Kate Upton is calling BS on the toxic but all-too-common notion that exercise is about fitting into a smaller dress size. In fact, she’s made it her mission to encourage women to focus on feeling strong—not looking any one way.
This is one of the main reasons Kate created Strong4Me with her trainer Ben Bruno. The workout program helps women of any fitness level get stronger so they have the energy to tackle all the things they want to do in life. A big part of the program involves doing some of the same moves, but upping your reps—a strategy Kate appreciates because it keeps your attention fixed on the right metrics.
“The thing about focusing on your own journey and strength is that you see the results more quickly,” she explains. “Instead of beating yourself up about the number on the scale, you notice when you get stronger. It’s a healthier mind-set, one that took me a while to get to. That’s really what I wanted to share with others.”
It may be hard to remember, but Kate exploded onto the modeling scene just over 10 years ago—long before people were openly celebrating curvaceous models. And while many appreciated her va-va-voom figure (she graced the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue four times!), there were quite a few who told her she needed to lose weight so that she would look like other models.
Kate admits that criticism affected her. But by concentrating on health over weight loss, she’s learned to tune out criticism and stop comparing herself to others. It’s why she wanted this photo shoot to be unretouched—to put real images into the world that show a woman looking strong and confident, with no manipulation. Here, Kate talks more about her business, her feelings on body positivity, and how she blocks out self-doubt.
What inspired you to start Strong4Me?
My own personal fitness journey. There was a lot of trial and error over the past 10 years of my career. I had to figure out how to stay fit with all my travel and while going through so many life changes—like dating someone and getting married. I had to find a way to get everything in—work, travel, personal relationships, and workouts.
So how did you figure that all out?
It came together when I met Ben Bruno. I was in a great mental place and was ready to just focus on being strong—without caring about the dress size I was “supposed” to fit into. Ben really taught me about strength training. He wrote workouts for me that I could use when I was on the road. They were 30-minute workouts that you can do anywhere. At the same time, I was using Urban Remedy to have premade, healthy meals sent to wherever I was. I wanted to give other women access to these things I had. So Urban Remedy became our nutrition partner for Strong4Me, and Ben helped with the workouts.
And you use the 30-minute workouts in your regular routine?
Yes! When I had my daughter, they really came in handy. I breastfed, so I couldn’t really go anywhere. It was impossible to get to the gym, but I could do the workouts at home—it was great.
Your daughter was born last year—did it impact your fitness level?
Completely. That was actually the hardest thing for me—going from being extremely strong to not even really being able to do a lunge. I’m more than eight months post giving birth and am still not as strong as I was.
Tell us about your journey with body confidence.
I was a really confident kid. I grew up in Florida—we were always in bikinis, and it was nothing weird. So I never realized that I had a different body type, or that people would have an opinion on my body. When I first started modeling, it was a different time. Some people thought I was too curvy. Now people forget that happened, which actually makes me happy because I think it shows how much the industry has changed. In a lot of ways, I think the industry really built me up and tore me down—and then I built myself back up.
Can you explain that a bit more?
When I first started modeling, everything was about your measurements and what you fit into. It would be like, “Oh, you don’t fit into those jeans.” You’re shamed. And that’s why it took me a longer time to get to a healthier place. That’s why it’s important for me to push out this different mind-set. I don’t want anyone to have to be in that negative space where they think, “Oh, no! I don’t fit into that size 2 dress.” You know what, who cares? Buy another one!
How did you go about developing a healthier perspective?
By finding good workouts, eating healthy, and putting myself first at some point during the day so I could block that noise out. I find that if I am in a good mental space, I don’t let the bulls— and criticism get to me.
Why do you think unretouched photos are important for women to see?
When you think about it, we have retouching everywhere now—and we don’t even know it. People are staging Instagram shots and retouching those pictures. That’s the new norm. And then we believe that’s how people actually look, and think we should look that way too. So, for me, doing an unretouched shoot is a step toward embracing real life. The goal should be to be the best you can be—not try to look like someone else.