Author, Speaker, Health Coach, Diet Abolitionist, Peacemaker, Animal Lover, Softie Personal Trainer
Ms. Sarah Hays Coomer’s incredibly diverse and rich background affords her a unique insight into human character especially when matched with a wondrous ability to write compelling books and connect with people. Ms. Coomer pulled herself up by her bootstraps out of trying situations, learned, evolved and persevered. “The two things that were most impactful in pulling me out of that ditch were my female friendships and a deep, abiding reverence for simple pleasures”, she writes.
I felt welcome in Ms. Coomer’s cozy home, her sanctuary. As we chatted and I snapped away, I saw hints of Sarah’s past lives in the photographs and posters on the walls, but mostly I felt kindness and warmth emanating from this WOW Woman.
Sarah Hays Coomer.
2. Where is your hometown?
I am forever split between Nashville, TN and Los Angeles, CA. My home, my family, my life, and everything I own are in Nashville, but I found my footing in Los Angeles in my twenties and it is the place I always go back to in order to root back in and ground myself.
3. What is your profession/career/title/self-label/designation?
Author, speaker, health coach, diet abolitionist, peacemaker, animal lover, softie personal trainer.
4. What was the journey like to get where you are (in life and career-wise)? What are some accomplishments you’re most proud of, and what was the turning point to set you on a current path in life?
There were no straight lines for the first ten years of my adult life. I worked as a cocktail waitress, a street performer, a wholesale fruit and vegetable "salesgirl," a personal assistant, an actress, a bartender, a singer, an anime voiceover actor, a record store cashier, an office temp, a human resources coordinator, and finally a personal trainer. I had an Americana band called The Cash Diners and put out a solo record as well. I lived in New York City, L.A., Chicago for half a minute, and Nashville. In L.A., I lived in eight different places over the course of one year before landing in an apartment that finally became home. My heart has always been in the arts, but how that drive expresses itself has changed over time from theater to music to books to consulting.
I spent much of my early life fighting against myself: my body, my passions, my impatience, my insecurities. I reached a turning point around 25 when I decided to prioritize peace and balance over appearances or achievements. It clued me into my present state of mind and allowed me to be a lot more focused on others... though the process took another ten years to really settle. That shift turned out to be rare in the health and wellness space. I'm proud of writing and publishing two books in three years, but I'm even more proud of the love I've found for my body and everyone else's human bodies. It's pretty spectacular to live (mostly) free of judgment that way. I'm teaching mindfulness and wellness initiatives in corporate and nonprofit settings now and absolutely love that work. It's so affirming to see how much we all have in common and how powerful our bodies and minds are if we just give them a chance.
5. What did you study in school?
Undergrad, I studied theater at the University of North Carolina, School of the Arts. I had a love-hate relationship with that school. It taught me how fill a roll expertly but stripped me of a dependable sense of self. I didn't know who I was by the time I graduated. I'm not sure it's healthy for any 18 year old to spend ten hours a day looking at themselves in wall-to-wall mirrors, dissecting every mannerism, every move and quirk of speech for four years straight. It was raw self-analysis, the opposite of "living in the moment." The best classes I took there were theoretical: philosophy, eastern religion, and text analysis with a magical Turkish woman named Cigdem Onat. Those themes have stuck with me my entire life, and my fascination with them never ended. After UNCSA, I studied nutrition, anatomy and physiology, and more philosophy at UCLA in an effort to reconnect my brain with my body, and that line of study led me directly where I am today.
6. How is your life different from what you pictured at 20?
My life is vastly different from what I pictured at 20. In college, I expected to spend my life living in New York City as a working actor. I imagined living in a brownstone apartment with my boyfriend at the time with shelves of books lining the walls, candlelit dinner parties for four, linen pants, and taxi rides through the city. Summers in Cape Cod. No kids. By 22, my whole vision of my future fell apart. I was in a deep depression and struggled to keep going. The process of putting together a new vision took many years, but I'm so happy with where I’ve landed… living in Nashville with my husband, 7-year-old son, and our precious pitbull. I do have books lining the walls, but the similarities stop there.
