Content warning: Body image
From the age of 5 years old, I knew exactly what society’s standards of “beautiful” looked like for a woman. The stacks of women’s magazines I had flipped through and the TV commercials I had watched emphasized cardio blasters and diet supplements in pursuit of shrinking one’s body. On the contrary, the men’s channels promoted mass gainers and gym equipment to get big.
Consequently, these standards have been brought forth to the gym, where the divide is discernible. The weight room often overflows with testosterone-laden men “pumping iron” and “getting jacked,” while the cardio machines and StairMasters are occupied by women trying to burn off as many calories as possible.
In the past, I had gotten advice against weightlifting from dance and running coaches as well as relatives. The fear of getting too bulky or too masculine-looking made me avoid weights like the plague. Recently, however, this fear and divide in the gym have gotten better with the rise of female fitness influencers emphasizing the “strong” motto. I am inspired to get strong in the gym when I see these women lifting heavy to achieve their physical and performance goals.
For most women’s modern beauty standards, the emphasis lies in growing glutes and achieving an hourglass shape. Hence, I see a lot of women at the squat rack or performing some kind of hip thrust activity, while men tend to focus on their upper body. During the days I workout my shoulders and arms, I often find myself as the only girl in the free weights section, let alone the whole weight room. Despite my 5-foot-1 stature and petite frame, I feel secure in my womanhood and my ability to perform difficult exercises amid side-eye stares and moans and groans of the men around me. The feeling of lifting more or performing more reps than a man — whom society perpetuates as stronger — makes me feel empowered as a woman.
Weightlifting has provided many aesthetic achievements for me, and even more so, has helped boost my self-esteem. In gaining 10 pounds of muscle — and some fat — I have pushed past mental and physical barriers I didn’t know I could surpass. It consisted of rejecting the status quo and defying gender expectations.
When I see another woman in the weight room with me, I light up a bit knowing that we are in this together. Weightlifting, as our form of self-care, allows us to grow in both our bodies and confidence. Our goal of getting strong, healthy and beautiful through weightlifting celebrates our womanhood and the amazing things our bodies can do for us.