The Strength to be Strong

DuffysCounterpunch

Yesterday I signed up for my first ever competitive weightlifting meet. Not that I’m super great at lifting weights– I still have such, SUCH a long way to go! And I honestly don’t expect to “win” a single thing. But it’s through the gym that I’ve grown to love over the last two months, and it’s a fun challenge and a tangible goal to work toward. I like the feeling of lifting something I wasn’t able to lift weeks earlier. I love the feeling of progress, of strength, and the confidence that comes with pushing your body (safely!) to its limits and coming out the other side as your own personal champion.

What was interesting though was the meet’s online sign up process. Amongst fields reasonably asking for your name, age, and weightlifting experience, was a field asking you to define what weight bracket under which you’d be competing. For people like my husband who compete within weight brackets all the time, that’s no big deal. It’s how you logically parse the competitors.

For me, though, the “admission” of my weight range was, for a moment, almost a game killer. Especially since it would be in the last tier of brackets, “Women’s 75kg+”. ┬áMy first reaction was to lie, which is the default reaction for most women. But then I read that there would be a weigh in before the meet (yes, ladies: WEIGHING. YOURSELF. IN. PUBLIC.) and that was almost the second deal breaker.

I’ve regretted, loathed, lamented, hated, avoided, ignored, or been disgusted by my own body at various stages and intensities for over half my life. Societal factors, upbringing, and a lack of true, knowledgeable ownership over my health and well-being compounded into a big, ugly opinion that is sadly the norm with many women and girls nowadays. When was the last time you heard a woman say she loved her body?

Only in recent years have I slowly come out of that self-hating funk, but I’m STILL working on it. What’s particularly interesting about that though are the diverse factors leading to what I would almost describe as a “self-love epiphany.”

My husband. The biggest is my relationship with my husband. Sean believes in me endlessly, long after I’ve given up on myself. The fact that someone I hold in such high esteem has that much confidence in me was nothing short of revolutionary. Plus he is actually a DELIGHTFUL workout partner (which is also why he makes a great coach), and will always push me to try a little harder and not get caught up in the “I can’t do that” mentality that’s been driven into my head for decades. In his eyes I see the person I’ve always thought I was, but felt encumbered by my body, or others’ perceptions, or other self-imposed limitations that hold me back from truly expressing and experiencing myself.

Paleo eating. The next factor is definitely my decision to go paleo/primal two and a half years ago. Losing 30 pounds within a smattering of months was, naturally, a HUGE boost. I’ve kept everything level since then, but knowing how to properly fuel my body, and what makes it the happiest, is incredible. With that has come acceptance that I won’t always be perfect in my diet and exercise, and that’s okay. As long as I don’t “eat like an asshole” I know I’ll be healthy and happy. Even when I do eat like a jerk, like I did this holiday season, I had little-to-no guilt. In fact it was an interesting experiment noting all the negatives as a result of eating grains, sugar, legumes, processed foods, and lots of booze. I slept horribly, my joints ached, my stomach ached regularly, digestion was sketchy, and my skin broke out.

Working out/lifting weights/yoga. Being active is well known for its abilities to boost your confidence. I feel the best when I’m getting at least three weight training sessions in a week, and one of those is usually with my husband at his gym. I used to ride the chronic cardio train, wasting time on elliptical machines while staring at a TV, or twiddling away on machines. I never had that great of results with these, and I never left the gym feeling as good as I do now, having really tested my limits. I feel STRONG.

Feminism. This is a pretty damn broad bullet point, and likely something that warrants its own blog post, but reawakening to the concepts of feminism and how important it still is has shaken my values tremendously over the past year. It began with the internet, in blog posts about the perpetuation of rape culture, in admissions from friends about the misogyny they’ve experienced in their lives, in the reports and GIFs further exposing the unrealistic standards to which beauty is held, and talking about both men and women being regularly held to unrealistic and limiting gender norms.
Websites like The Hairpin and Jezebel were incredibly important here too, in that it wasn’t about strict feminism, but highly intelligent, and often funny, stories and conversations by women reacting to the world around them with a sharp eye, quick wit, immense creativity, and sometimes a sad shake of the head. I still maintain that the Hairpin has the best comments section in the internet.
Reading Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman (as mentioned in the previous post) was the major game changer. After that I finally subscribed to Bitch Magazine, which smartly disseminates feminism across pop culture and politics. I was able to promote Bitch Media through my work when I got to brew my own beer this year, and in the process get to know the amazing women there, and inadvertently become directly involved with striving for equality of the sexes on a public level.
Overall, rediscovering feminism has given me the strength to speak up for myself, to strive to be more empathetic, and to identify and sometimes even call out the injustices around me that I might have ignored or shrugged off in the past.

Self-love leaders.┬áRecently I’ve come to love a number of women online who promote self-love, acceptance, and encourage you to define healthy and happy on your own terms. Jen Sinkler is a weight lifting badass who writes a plethora of thought-provoking content that’s so relatable to me. Seeing multiple posts scroll across my Facebook news feed daily from Chichi Kix constantly remind me to feel good about myself, strive to be better, not compare myself to anyone else, and have a damn sense of humor about it. Melissa Joulwan is not only the author of my favorite cookbooks, but she also talks about clean eating, lifting weights, accepting her “flaws,” and finding out what works best for her body and her life in her blog. When I found out that she and Jen Sinkler were IRL friends, I tweeted them this pic (where I’m wearing an “Unapologetically Strong” shirt from Jen while cooking a recipe from Mel’s first cookbook), which they both appreciated.
BTXkfTdCYAAKqGaPlus the hilarious and all-too-relatable Amy Schumer debuted her fantastic show this past year, and her skits like the amazing “Compliments” below exaggerate and highlight women’s tendency to hate on themselves recreationally.

There are so many more factors and people that have helped me become happier with who I am and frequently encourage me to challenge both myself and the world around me. Too many to list. But I love all y’all. Thank you, thank you, thank you,

After initially balking at inputting my weight on the sign up form, I thought, “You know what? This is my body. That is my current weight. I’m not defined by that number. Technically, that number is defined by gravity. Also defined by gravity? Whether or not I can lift some weights. So let’s do this.”

I have three weeks to train.

///
This is Part 1 of this whole challenge. Need to catch up? Here you go, champ!
Part 2: Training, with GIFs
Part 3: The Strength to be Proud
Part 4: A Work in Progress

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5 Responses to “The Strength to be Strong”

  1. allisonkpark Says:

    This is incredibly inspiring, Steph. It’s rare to find people who can articulate their thought process well, and you do it with such ease. Get ‘em, girl!!

  2. Kristin Says:

    Stephanie! You’re amazing. We’re reading your blog at Bitch this morning and think you’re rad. My intern last fall was into weightlifting too and between the two of you and your articulate post…I may be spaghetti arms no more. GO GO GO!

  3. Melissa Joulwan Says:

    So many things…
    1. That photo of you (We Can Do It!) is the prettiest, most adorable ever.

    2. I’m so honored to be included in this list.

    3. Congratulations on signing up for the weight lifting competition. That is completely awesome!

    I’m so excited to read more about your adventures. Happy new year!

  4. Training, with GIFs | Madam von Sassypants Says:

    […] regarding the comments, hugs, kind words, and high fives that I’ve received in reaction to my Strength post is forthcoming. It’s been phenomenal, and fills me with warm fuzzies still. You are all […]

  5. The Strength to Be Proud | Madam von Sassypants Says:

    […] just want to say how incredibly awe-inspiring and humbling the feedback I’ve received from my Strength to Be Strong post has been. From calls to texts to social media comments to emails, I’ve heard back from so […]

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