s why it’s dark in there, right?

What’s your routine, your rituals, your non negotiables?
Since the beginning of this year, I’ve committed to a morning routine as soon as I wake up: I light a candle, and do 15 minutes of meditation with the Headspace app and 20-minutes of core strengthening exercises in the dark. It’s my prayer.

How have sports or physical activities impact your eating habits?
I use them as an excuse to eat more croissants. Ha!

Does challenging yourself physically take you out of your comfort zone in other areas of your life?
Absolutely. My first ice-bath experience taught me a lot about fear, and taking up ice skating as an adult has been a revealing lesson in embracing failure. Because there’s nothing quite as spectacular as an ice skating failure! One minute you’re gliding effortlessly across the ice, the picture of elegance, the next you’re splattered across the ground. It’s a loud, public failure. And there’s no way to avoid it.

I wasn’t aware of how much my fear of failure was a driving force in my life until recently - a fear to not be recognized as an instant success in everything I did.  Well, there is absolutely no instant success with ice skating, that much is clear. So I’m learning to love the process, and giving myself permission to be a big, messy failure. In public. That word comes to my mind again: self-compassion.

I’m learning to love the process, and giving myself permission to be a big, messy failure. In public. That word comes to my mind again: self-compassion.

Do your wellness practices give you a sense of community?
For me, wellness and sport has always been a deeply individualistic, personal experience. But I’m definitely making an effort to embrace community. I’ve started to make a couple of friends at the ice rink, for a start.

Do you feel more connected to communities online or physically?
Online. As an introvert, social networks have been my playground for as long as I had access to a computer.

What destinations are on your wish list?
Costa Rica, the Pyrenees for hiking, Peru and Mexico.

What role does music play in your practice?
Well, the music at the ice rink is probably as far from my personal taste as is possible. But that’s okay. I’m embracing the fact that it’s good for me to give up control sometimes.

What does female empowerment mean to you?
It means many, many things to me, but in the context of wellness, here is something urgent: true female empowerment means deconditioning self-objectification.

Our society objectifies women’s bodies, and we so often end up objectifying ourselves, before we’ve even had a chance to ‘meet’ our adult bodies. We obsess with how our body looks, not how it feels as the vehicle for our life. With that comes shame, low self-esteem and unhealthy thinking patterns.

True female empowerment means deconditioning self-objectification.

My dream of female empowerment is that women can enjoy their own bodies at last: being in their bodies, moving in their bodies, loving their bodies. It’s the dream I want for my friends, my sisters, my mother. All women.

You give entrepreneurs access to your vision of empowerment every week, why?
Because I truly believe, with my whole being, that you can build a successful and sustainable business around your unique gifts, design a life you love, and work less to earn more when you truly set your mind to it. I’m attempting this myself, and documenting my journey for anyone who wants to hear. You can subscribe to my private email-only blog here.


EMPOWERING TIPS AND ADDRESSES

1 trainer: Fit Ballet by Octavie Lescure
1 app: Headspace
1 podcast: Making Sense by Sam Harris
1 food spot: Du Pain et des Idées bakery in Paris. The best bread you’ve ever tasted. Yes, I’m bread-obsessed!
1 power song: ‘What the Water Gave Me’ by Florence & the Machine. One day, I’ll skate a programme to it!
1 video: Reshma Saujani’s TED talk, ‘Teach girls bravery, not perfection
1 book: Playing Big by Tara Mohr
1 inspiration: Kasia Urbaniak’s Academy of Power
1 woman we should interview: My incredible personal trainer, Julie Granger (NDLR: She also suffered a slipped disc and was told she would never dance or teach fitness again. Her recovery journey is inspiring).