Written by Olivia Putnal Tuesday, April 17 2012
Snapshot: Pilar Gerasimo, Founding Editor-in-Chief of Experience Life
Pilar Gerasimo has one goal – to inspire you to live a more healthy life through her Experience Life magazine and her booklet, “Being Healthy Is a Revolutionary Act: A Manifesto for Thriving in a Mixed-Up World.” She truly believes that if you have “the willingness to do a little, learn a little, feel the difference and then do a little more,” you will change your life.
Established in 2001, Experience Life reaches an audience of 630,000 and offers a truly wholesome, real-life portal for healthy living.
Womenetics: Who or what was your inspiration for starting Experience Life?
Pilar Gerasimo: My biggest inspiration was my own desire for a health and fitness magazine that would address my real-life needs and respect my intelligence as a reader. I wanted a magazine that offered practical, well-researched advice that related to me, not just as a flawed body in need of perfecting but as a whole person living a complex, integrated life. The conventional health and fitness magazines all seemed obsessed with six-pack abs and seduction. They kept screaming at me to “lose the flab” and “get a bikini body.”
Gradually, I started figuring out on my own what really worked and what didn’t, and it struck me as strange that none of the magazines out there were addressing the stuff that was most helpful, interesting and inspiring. I figured I couldn’t be the only person out there that wanted a magazine that would really dig into this stuff, and since that magazine didn’t exist yet, I thought, “Hey, there’s an opportunity here! Maybe I should do this.”
Womenetics: When you first began, did anyone tell you that you couldn’t do it? How did you handle that?
Gerasimo: Initially, almost all of the advice I got was to make the magazine more like all the other magazines out there—the headlines had to scream louder, the cover had to be sexier and more sensational, the articles had to be less in-depth and contemplative, and more about quick and easy tips and instant fixes because that was all readers cared about. So yes, a lot of people told me that it couldn’t be done — or that it had to be done a different way. I just believed that it could and should be done the right way.
I did significant research into the “Cultural Creatives” and “Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability” marketplace. It suggested there was room for this kind of magazine and an audience and advertisers to support it.
I think the other important factor was reading Gloria Steinem’s terrific essay, “Sex, Lies and Advertising,” about her experience starting Ms. Magazine back in the early ‘70s. That (article) gave me a sense of what I was up against and why it was worth persevering. Steinem was given a lot of the same safe, boring advice I got, and she came up against a lot of the same resistance. But she also made an inspiring case for creating an unconventional magazine that addressed readers’ real needs and interests. So, I kind of took the naysayers in stride and just kept going. I think all that “it will never work” stuff also triggered my innate uppity tendencies and just made me more determined to make it work.
Womenetics: How were you able to secure funding for your business in the beginning?
Gerasimo: I got incredibly lucky in terms of timing and synchronicity. I had been noodling with the concept for this new-model magazine when I received a call from a Twin Cities custom-publishing agency. They were producing a little 36-page custom publication called Experience Life — a thinly disguised marketing tool, for their client, Life Time Fitness. Life Time’s CEO, Bahram Akradi wasn’t happy with the product and began looking for a new creative team to save it. I pitched my idea to Akradi, and the “whole person, whole life” angle of the magazine I pitched really appealed to Akradi. He also liked the idea of moving away from a “membership magazine” and toward a general audience subscription and newsstand model aimed at educated, health-motivated people. So he and Life Time got behind the idea 100 percent, and we just started cranking.
The magazine’s business model has changed a lot over the years, and it went from being a “free” benefit of membership with a circulation of 200,000, to being a paid-subscription, general audience magazine with a circulation of 630,000. Initially, it cost Life Time millions of dollars a year to produce. Now it makes the company money, and it’s a central part of their educational mission. But the big win, really, is that the magazine is reaching millions of people, helping them embrace healthier life choices and creating terrific business results on a number of different levels.
Together, we created something sustainable — something that the world needed and that previously didn’t exist. That, in my mind, is the definition of a successful venture.
Womenetics: It’s hard for women in the business world to make time. What is the first step in creating a healthy lifestyle? What was your first step?
Gerasimo: For me, the first step was realizing that my health and fitness were essential to pretty much everything else I wanted to do, offer, create and experience in my life. Every other goal I had in my career, my relationships, my finances, my creative work and personal development called for me to be healthy, fit, energetic and confident. Ultimately, I wanted to be happy, and I knew that when I felt vibrant, healthy and balanced, happiness almost came automatically for me. Within that mindset, it’s almost impossible to not make healthy choices. That’s why I think the first step in shifting your daily choices is getting clear about that “Big Why” and knowing that if you want to have a good life, you have to start taking good care of yourself, now.
From there, in terms of practical first steps, it was about doing the simplest things I knew I could do daily without a lot of drama or effort — drinking a glass of water, walking around the block or eating a handful of leafy greens. Just doing those three things, especially doing them first thing in the morning, helped me feel positive and energized. It would be enough to get me headed down a healthy path and keep me motivated to learn and do more. That’s how it all starts — with the willingness to do a little, learn a little, feel the difference and then do a little more.
