Every morning Jovan wakes up and gets her five-year-old daughter, Sophia, ready for school. After she drops Sophia off, Jovan goes to a place that represents her “second chance” – her local fitness center. The gym represents power. “I feel invincible. I feel as though I can do anything,” Jovan says. Living in Santa Rosa with her husband and daughter for the last four years has not been easy. As a singer married to a pianist and music minister, there is a lot of pressure to be talented and Christ-like – as they work in a church – yet underpaid as most artists often are. One can imagine the strain on a family and a mother who wants to give her young daughter everything. So, the gym is her outlet: “There’s too much stress involved in marriage and motherhood.” She says this with a laugh, one that says, I laugh through it because I believe that something better is coming.
Jovan goes to the gym six days a week. Gym days consist of one of two routines: Either Jovan takes one or two classes, or she heads to the machines for her own custom workout. She relates that Santa Rosa has a culture of fitness; so, the other patrons at the gym during the day are mothers. Jovan believes that this is largely influenced by California’s celebrity culture where women’s bodies go from pregnant to perfect in a matter of weeks. She says, “You can get your body back faster.” This has been her practice for the last year and a half but it has not always been that way. Sitting in her parents’ living room, Jovan talks about the gym while Sophia sits on the floor playing with her dolls. Each doll is creatively styled and dressed. As Sophia enthusiastically acts out “date night” with her dolls, one can only imagine what life is like as a full-time mom to this energetic, inquisitive, outrageously hilarious child. Though motherhood, Jovan comments: “I have control over what I do in the gym.”
Jovan’s fitness routine and physical transformation are a mark of real transformation. First, she’s tall. 5’11 to be exact. She has a strong, solid frame to boot. As such, she always has a presence. Jovan has dealt with body image issues her entire life. As she grew up, her size was always a source of distress for her. She recalls days where she would make her sister stand in the mirror. Then, she would stand behind her and measure the how far her hips extended beyond her sisters. Now, things have changed drastically. These days, Jovan says that her older sister has to hide the clothes that she actually wants to keep hidden in the back of her closet. That is, if her sister doesn’t want to see them in one of Jovan’s glamour shots on Instagram. When I ask Jovan’s sister if it annoys her, she says, “On the one hand, I’m running out of clothes but, on the other hand, I like to see her trying on outfits and enjoying her success: achieving the body she wants.”
This isn’t the end of her journey. “I want 19 percent body fat,” Jovan says. “I want to be able to do a handstand, increase my speed, do a triathlon, and a spartan—” Spartan is an obstacle course competition. One will be held at the Giants’ stadium in April 2019. The pace of her words picks up when she talks about fitness. The excitement in the air is palpable. Jovan has one word for how her workouts make her feel: “Empowered. I feel suffering. I am able to control how I react to the suffering. I can push through weakness and keep going.” The gym takes away her anxiety. She feels that she finally has something that “no one has been able to take.”
When I ask Jovan “What motivated you to pursue fitness?” she smiled and laughed in a familiar way, saying “You don’t want to know.” She has a very unique balance of coy femininity and masculine brutal honesty. Imagine a bull wearing pink lipstick and a flowery sundress and that about sums up her personality; capable of seduction and destruction in equal measure. What she shared wasn’t risqué, raunchy or – as she described it – “psychotic”. It was actually profound. Jovan divulged four reasons among “many” others that explain why she is motivated to go so hard in the gym: men, death, and power.
The men in Jovan’s life – in particular, in her romantic relationships – have been the catalysts behind her major transformation through fitness. Though she is now married, she describes a man who she met who once changed her outlook on life because he encouraged her to love herself. She interpreted this as being fit. Jovan wanted the perfect relationship but felt that she did not deserve it so things fell apart with this man who she thought was too good to be true. For Jovan, a part of having that perfect relationship meant that she had to chance and she believed that “being fit enough” for the man that she imagined she would be with was essential. When they broke up, Jovan says it became about “loving myself.” What began as a more vain project in looking like the perfect girlfriend became a lifelong journey to self-love and respect. Her experience teaches us that change motivated from within is change geared towards self-love.
Beyond this pursuit of the perfect body for the perfect man, Jovan was motivated by the generational sickness and disease that she observed in her relatives. She began to see that she was heading down the same path. She recalls, “I saw pictures of myself with my stomach hanging over my pants and I wanted to look different.” This want was exacerbated by death in her family. She says, “I had a fear of dying from a disease. There were family members dying from heart disease and strokes. I wanted to avoid inaction.” Diet, inactivity and genetics were all working together to breed sickness in Jovan’s family and she wants to break the cycle.
Yet, not only the men and the death but, ultimately, Jovan believes that her ability to suffer in her body at the gym and to overcome has given her the power to overcome in life generally. Thinking back, she says that she felt motivated from “Not being empowered as a woman.” Her fitness regimen translated to, “Not giving up. A second chance to prove myself. To have power over myself. To have control over my own body.” Jovan, who is also a vocalist and stage performer, has opened concerts for Trey Songz, collaborated with international artists and performed at weddings, festivals, and special venues. She grows in power over these challenges every day.