Twitter made the “hashtag” popular. The symbol, which is also recognized as a pound sign is notorious for grouping together topics on social media websites and applications like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
For communication studies and sociology senior Stephonie Rodgers, 22, the symbol means a lot more. She described it as a symbol of unity, community and connection. It is an essential part of her #LoveThyself movement.
“When we want to make something known or want other people to be able to find something, we hashtag it,” Rodgers said. “That’s really what I wanted #LoveThyself to be, something that connects people together.”
Rodgers started the movement during the summer of 2014 as a way for her to gain support throughout her weight loss journey.
Rodgers said she has struggled with her weight for her entire life.
“I would always tell myself when I’m this age, I’ll be this small; before I get to college, I’ll weigh this much,” she said.
During her senior year of high school she weighed more than 300 pounds. When she got to LSU, she began to workout and eat healthier. She dropped down to 275 pounds.
As she progressed, school got harder. She found it easier to say she couldn’t go to the gym because she was too tired or she couldn’t eat right because she didn’t have time to cook.
“It sounds like a reason, but it’s really an excuse because your health has to be first," Rodgers said.
She was now the heaviest she had ever been at 310 pounds and it was affecting her health. She had blurred vision, couldn’t breathe well, didn’t sleep well at night and I couldn’t walk without running out of breath.
One day during July 2014 she knew it was time to make a change.
“It was just time for a change for me because I love myself too much to see myself hurting like I was,” Rodgers said.
That is when she decided to start working out and eating healthier, but in a way that would also inspire others. She began by uploading small snippets of new exercises to her Instagram page. She also posted pictures and recipes of simple meals that she cooked.
She wanted other college students to see that a healthier lifestyle didn’t mean hiring an expensive personal trainer or a chef, but making small, inexpensive changes conducive to their schedule and budget.
Aside from posting videos and pictures to her Instagram page, Rodgers also started a YouTube channel. Her earlier videos focused on her background and her weekly routine, but posting videos became harder as her movement began to transform.
Starting out as just a way to keep herself focused and encouraged on her own weight loss journey, #LoveThysef has become much bigger than she had imagined.
#LoveThyself became a community of people with flaws who came together to acknowledge how far they have come in loving themselves and pushing others to do the same.
The movement is no longer just about weight loss. It is about loving yourself for who you are now and progressively working toward what you want Rodgers explained.
Rodgers’ movement was initially designed to target teenagers, but it has come to inspire young adults and college-aged students. Her new focus is lifestyle changed that are fashionable, affordable and realistic. She re-launched her YouTube channel and it will include new workout videos, cooking tutorials and affordable shopping and fashion tips.
On her first video she featured fellow LSU student Nyles Walker. Walker is a chemistry major from Winneketa, California who grew up cooking by watching the women in his family and Food Network.
He hopes to inspire others to learn how to cook and credits Pinterest and allmyrecipes.com as some great tools for finding healthier recipes and video tutorials.
Walker, who has struggled with his masculinity and with having confidence in his intelligence, was happy to be part of the movement.
“I think it is a great movement that is brining people together to share love, wisdom, and encouragement to one another,” Walker said. “It has truly blessed me to make sure I instill in others and myself that no matter what, God sees you as perfect and that is all that matters.”
Rodgers had Walker cook for her channel because of his great personality and because he was able to make a healthy meal that was tasty and affordable.
“I wanted to show it’s possible to cook fancier stuff that is affordable and simple,” Rodgers said. “It doesn’t have to taste like wheatgrass and sadness.
Walker is a member of the #LoveThyself Facebook group, which is a newer aspect of the #LoveThyself movement. Rodgers added friends and family who in turn added their friends and family.
It’s a place for members to receive and give encouragement, support, ideas on cooking and workouts and post inspirational videos. The support group allows members to see that they are not alone.
After creating the group many people have inspired Rodgers to continue on her healthy lifestyle journey but her biggest inspiration was herself.
“It dawned on me that what I was at that moment was my fault, but it’s okay because I can change that and I can love myself enough to change,” Rodgers said. “I inspire myself.”