By Paige Jones The Frederick News-Post, Md.
Megan Ellis was sifting through mail Monday evening at the fitness studio she manages in downtown Frederick when she said she saw a nondescript white envelope.
Inside the envelope, the manager of the recently opened Barre East Fitness Studio at Everedy Square and Shab Row said she found a torn-out page from The Frederick News-Post's Oct. 20 edition. It was the page featuring the new fitness studio, and it included a photo of Ellis and co-manager Taryn Sisco.
"I assumed somebody clipped it out for us," Ellis said.
Instead, Ellis found the page covered in handwritten comments criticizing Ellis' and Sisco's body sizes.
An arrow pointing to Ellis read, "You are fat, bordering on obese." One pointing to Sisco said, "You are overweight." More comments about their sizes were written in the margins, including one on the left-hand side saying, "Pictures/articles like this give others a license to be overweight or obese."
The comments moved Ellis to tears, and she immediately notified Sisco of the mail. The two discussed what to do and decided to take action.
"You can fold it up, put it away and be sad, or you can do something," Ellis told The News-Post on Wednesday.
In a blog post on Barre East Fitness Studio's website, the duo responded to the comments they received, preaching a broader message of "women should lift each other up, not tear each other down."
On Facebook, Sisco wrote: "You called me overweight without knowing that I overcame an eating disorder and serious body image issues in my 20s. You called my friend fat not knowing how strong she is or how many inches she has lost since training in barre. ... But what you didn't realize you did was open up an important conversation about overcoming adult bullying, body shaming and unprovoked hate."
Since the two shared the blog post Tuesday on Facebook, it has received more than 400 "likes," 140 comments and 300 shares as of Wednesday evening.
"The outpouring of support has been amazing," Ellis said, adding that a woman in Wisconsin saw the post and asked to buy a shirt so she could support them from afar.
Ellis and Sisco said they know who sent the comments -- the sender included her name and home address in the left corner of the envelope. They declined to name the woman, however, saying only that they believe she had previously worked as an administrator for Frederick County Public Schools.
"We're never going to say who it is, because that's stooping to her level," Sisco said.
The News-Post was unsuccessful in determining the woman's identity as of Wednesday evening.
The Barre East Fitness Studio managers chastised the woman for her actions in their blog post, saying that "she knows nothing about us, she has never met us in person nor has she taken a barre class at our studio."
Ellis and Sisco also expressed concern in their blog post at the idea of this woman potentially influencing children, given her views on body image.
The woman wrote that the Barre East Fitness Studio managers "do not model a healthy lifestyle" and that she is not "someone who is unhealthy," adding that she works out six times a week and weighs 115 pounds with only 20 percent body fat at 5 feet 2 inches tall.
"I think what is the most disappointing factor in all of this is that these words of hate and body shaming are coming from a woman who mentors children in our community," the blog post states. "Children who look to her to set an example. Children who need someone to show them how to act and how to conduct themselves in a positive manner."
Ellie Bentz, a clinical director at the Mental Health Association of Frederick County, said body shaming, or negative words toward another person about their body, in this form can be considered bullying.
"It's most often directed at females, and that's a shame," Bentz said, adding that many women experience body image issues.
In some cases, the person can brush off negative comments and continue with their lives. In the more extreme cases, body shaming can lead to depression or eating disorders.
"It can have all the effects that any kind of bullying can have," Bentz said.
Despite the negative comments, Ellis and Sisco have turned the experience into something positive, announcing that they will create an inspiration wall. It will be a place where women can write inspirational things or read about others on the soon-to-be chalkboard wall in the back of the studio.
"You can write on it or read it, whatever you need out of it," Sisco said.
Sisco said she forgives the woman for the comments, inviting her to take a class at Barre East Fitness Studio and meet the other women.
"We don't really know why she did it. ... We don't know her story," Sisco said.
Ellis echoed Sisco's comments, adding that she hopes the woman sees their blog post and hears about their plans for an inspiration wall.
"I hope she looks at it and says, 'God, I'll never do that again,'" Ellis said.