WASHINGTON -- Aqila “MiMi” Benjamin celebrates body positivity and exudes confidence with being a curvy, black woman in the D.C. area.

However, she explained that she still faces challenges.

“I get the looks. I get the comments. I’ve been publicly fat shamed on my birthday,” Benjamin recalled.

Benjamin, who works as a motivational speaker and networking specialist, explained people often judge her because of her weight without knowing her story.

“I have my own health journey. I was once 410 pounds,” she said. “I was using a cane. I was 27 years old – 27 years old, bedridden and using a cane. So, I had to take action.”

Benjamin had weight loss surgery and lost nearly 200 pounds.

“People need to understand even with weight loss surgery, natural weight loss, whatever -- it is about your mental,” Benjamin said. “You need to consume positive things in your life because now I know that I’m going to keep the weight off.”

Benjamin is partnering with Sweat DC in the District’s Petworth neighborhood on the #SweatConfidenceChallenge.

The goal is to create a fitness space where people who may be considered overweight feel comfortable and accepted.

“We’re starting a sweat confidence challenge,” Gerald “Coach G” Burley, owner of Sweat DC, said. “One issue that we’ve seen in a lot of fitness spaces is that it’s not really inclusive. It’s almost like one of those things that’s like if you’re not already fit you don’t belong here.”

Coach G explained the 30-day challenge is meant to empower participants to show they are strong, capable, and confident.

“Being overweight is one of the biggest precursors for high blood pressure, heart disease, any type of hypertension,” Coach G explained.

He recalled his mother dying from heart disease when he was a teenager.

“One thing about black women in general – a lot of times you’re so worried about taking care of everyone else and you leave your health and everything to be last,” Coach G said. “We’re trying to change the culture because I know when you’re at your strongest -- you’re a better mom, you’re a better sister, you’re a better auntie, you’re a better pillar in the community.”

The 30-day challenge starts on June 3rd at Sweat DC on Georgia Avenue in Northwest.

The fitness studio is hosting an open house on May 18th at 11:30 am.

If you are interested in learning more about the challenge or open house, CLICK HERE.

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If you know someone or a topic that should be featured in our ‘For the Culture’ segment, email Michael Quander at mquander@wusa9.com or send him a direct message on Twitter or Instagram.

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