I’ve recently become a powerlifter. For about a year or so to be exact. Shortly after the blog post that I wrote about my weight loss (due to popular demand) I decided to go from thin to fit. I had reached a point where I could fit into one leg of my old jeans, but I still wasn’t happy with my body.
Hours and hours of cardio became extremely boring. And so, I picked up a few weights, started lifting heavier and heavier, and ate more protein.
Fast forward to late 2018, I made my fitness modelling debut. One of the most proud moments in my life.
What struck me during my entire powerlifting journey were the subtle hints of sexism I would encounter as a result of the fact that I dared to do that which is considered to be a sport better suited for men. In the beginning it was the annoying comments every time I’d approach the barbell: “isn’t that too heavy for a girl like you? Don’t you want to go over there where your friends are?” as they gestured to the cardio section filled with chatty women all with their make up intact chatting about who knows what. Each time, I’d politely laugh it off. Then it was men staring at me with their friends each time I would challenge myself to 100 rep dead lifts. I ignored them and went about my business. But the most trying for me was walking into a pharmacy inquiring as to how much protein powder was only to have the lady behind the counter ask “why would you want that? It’s for men” to which I replied “actually, it isn’t plus I power lift “. I lift pretty heavy weights” to which she then responded “Why? You want to become bulky like a man”.
I MEAN REALLY?!? The highly opinionated lady refused to tell me how much the protein powder was. I guess she felt like her imposing her internalized sexism upon me was for my own good. All I wanted was an extra source of protein because I struggle when it comes to consuming large amounts of food, therefore making it nearly impossible to take in the recommended amount of protein needed to build muscle, but noooooo. I’m a woman , so therefore no protein powder for me!
These are just a few examples of sexism that women who dare to be fit and engage in sports that are perceived to be unfeminine, face.
At the end of the day it all boils down to preconceived notions on what defines femininity and the fear people have when women dare to challenge that especially in more conservative societies. What concerns me is that there are young girls out there internalizing messages telling them that anything that requires physical strength should be “left to the boys”. Something that’s a crying shame because powerlifting has countless benefits to the human body, regardless of gender. I can honestly say powerlifting is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. Not only am I physically much stronger than ever before, I have more confidence. Two years ago I couldn’t even look people in the eye. I would walk with my head down praying no one noticed me while I went from point a to point B. Now? In the famous words of MC Hammer …
“you can’t touch this”.
To deprive a whole generation of young girls the opportunity of becoming the best version of themselves, pushing their bodies to the limit and reaping the rewards, therefore discovering an inner strength they never thought they had; just so as to validate fragile masculinity, seems like an unfair trade to me.
So many ridiculous comments, on a daily basis. What’s especially worrying is how many of these comments are clear indicators of internalized sexism. It isn’t always men that are guilty. Oh no, women too. I had a lady tell me that if I continued to squat heavy, my bladder would basically either fall out of my hoohaa or that I’d never have children. Really sista? Really?
And I’m not the only one. Recently I read an article on BarBend entitled “Female Powerlifters Share the Weirdest Things Guys Say to Them”. In the article female powerlifters highlighted a bunch of bizarre and problematic comments they’ve heard, many of which I could personally relate to.
Do you think you can squat me?”
“Do you lift more than your boyfriend?”
“I prefer a girl with boobs.”
Don’t arch, you won’t be able to have babies.”
You shouldn’t do chest exercises because your boobs are going to disappear.”
“Only women pull sumo because it’s easier. Such a short cut.”
“I would never date a girl who does that stuff. Aren’t you worried you’ll never find a man and get married?”
“She should be doing cardio.”
“Squats her body weight. Not impressive.”
“She’s strong for a girl.”
“So you lift heavy weights, huh? How come you don’t look like a butch, bulky man? “
“Why are you even lifting? Guys will always be stronger.”
I’d like to point out the fact that comments aren’t always negative. I get plenty of compliments in my DMs from admiring women and a few months ago a man came up to me in the gym and said “I’ve never seen a woman as strong as you are up close. I can’t even lift that heavy. I’m inspired! Way to go!”. That made my entire day. Unfortunately, for every positive comment are 10 problematic ones and until we address them women will continue to be shamed for simply wanting to be the best physical version of themselves, and that’s not okay.
The truth is anyone who dedicates themselves to being fit deserves respect. Fitness isn’t bought it’s earned through hard work. Women who are fit not only have to overcome the physically challenging aspect of it but they have to deal with a bunch of naysayers telling them what they’re doing isn’t “normal”. We’ve become a society that praises surgically enhanced butts and shames the female who deadlifts heavy weights to build her glutes naturally.
And so I say, let’s leave the sexism behind in the fitness world and celebrate the women who dare to be bold enough to challenge stereotypes and kick butt in the gym. YOU.GO.GIRL!