7. Was there a time when life knocked you down or out and how did you get back up on your feet?
I was engaged to be married when I was 21-years-old. Three weeks before the wedding and one week before my college graduation, my fiance broke up with me via voicemail. It obliterated my confidence just as I was heading out into the adult world. Our love was consuming, and I was totally blindsided. I lost faith in pretty much everyone's ability to tell the truth and—worse—lost faith in my own judgment. It sent me into a tailspin of depression, anxiety, and eating disorders that lasted for years. What I didn't realize at the time was that I had handed my self-worth over to him, so when he decided to cut bait and run, I was left gutted by the side of the road. It was an awful experience, but it also forced me to do a lot of really valuable work that paid off in the end.
I was a guy's girl in high school and college, but it was the women in my life who picked me up and kept me sane when I was at my lowest.
The two things that were most impactful in pulling me out of that ditch were my female friendships and a deep, abiding reverence for simple pleasures. I was a guy's girl in high school and college, but it was the women in my life who picked me up and kept me sane when I was at my lowest. And I developed rituals of walking, hiking, breathing, watching leaves fall, snuggling with animals, seeing concerts, and—eventually—enjoying food... little tiny celebrations of life boosted my mood and ultimately—I don't say this lightly—that approach changed my life.
8. Advice for other women?
My best advice is to take just a fraction of the respect you lavish on the women you love and admire and slather it all over yourself, your body, your work, your contributions. Your body is your greatest teacher. It will tell you when you are out of whack, and it will offer clues for what to do next. If you can learn to listen to it, you will find what invigorates you and what beats you down.
9. Knowing what we know now in current political climate, can women be "all that we can be" in today's world? What is the way forward, as you see it, for "feminist values"?
There has been a lot of talk in recent years about micro-aggressions against marginalized communities, and many people (myself included) are waking up to the fact that we have unknowingly perpetuated those cultural norms over the years. But a lot of women are still missing the fact that we also commit micro-aggressions against our own bodies and our personal power every day when we apologize for how we look, when we shrink from opportunities or relationships because we think we aren't good enough, when we starve or stuff ourselves in an attempt to control our diets, or neglect to hear the messages our bodies are sending that we need more or less movement. It's an enormous challenge to show up everyday in our bodies and to treat them with respect, but it's also a fun personal challenge... to dance with how it feels to dress and move freely in situations we would have tried to manipulate or control in the past. We do a lot of harm by discounting ourselves, and we can change the course of history by changing the ways we perceive ourselves and the ways we interface with the world. As I wrote in Physical Disobedience: "Taking care of our bodies is a form of political action."
10. Where in the world do you feel “tallest” (i.e. where is your happy place)?
Los Angeles, at the very top of Griffith Park. It's holy ground for me, a place that opened my lungs and my eyes when I was ricocheting daily between fight, flight, and freeze.
11. What extra-curricular activities/hobbies are you most proud of? Why?
Travel and hiking are two of my favorite things, but my work is wrapped up in those as well these days. I love the high I get from being with activist groups who are doing good work, particularly Moms Demand Action/Everytown for Gun Safety, Planned Parenthood, and the Humane Society. I need to pick my guitar up again. I love to sing and write songs, but I haven’t made it a priority the last few years.
12. What do you want to be when you grow up? Future goals/challenges?
Old lady, long white hair, jeans, t-shirt, converse, a gaggle of rescue dogs and cats, a book manuscript on my laptop, a series of picture books published and on my shelves, international travel to learn from and speak to women-run businesses, well-worn skis and hiking boots in my closet.
13. What fears are you still hoping to overcome?
I am aching to be free of imposter syndrome. With two books under my belt, an active consulting and coaching career, and sixteen years of personal training for people who are struggling in various ways with their bodies, I still live in fear of not finding the right words, not having the expertise needed to respond when asked for my opinion, not being smart or articulate enough for my own standards. Occasionally, this fear paralyzes me in the middle of a book event or a class I'm teaching, and it infuriates me. It sends me down a spiral later in the night, when I want to disappear into the vortex of my couch with blankets over my head and my dog curled up next to me to ease the discomfort. The solution to this—if I can remain clear headed enough at the event—is always, always to speak the truth, no matter how raw or simple it might be, to be honest about being human, thereby giving everyone else in the room space to be human and imperfect right alongside me. It's counterintuitive, but being willing to be a mess without pretense makes me feel so much more confident. The act of writing or speaking about absurdity and the destructive ways I've undercut myself in the past lets the air out of my insecurities. They are always worse in my head than they are in reality.
