The pandemic has changed a lot about Shaun T, including his hair. The beloved fitness trainer, known for workouts like the notoriously tough Insanity and Hip-Hop Abs, has presented himself with a clean-shaven head for as long as he’s been a public figure. These days though, he’s grown his hair out into a delightful high-top afro, one that he’s gone back and forth in adding loc extensions to that he whips around when dancing. It’s something that he decided to do at the beginning of 2020, had to see through once the pandemic cut off access to barbershops and salons, and has chosen to keep. The look signifies a small aspect of the newfound freedom he found during COVID to express himself and truly live out loud.
“I went through this phase of just letting my hair grow. It was the first time I was just accepting myself and not being what society feels is well-groomed,” he tells ESSENCE. “And then TikTok came out and I was like, ‘Well, this is the place where I can act the fool.’ But I was like, ‘I’m not really acting the fool, this is how I act if you come to my house. So why am I not allowed to show this?’ And believe it or not, I got unfollowed a lot when I started showing up as who I really was, but I got followed a lot, too. So then I realized that some people don’t like who you really are and that is okay. I’d rather have the people at the party that’s going to vibe than people who’re judging me.”
Living uninhibited and joyfully is the priority for Shaun T. It’s what motivated him to create his latest fitness program, Let’s Get Up! He says no one truly focuses on making fitness about joy and having a good time, and he wanted to change that.
“One of the main reasons why I started out wanting to create a program like Let’s Get Up! is I had a conversation with the CEO and head lawyer at Beachbody. And I was like, ‘I actually need something that my people are going to relate to,’” he says. “‘I need something that my mom and her friends and people on the block are going to want to have fun with because there’s nothing for us.’ I want people to show up to their workout and have a good time.”
And he knows a lot about having a good time. His Instagram page is filled with videos of him with peak energy and good vibes, dancing up a storm everywhere from the hair salon to the streets. As he shared, he doesn’t necessarily start every day feeling as sunshine and rainbow-filled as he appears. However, he always makes the choice to remove negative energy and embrace positivity, and felt it was especially necessary to model that for others in the last year.
“Listen, I was molested when I was eight years old. For me, the only way is up,” he says. “I make a choice to move forward.”
He adds, “Social media, especially over the last four years and the election and pandemic, has been so divisive. I was like, ‘I would like people to be able to come to a place where they can literally breathe happiness, breathe positivity.’ I ain’t got time to be sittin’ up in that negativity.”
He’s also happy to model joy as a Black gay man, married with kids. “It’s a level of love that I just didn’t know existed,” he says of being a father. “Sometimes I can just sit back and they can just be sitting there looking at something or playing with slime and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, this is the best thing ever.’”
Where he lives in Arizona, with husband Scott Blokker and sons Silas and Sander, Shaun says you can’t find a “same-sex, two dads, two-kid family for miles.” But they’ve managed to be embraced, and help showcase a more diverse definition of family, which he’s proud to do.
“Where we live, we really get to be the first family that people see of our kind. And the reaction is just so much more positive than we were thinking,” he says. “I think it’s really opened people’s minds because, when people talk about it in their home, they’re like, same sex parents or whatever, they exist, but they see it in action and they see a positive. They have a positive experience, and it really changes mindsets a lot. And you know I ain’t going to lie, it’s fun getting a little attention because my kids are cute. So they’re always getting everybody coming up to them like, ‘Oh my gosh!’”
As Shaun embraces joy in all facets of his life, he’s excited to help others do the same with Let’s Get Up! When asked what people can do to get motivated to take charge of their health and happiness as the clouds open up after being quarantined for so long, whether it’s through doing his new fitness program or simply going for walks, he says, “have fun.” It’s all about trading in the activities you think will get you fit that you can’t stand for the things you will do consistently that actually make you happy. Results, and joy, will follow.
“Stop trying to do Insanity for 50 days when you hate every time you press play,” he says. “If you hate it, do something else. I’d rather you walk with your headphones on and Prancercise and commit to that every single day than do Insanity and hate it.”
“The way to get up off the couch is only do what you love,” he adds. “Just love it. Go to a dance class, there’s kickball. Try to focus on doing things that you like. That’s why I always say, ‘If you have fun and you like what you do, that is the best way to step forward.’”