The owners of a fitness studio in Maryland were delighted to have their business featured in a local newspaper -- until a reader sent them a copy of the article scrawled with insults telling them they were fat.
Megan Ellis and Taryn Sisco, the owners of Barre East Fitness Studio in Frederick, Maryland, are fighting back against body shaming after they received the piece of hate mail on Tuesday.
"You are fat, bordering on obese," the sender wrote on a photo of the women printed in The Frederick News Post, drawing arrows. "Pictures/articles like this give others a license to be overweight or obese," the writer continued.
Ellis, a lifelong athlete, said she burst into tears when she read the message.
"Instantly, my eyes welled up," she said. "I was so upset."
Ellis and Sisco mulled over how to respond and decided to post a photo of the hate mail on their Facebook page.
"You called me overweight without knowing that I overcame an eating disorder and serious body image issue 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," they wrote.
"What you didn't realize you did was open up an important conversation about overcoming adult bullying, body shaming and unprovoked hate," the pair continued. "I'm guessing you had no idea just how strong we are, inside and out."
Within hours of posting the image online, the business owners had received hundreds of supportive messages from across the country.
"We want to show women that you can totally rise above it," Sisco said.
Barre East teaches a workout technique that combines ballet, Pilates and strength training. They pride themselves on welcoming people of all ages, experience levels and body types.
Ellis and Sisco chose to take the high road but they didn't have to -- the woman who sent the hate mail wrote her name and address on the envelope, but the business owners decided not to reveal it.
"I think that takes us down to a different level, and that's not why we're here," Ellis said. "We always want to elevate ourselves and our clients."
She threw down a challenge for the sender, who the pair identified on their blog as a former administrator for Frederick County Public Schools.
"Come on in," Ellis said. "Take a class from the person you callled 'you are fat' and see how you do."