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It Figures is Yahoo Life's body image series, delving into the journeys of influential and inspiring figures as they explore what body confidence, body neutrality and self-love mean to them.
Carrie Ann Inaba is a regular on-screen personality known best for her role as a judge on Dancing With The Stars and her stint as a co-host on The Talk. But while she's a pro when it comes to putting a smile on for the camera, she's opening up about the pain that she's suffered behind the scenes.
The 54-year-old host and dancer tells Yahoo Life that she's long "defined myself through my physical wellness," as a result of her lifelong dance practice. "I was an athlete, I could move, I was fit. I was all of these things." When she began to experience physical and chronic pain while judging her fourth season of DWTS, however, she felt in conflict with her identity.
Today, Inaba is outspoken about living with multiple autoimmune diseases including lupus, fibromyalgia and Sjogren's syndrome — the source of her painful symptoms — and accepts them as a part of her wellness journey. Just years ago, she was suffering in silence.
"I started experiencing all these symptoms. Symptoms that people couldn't see and wouldn't believe because I would show up on camera with full hair and makeup and look presentable. And that became very, very difficult to live that way," she says. "I felt a lot of shame, you know, when you're presenting one thing but there's another reality. And I had to surrender up the idea that I was a fit dancer, and that was my identity."
Public perception of Inaba hadn't changed as people weren't privy to what was going on with her health and how it was impacting her body. But the woman who made a name for herself through dancing and choreographing reveals that she felt forced to distance herself from the thing she loves most.
"When I started to have chronic pain, I stopped moving as much. As I stopped moving, I got sicker and sicker," she says.
Her breaking point came during her time on The Talk when she realized that she wasn't giving herself the time and space necessary to take proper care of her body. She announced a leave of absence in April 2021 before ultimately exiting the show in August that same year.
"I could have framed it in a way in my mind as a memory of my body disappointed me. But my body didn't disappoint me, my body actually woke me up," she says. "I was putting Band-Aids over things, I was managing symptoms. I wasn't seeking health."
And although she couldn't be in touch with her body in the same way as she was through movement, Inaba began to listen more closely to her body and what it needs.
"You have to almost be like a scientist for yourself and always being curious about what works for your body and what doesn't. And when something doesn't work for your body, notice it and change," she says. "It makes you take responsibility in a way that was difficult."
Through the strenuous journey, however, she's learned more about herself, her body and the true definition of wellness. She's also created a community of "autoimmune warriors" like herself through her Instagram Live series Carrie Ann Conversations where she hosts chats about wellness with people like Julianne Hough and Cheryl Burke.
"One of the biggest things for people who have autoimmune conditions are that you feel like you're going crazy because nobody believes you, the doctors have a hard time diagnosing you. It's quite a lonely journey," she says. "I want to share what I'm doing so I can help people."
While she's come a long way from suffering in silence, she's embraced the fact that wellness is "a daily practice. Every day, I have to work on me because this is the gift."
-Video produced by Olivia Schneider
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