14. Anything you'd do differently, if you had another go at life?
Every hardship I've faced has brought me where I am today, so I wouldn’t take them back. The only things I would change are a few times when I was young and selfish to the point of cruelty. There was a man I hurt really badly in college and again in my early-twenties. He was caring and kind and didn't deserve that kind of treatment. I would take it back if I could.
15. What inspires you?
Teenage girls shaving their heads. Old ladies in outlandish outfits. Babies splashing in puddles. Activists. Animal lovers.
16. What are you hopeful about?
I’m hopeful that the current global swing toward isolationism—bullying and dehumanizing the least powerful communities among us—is laying fertile ground for women to finally take the reigns and turn this shit show around. The rage so many of us are feeling right now is a powerful force. We need to put our money and our votes where our mouths are in every local and national election and make sure our friends, families, and kids are showing up to vote as well. I’m hopeful about the power of the vote and progressive women running for office.
17. What are some ingredients to a good life?
Sunlight, fresh air, trees, water, close friends, words, silence, pets, lovers, old ladies, free-falling, hot showers, patience, rage, celebration, and partnership of any kind.
18. What is a quality you most love about yourself and why?
Honesty has turned out to be one of my greatest assets. It has attracted compatriots who are not afraid truth-telling, which allows us all to be vulnerable and real. It makes the journey a whole lot more interesting.
19. What advice would you give your 14-year-old self?
Dig the ride. It’s going to be a mess, but messes make for grand adventures.
20. What are you reading now? (what books do you gift most and what are your favourite reads?)
I just finished Samantha Irby’s We Are Never Meeting in Real Life. She is hilarious and unabashed. My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem gives perspective on the long haul. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi makes everything matter so much more and also so much less all at the same time. Dear Madam President by Jennifer Palmieri and Becoming by Michelle Obama both give me hope and help me sleep at night. Drive by Daniel Pink scratches my entrepreneurial itch.
21. Who is a WOW Woman in your world who inspires you and why? Can you nominate three (or more) women you know who perfectly fit WOW WOMAN description? What would you tell them if you had an opportunity, of why you admire them?
This list could be so long, but here are just a few:
Jana Fain-Rossen is a force of nature, a leprechaun dancing in a field of poppy, the Laverne to my Shirley, and the Patsy to my Edina. She worked her way from the back of a pick up truck in Georgia to managing some of the biggest production companies in Hollywood. She is a magnet for the strangest of strangers and welcomes them all with open arms and a cheese plate. She spearheaded the building of a new library for her daughter’s elementary school and is a tireless advocate for public education. There has never been a time I have needed her that she has not been there to make me snort Cabernet out my nose. She is my safety net, and I am more grateful for her than she will ever know.
Tracy Jackson, M.D. is a rabid seeker of knowledge, people, experiences, surf, and sunlight. She is a chronic pain physician devoted to alleviating suffering without the use of opioids. She is a yoga instructor, an acupuncturist, a poet, a teacher, a kite boarder, and a visionary.
Julia Hoge is an elementary school counselor who upends every expectation we have about childhood learning and how to help kids thrive. She is currently masterminding a revolution to help teachers, counselors, and parents wrap every child in a protective shield of safety, compassion, and adventure. She deals with unthinkable trauma in families at work and wrings it all out on her yoga mat at the end of the day.
Linda McFadyen-Ketchum is the Tennessee Chapter Leader for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. She spent three decades teaching kids with autism in public schools before retiring to work in advocacy for people with disAbilities and common sense gun reform… no small task in the state of Tennessee. She is our fearless leader, and people in this state are infinitely better off for her work. She’s also playful and upbeat, seemingly un-phased by the endless challenges we face. Definitely a WOW Woman.
22. Where can others find you/your work (links to websites, blogs, etc.)?
My website is www.SarahHaysCoomer.com where you can find info about coaching and writing. My instagram is @sarah.hays.coomer, and twitter and facebook are @sarahhayscoomer. Instagram is my happy place where I get to curate what beauty looks like and filter out negative voices. My books are Physical Disobedience: An Unruly Guideto Health and Stamina for the Modern Feminist (Seal Press/Hachette, 2018) and Lightness of Body and Mind: A Radical Approach to Weight and Wellness (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018). You can find them anywhere you get books, including audio. Check with your local indie bookstore, and if they don’t have them, ask!