Womenetics: What are your three healthy living tips for the busy woman?
Gerasimo: 1) Forget counting calories and avoiding fats. Eat real, whole foods and avoid fast foods, “lite” foods, processed flours and sugars and diet sodas. They will age you and kill your energy. Keep a bag of raw nuts in your car for when you’re famished and have no whole foods in sight. Whenever you have access to fresh vegetables, load up on them.
2) Prioritize sleep. Sleep is when your brain and body repair themselves and prepare your energy stores for the days to come. If you don’t sleep enough, nothing goes well — you can’t think straight, your metabolism suffers and you risk getting sick. And who has time for that?
3) Invest in your health as the basis for everything else you care about. Put a significant percentage of your money, time and focus into taking good care of yourself, knowing that it serves your highest priorities and will pay you back better than virtually any other investment you make. Hire the trainer, eat the organic food, take the good vitamins, get the massage and do the yoga class.
Womenetics: Tell us a little about your booklet, “Being Healthy Is a Revolutionary Act: A Manifesto for Thriving in a Mixed-Up World.”
Gerasimo: The manifesto evolved out of a conversation I had with my team when we were first considering the line: “Being Healthy Is a Revolutionary Act” as the tagline for Experience Life magazine. There is a powerful revolution taking place in our culture right now, a growing number of people waking up and reclaiming our right to our own well-being and vitality and realizing that it often requires unconventional, inconvenient choices and a great deal of commitment to pull off. It seemed clear that this movement needed a manifesto (which is really just a statement of core beliefs and principles). So, I decided to jot down the 10 “self-evident truths” I saw as essential, starting with most obvious: “The Way We Are Living Is Crazy.”
The manifesto, illustrated by Tadeusz Majewski, was initially printed as a tear-out handbook within a larger feature, “Being Healthy Is a Revolutionary Act: Renegade Perspectives for Thriving in Mixed Up World.” Now it’s a stand-alone chapbook, and it’s also become the basis for our health-advocacy spin-off initiative RevolutionaryAct.com and our “101 Revolutionary Ways to Be Healthy” mobile app.
Womenetics: What is your marketing strategy? Has it changed over the years?
Gerasimo: We’ve always been focused on reaching a specific psychographic: educated, thoughtful, health-motivated individuals who are interested in personal development and in balancing and enjoying their busy lives. What’s different about our strategy today is that we believe there are now a great many more of these people to reach than when we first started out. Back then, we were seen as a little marginal — a little out there. And now, I think we are connecting with a progressive mainstream audience, so we are making a stronger move to build our subscription base and to grow our newsstand sales.
Womenetics: Do you have any advice for women entrepreneurs? What are some of the lessons you’ve learned along the way?
Gerasimo: It’s all that stuff Oprah has been telling us for years -- that you have to believe in yourself and take care of yourself. It’s true, but it can be hard to act on. I think most women have nowhere near as much confidence as they deserve to have. We don’t really believe in ourselves, and that is in part because we haven’t risked testing our own capacity to see what we can do. Or we don’t have a sense of what lights us up enough to want to take that risk. I think the most successful women entrepreneurs become successful by doing the very things that light them up. But I think we have to imagine inhabiting our own dream life and dream job before we can create it for real. Then, we have to start putting in the time, energy, creativity and focus to make it happen.
You have to get comfortable with feeling and standing in your power, confidence and integrity, too. And with setting good, healthy boundaries so you can sustain your energy and vitality. If you’re not sure what that would look or feel like, make a point of connecting with successful, powerful, admirable women. Seek out women who are giving their best gifts and talents but not getting run down, and see how it feels to be around them. Go looking for truly impressive role-model women because they are out there doing great things, and they are worth watching.
Womenetics: What are some of your favorite pastimes?
Gerasimo: Puttering around the house, yoga, reading, playing guitar, sipping a cup of coffee, enjoying wine with friends and cooking. I really love spending time outside on the co-operative family farm where I live with my family, just walking up the tractor road with my sisters or mom and hanging out with my husband and our dog, Frida. In the summer, I enjoy trips up to our family cabin in the great North Woods — just water, rocks, trees and loons. It’s like a wheatgrass juice shot for the soul.
More stories about women who have made healthy living their business:
Working for United Airlines, Julia Stamberger recognized the need for portable, healthy meals that didn't need preparation or refrigeration -- and with GoPicnic that's exactly what she provides.
Dina Zeckhausen shares how she went from casual exerciser to triathlete by disciplining her inner toddler.
Feeling unfulfilled by her job as a corporate trainer, Nancy Wadleck decided to use her teaching abilities to share the gift of cooking delicious, generally plant-based meals.
Olivia Putnal is a writer and editor in Atlanta. She formerly wrote web articles and blogs for WomansDay.com in the areas of health, fitness, beauty, fashion, entertainment, news and food.