Body + Love. Two dangerous words together.
We all go through periods of our lives where these two small four-letter-words can seem worlds apart. Fortunately, a couple of women in Wellington are here to close the gap (and to say f*%k you to thigh-gap). Enter Courtney Durr and Abbey Palmer - the gals leading the charge for females towards a place of self-love, no matter what your age, stage and size.
Their names strike inspiration into the hearts of girls all over the city. So how did two kooky friends with a love of lycra and 90's pop lyrics get to where they are today?
WHAT IS BODY LOVE NZ ALL ABOUT?
Abbey and Courtney have a novel approach to health and fitness (and bad-ass Instagram and Facebook followings). The pair say 'Hell, no!" to aesthetics alone. Instead, they favour feeling good and making exercise fun.
Abbey and Courtney recognise that health is not only about physical fitness; it is also about mental health, self-acceptance and making peace with your form. While we all go through a time where we don't like ourselves, we don’t have to remain there forever. With a support and encouragement, Abbey and Courtney's boot camps and retreats help to take females beyond a place of self-judgement into a place of real body love. They run events, have an online community and base their fitness model on the Body Love NZ core foundations of growth, connection, adventure and wellness.
“We’ve never been so connected and yet so isolated in all of human history”
“We’ve never been so connected and yet so isolated in all of human history,” says Abbey observes over our lunch at Mojo Market Lane, watching the rain outside. “Everything we do is online - so people struggle to connect physically. People can be so disconnected with their online and offline personality.” Body Love NZ is therefore based on real world connections and real world functional fitness, to help build real confidence.
HOW DID THEY GET HERE?
Wellingtonian Courtney Durr hails from Tawa originally. She went to Tawa College and grew up a pretty positive chick. “I was just a weirdo who loved school. My siblings would try and get off time sick but I’d be dying for the holidays to end so I could get back into it” she says. Obsessed with sport in all its forms, and popular across various different social groups, Courtney had decided, despite this, she wanted to be an actress when she grew up.
Motivated by her desire to study fitness after going to an open day at New Zealand Institute of Sport (NZIS) with a pal, Courtney decided to leave school at the end of 6th form. “To my surprise, Mum agreed” she laughs. “I didn’t want to bum around in 7th form. I was 16 when I started my diploma and the youngest in my class with a bunch of 21-year-olds but I was used to it because it had been like that on sports teams growing up.”
However, it was while studying at NZIS things took a wrong turn for Courtney. She looks back on the time with mixed feelings, explaining that things weren’t as happy and carefree as they seemed at the time. “It was awesome but through the two years of me studying I met a guy who was an absolute douchebag. He wasn’t a good influence on me and I partied hard for the next two years.” Courtney drank a lot, but thought nothing of it, being in her late teens/early twenties. She was working at Les Mills as an instructor, outwardly being a gym bunny and then spending all of Sunday with a crucifying hangover, playing up her party image with her fellow trainers. “Sometimes I see old Facebook memories now, and I think ‘Why did I do that??’” she says.
"You’d think that at that point, I’d know and it would be a turning point - but the sad thing was I let it go on for another 2 years"
Then came the low point. “The lowest point for me was one Sunday I had a shift and turned up an hour late in my clothes from the night before from the Police Station” Courtney explains. “My then boyfriend had been driving drunk and I had tried to stop him. We stopped the car in Willis St and he was shoving me and I hit my head against the window. I got out of the car, locked the door and he punched the window, and it smashed all over me. After that, he walked away and people came to help. You’d think that at that point, I’d know and it would be a turning point - but the sad thing was I let it go on for another 2 years. There were restraining orders against him, but I’d still see him because my respect for myself was so low. Like many women, I was sucked into putting up with the bad for the few moments of the good because I thought I’d never find someone like him.”
Part-time nurse Abbey Palmer was born in Wellington before her family moved to Taupo. Growing up “I was mad about dance as a teenager,” she says. “I chose my school based on the fact it offered dance classes. I was 'social coordinator' at school so I organised all the dances and formals” she says. “ After school ended, which was also very positive for me, I moved to Wellington to do nursing and even though I intended only to be here for that, I’ve stayed ever since!”
Abbey admits that she, sadly, has a similar story to Courtney when it comes to boys. “I got in a relationship with a really stupid person, who I met just before I graduated,” she says, soberly. “I was planning on moving to Aussie after I graduated but I stayed for him. It got really abusive, both physically and verbally - I also had restraining orders too.”
HOW DID THEY MEET?
6 months after managing to get out of that relationship, and seeking to make new connections, Abbey decided to sign up as a volunteer to a camp called Camp Quality for children living with Cancer. Little did she know that Courtney had signed up too. “We didn’t know each other but via a Facebook page, we connected because Courtney needed a ride. We talked all the way up to Bulls from Wellington, and when we got there everyone assumed we had known each other for ages.” From then, the two were firm friends. “Perhaps”, Abbey reflects, “our similar past helped us to click as people, even though we didn’t know then.”
"We talked all the way up to Bulls from Wellington"
HOW DID BODY LOVE NZ START?
After Camp concluded, Courtney’s lease did too - and so she was looking for somewhere to live. Abbey was, at the time, living at Ronald McDonald House “I used to look after Ronald McDonald House after-hours - Courts just came and stayed with me there. We’d sit up late at night and plan and dream about making bad-ass retreats. We laughed it off at the time” Abbey says. “Then Courtney ended up on the ‘Live The Dream’ programme.”
‘Live The Dream’ is an accelerator programme which helps future social entrepreneurs consolidate their ventures. So why did Courtney decide to do it? “I had become disillusioned by the numbers focus of gym-culture I was experiencing at Les Mills,” she says. “Being a young personal trainer, I was surprised listening to how the other PT’s talked about weight. I recall distinctly coming back from an amazing trip to Europe, and the main thing commented on was that I hadn’t gained weight. It was crazy because that wasn’t my focus. I felt pressure to have a 6-pack to be my own marketing tool. I decided enough was enough so I stopped saying the same stuff to my clients and I stopped weighing them. I was sick of it. Also, people I loved and thought the world of were constantly criticising themselves and the way they looked. I wanted to change the way we talked about ourselves."
Through this time, Abbey had been in China volunteering and looking after babies and orphans who were dying. “I came back really screwed up from that” Abbey says (although doesn’t regret it). “I was still in a transition phase, getting out of being depressed from that whole experience which was incredibly harrowing and isolating, dealing with death every day. Back in New Zealand, Courtney finished the ‘Live The Dream’ programme and told me she needed me - that I should quit my job! I was like ‘Uh, you crazy’. It was all I had. But then 3 months later, I did.”
“I love who I am and what I’ve been through. I now try to go on and be more”
Despite ups and downs, both Abbey and Courtney agree they wouldn’t change themselves or their journey to where they are now, running Body Love NZ. “I love who I am and what I’ve been through. I now try to go on and be more” Abbey says. Since then, the two have gone on to achieve great things, earning the love and respect of Wellington women and businesses, city-wide.
WHY DO THEY LOVE WELLINGTON?
“I love to travel and see new things, but I feel so grateful to be born in New Zealand and grow up in Wellington,” says Courtney. “It’s small but it is big enough. It is forward thinking, culturally diverse. We are friendly, and foreigners really notice it. We are happy to help and start a conversation.” Abbey agrees and thinks that in their business, people want to see them succeed.. “We are this epic hub of so much stuff going on. It is the easiest little community and that’s what I fell in love with. You have all the opportunities of a large city.”