Women Are Finally Embracing Weightlifting, Against The Odds
As we look back at the last decade, one of the most glaring, ubiquitous trends has been exercise. Exercise has taken over our free time, our fashion, our social media feeds — from ultra-marathons to weightlifting to obsessive meal prepping, it’s invaded our lives. And while in some cases this has been a movement toward health and positivity, a toxic underbelly has been hiding underneath the “health halo” — especially for women.
As exercise grew in popularity, inevitably the hashtags followed. Phrases like #strongnotskinny and #realwomenhavecurves became mantras — mantras that are problematic in a number of ways. Firstly, they still promote competition. Implying that women who have more boyish frames aren’t sexual or don’t really count as feminine is still destructive, still toxic — it’s just aiming that toxicity at a different body type. But they were also problematic because they only go so far. Yes, we’ll accept being “strong” as being feminine, as long as you still look lean, as long as you still have curves, as long as you don’t get too muscly. As long as, as long as, as long as — the limits, the tiny range of acceptability, shone through with every Instagram post.
So women might be hitting the gym, but many of us still shy away from the weight rack. Many women will be familiar with the looks and stares if you go to the lifting section of the gym — let alone the unsolicited advice from men who assume you couldn’t possibly know what you’re doing. But the most destructive thing that happens — and oh, does it happen — is when random men (and sometimes women) warn you off weights altogether. You don’t want to bulk up, after all.
I wrote a piece about how if (South Asian) women were encouraged and supported in their non-traditional pursuits eg weightlifting for me, than always having to fight for it, how many more of us would be successful at what we do @guardianopinion https://t.co/3vkLnIDGU7
— Poorna Bell (@poornabell) November 14, 2019
Not only are these warnings patronizing, sexist, and reductive — they also push women away from something so beneficial.
The benefits of weightlifting are wide-ranging — helping not only your bone density, strength, metabolism, and mental health. There is also the critical but intangible benefit of learning what you’re body is capable of — seeing it as a source of ability, rather than something to whittle, to obsess over, to battle with. Seeing yourself get stronger, feeling in control, and learning that your body is something that needs to be fed and fueled to grow is something that so many women benefit from.
But finally, something has shifted. Women are embracing weightlifting — not just tiny, feminine, acceptable, weights, but weightlifting in all of its forms. Comedian Jessica Fostekew has made a splash with her incredible show Hench, which challenges traditional, sexist views of exercise and embraces the empowerment that weightlifting gave her. Columnist Poorna Bell has spoken widely about how weightlifting helped her cope with grief and made her stronger, mentally and physically.
Though the trend is moving in the right direction, these women are still blazing the trail. Doing something that’s good for you because it’s good for you and because you enjoy it is still a new sensation for many women. And getting strong just for the sake of getting strong can still feel revelatory in a world telling you to be small. Hopefully, this is just the beginning.