Madison Whitehead stared at the 40-foot shipping container sitting in her backyard. The drywall wouldn’t stay up, it leaked when it rained and she was way over budget. The plan was simple. She was opening the women’s fitness studio of her dreams.
Whitehead's dad told her he’d let her use the land behind his office if she moved back to Dallas and worked for him part time keeping the books for his business. She packed up her life in Austin and moved back in with her parents. She was chasing a dream, to convert a shipping container into a studio.
“Every step of the way I was like, What the heck am I doing, what the literal heck?” says Whitehead while laughing. “But I kept this quote in the back of my mind, there’s this quote by Amy Poehler and she said, ‘Great people do things before they’re ready.’”
Whitehead graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in kinesiology and then got certified in nutrition coaching and personal training. After graduation, she had been working for various gyms around town dreaming up a business of her own, a fitness studio where she could empower women.
“I feel like every time I get into a gym with women, movement really brings those walls down and they share about their lives and they share about their insecurities and their traumas and things from the past,” Whitehead says. “Movement has allowed me to feel free and to feel really good in my own skin, and to see that in other women, it’s just the coolest thing.”
The Fit Flamingo Studio is now in full swing. Tucked behind the charming streets of the historic downtown Plano, the white shipping container has been painted with the words, “Build Yourself UP!” by artist Steffi Lynn. The whole studio space is Instagram-worthy, with potted plants and a cute greenhouse across the little green workout turf, with flowers scattered about neatly. Clearly, this is a different kind of gym space.
“It’s fun, it’s quirky, it’s a little bit different,” says Whitehead. “It’s not your traditional gym. You don’t see any equipment, it’s all free weights, it’s all bodyweight exercises. It’s this tiny little studio that feels really special. You get this really intimate one on one, or tiny group feeling.”
Whitehead takes individual clients and encourages them through both physical exercises and through open conversation. “Women’s fitness can be very intimidating. It can be very much so about what you look like, and I just want to create a brand and a space that makes you feel very good about your body and where you are today,” says Whitehead.
“I really wanted to create a space where I could work out and my friends could work out in a place that’s not intimidating. A place women could gather and feel empowered in community and feel like they could move without there being this competition aspect or comparison game. I created the Fit Flamingo just out of my own desire I guess to see this combination of fun movement within exercise.”
Whitehead encouraged a shift from obsessing over changing one’s body to loving it first. “Clients might come in with a weight-loss goal, but if I can help someone love who they are today while we’re working on these real things that people want to attain, if I can make them feel good about where they are today, that’s pretty much my main objective. I want women to love themselves and love their bodies today while they’re moving upwards and onwards.”
With her very holistic approach to wellness and health, Whitehead values emotional healing as well as physical improvement. “I really want it to feel like a safe place where women can gather and speak vulnerably and authentically and just feel like, hey, these are people who can be my friends,” says Whitehead. “These are women I can champion and people I can connect with and I’m not alone in feeling depressed or insecure in my body. So that’s really important to me, to create community with empowered women who just want to help each other shine and succeed.”
Her mother, Debbie Whitehead, runs a professional counselling business in the same office as her dad, and the concept of counselling has seeped into Madison’s fitness studio, as she looks out for her clients' emotional as well as physical needs.
“I think about them constantly like, How can I love them? How can I serve them? How can I make them feel safe in this space?” Madison says. “And it’s in the little details like remembering things they told me the week before, or playing their favorite music or burning their favorite candle … then I’ll just open up the conversation and I’ll ask them questions maybe they were never asked before. I’ll share things from my own life that’s like, hey, I can relate or I’ve been there. And with every movement or exercise we do we can get a little deeper into the conversation.”
With more and more talk about mental health and how it affects us physically, Whitehead makes an effort to turn the gym from a place where women go to feel overly conscious about their bodies to a place where they can feel safe and seen. “It’s amazing how many women just come and we’ll be warming up and they’ll just burst into tears,” Whitehead says. “Every client is different, but I’ll tell them, this is a safe space. You can feel whatever you’re feeling and if you’re angry be angry, if you’re excited be excited. I’m here for you. I’m here for your feelings.”
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Anyone who knows Madison could probably agree that the girl is a walking Pinterest inspiration board. Take one look at her Instagram account, @thefitflamingo, and you’ll see why. Often featuring other bloggers or Instagram girl bosses in her network, Whitehead also shares openly about the highs and lows of her own life on social media.
“I never want to give off the appearance that I’ve got it all figured out and that I’m perfect and healthy, like, I’ve got it all figured out,” says Whitehead. “But I deal with stuff every day and I want my voice and my brand to be authentic and real and I just want to make other women feel like what they’re going through is normal, what they’re feeling is normal, they’re not crazy for struggling with their bodies or for feeling like they have traumas or anything like that. I feel like if I can feel confident and free I can allow other women to feel confident and free as well.”
Whitehead is balancing running her own business while still working part time for her father, and playing music here and there (yeah, the girl can sing too), all while planning her wedding in the fall. But through all the crazy, she seems to roll with the punches and is a big champion for girl bosses everywhere. “You just have to start,” she says. “You’ve probably heard it a lot already, but progress is better than perfection and if you feel called to do something, do it. That dream was put on your heart and it might not necessarily be a dream that everyone else understands but that’s OK. You being passionate about it is enough. You don’t have to wait for other people to get it or for people to be excited for you. Sometimes you just have to be excited for yourself and work hard on the dreams that are on your heart and even if you have to start it alone, start it.”