Nothing will prevent Stacie Venagro from getting to the gym – not even pregnancy.
The 31-year-old personal trainer has spent much of her life training for fitness competitions and she was crowned Miss World Pro three times.
Now she has become famous for being a so-called "fit mom."
"They're working out, whether it's walking everyday or doing Crossfit everyday. That's what a ‘fit mom’ is," Venagro said.
Venagro, who gave birth to her first child, Aidan, in March, said she worked out for the full duration of her pregnancy up until the day she gave birth.
“I was fit beforehand so my doctor had told me do what you can do but do not strain,” she said. “You know your body best, you know when you can work out and when you can’t. So I consistently worked out, every single day.”
She said her workout regimen "consisted of six days a week of weight training" and "three days a week of cardiovascular,” which included walking and “a little biometrics."
“I was doing box jumps, things like that,” Venagro said. “As long as I felt good I would do that.”
She decided to document her progress on her Instagram account, sharing her workout videos and belly progression photos with her 13,000 followers.
“Because a lot of people look up to me and they seem me as inspiration, I felt like this next chapter in my life I have to show them like you can still work out when you’re pregnant as long as you feel good,” she said. “If that’s going to motivate somebody else to get off the couch, then I’m going to keep doing it."
Putting herself in the spotlight also brought backlash. The more attention she received, Venagro said, the more criticism she got in return.
Venagro shared comments that users posted on her photos, using words like “gross,” and "As a woman who has battled her weight her entire life and whose pregnancy has made her battle even more challenging, it’s kind of hard to view this without wincing.”
Sia Cooper, another fit mom who also worked out throughout her pregnancy, said she too knows what it’s like to feel the internet’s wrath.
"Some of the comments I’ve gotten was basically my baby is going to die... and I’m scaring my baby and I’m selfish," Cooper said. "There were comments that I wasn’t eating enough and that was crazy and unhealthy.”
Like Venargo, Cooper said she also worked out until the day of her child's birth. "I did about 30 minutes on the treadmill. And I did barbell curls, I did barbell squats."
The new mom shared every step of the way on Instagram with her 200,000 followers.
"A lot of the ladies that follow me, they see inspiration in keeping fit during pregnancy," Cooper said. "I wanted to let them know that just because you’re pregnant, it doesn’t mean that you have to let your body go…I wanted to be the encouragement and the push that they need to find out.”
Body image expert Dr. Robyn Silverman said social media provides a shroud of anonymity that fuels shaming culture.
"It creates a community that shouts rather than simply says what's on their mind," Silverman said.
It used to be that women were criticized for gaining what some say is too much weight. Celebrities like Jessica Simpson, Kelly Clarkson and Kim Kardashian West are often the easiest targets. But these fit moms were seeing the focus shift the other way.
"Women tend to shame other women for a variety of reasons,” Silverman said. “People may shame because they truly believe that if it is the case that a woman can be thin and pregnant, that perhaps they have themselves not done a good enough job while they are pregnant."
Venagro was called out for her "six pack" stomach while pregnant, and was criticized for being too in-shape.
"Somebody wrote, 'She didn’t let her body stretch for the baby to grow. She will end up with a muffin top and probably have to have surgery to correct it,'" Venagro said.
Another "fit mom," lingerie model Sarah Stage, had a similar experience. She, like the others, documented and shared photos of her barely-there baby bump on Instagram for her 1 million followers to see.
"Taking a selfie in the mirror in lingerie, I was doing that before I was pregnant,” Stage said. “So to show my belly I was excited.”
"I don't think it was anything odd or strange or unique. A lot of people, a lot of women, they document their pregnancy," she continued. "They want to share it with their friends or their followers."
But she said she never expected her posts would cause a social media uproar, with people posting hateful comments, including, "Where's the baby hiding at? Definitely not in her tummy," and "I'm confused is she giving birth to a pickle."
Stage said the comments were not only uncalled for but also rude. "There's been some really bad ones, like, 'Oh your baby is probably dead inside of you,'" she said.
"I just don't know how someone could say that to a pregnant woman,” she added. “And my baby is healthy so thankfully he's healthy and we're happy and my doctor is so amazing."
Even at nine months pregnant, Stage was still working out with a trainer twice a week and managed to keep her defined abs even with a pregnant belly.
"I feel great when I work out. I have more energy,” she said. “I think it's the healthiest thing for the baby for me to work out."
Her obstetrician Dr. George Matsuta, who is located in Pasadena, California, explained that every woman's body responds differently to being pregnant, adding that Stage was perfectly healthy.
According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, exercising is recommended during pregnancy, and that, "Physical activity does not increase your risk of miscarriage, low birth weight, or early delivery." But the organization recommends that mothers get the green light to exercise from a health care professional first.
"I think people are stuck in this old age thinking that pregnant women should not work out," Cooper said. "Some of my readers had asked me, 'Can you post pictures of yourself after birth, can you post pictures of yourself after losing the baby weight?' And I said sure, absolutely. So I posted three days, five days, seven days, 10 days postpartum. And yeah I got backlash."
In fact, Cooper, who gained 30 pounds while she was pregnant, said she received the most flak for getting back into exercise after having the baby.
"It mainly comes from the women that weren’t able to work out, that were on bed-rest, saying I’m shaming them,” she said. “And the fact is, I’m not shaming them."
Cooper attributes most of her postpartum weight loss to watching what she ate, rather than intense workouts.
"It’s been almost six weeks and I haven’t been cleared for a workout yet so I’ve been doing little things like core strengthening exercises and it’s mainly a clean diet that’s gotten the rest of the pounds off," she said.
Stage gave birth to a healthy baby boy a year ago, and is proud of her body that she displayed on Instagram, a sentiment shared by fit moms everywhere.
"I'm just doing me,” Stage said. “I did this before I was pregnant. I want to do this after. I don't feel like I should have anything to hide and be ashamed of. I'm so excited. I'm so happy. So why not share it with everybody?"