Embracing Strength as a Woman: Mind, Body, Community
Strength has been defined by men for far too long, and it’s time for women to reclaim what it means to be strong. What strength looks and feels like as a woman, in all shapes and sizes. Currently when the average woman thinks of a strength class they envision strength from a male perspective. This is not because they are choosing to view it this way, it’s because they have been constantly bombarded by media and the male viewpoint of what a woman should look like. This constant conditioning of a warped value has encouraged women to move away from strength, forcing them to do everything they can do, “get skinny”. Skinny is one body type that not every women should try to achieve. When our goal is to get skinny, we as women do everything we can to accomplish this twisted status. With cardio classes saturating the fitness industry, it’s time for STRENGTH, and strength in a whole new way. We join cardio classes every day (sometimes twice a day), to sweat out and pedal our way to an atrophied body. A body that is more fat than muscle, a body that is starved for calories and will take nutrients from any place in the body it can, mainly the bones and muscles. A body that has a messed up metabolism and a body that is ultimately weak. As we age, we lose muscle, muscle that is designed to burn fat while we are doing nothing. When we lose muscle, we become weak and frail, and fragility is one of the major modulators of a person’s health pathway in late adulthood. Yet still, with all the medical facts in the world to encourage strength, we as women “steer clear”. Until now. Women are ready and our strength classes at Grassroots Fitness Project over the past year have proven that not only are women ready, they can’t get enough and crave for more. Strength means so much to a woman. It means independence, it means confidence, it means connecting to their body in a way that empowers them because they feel capable and proud of their achievements. It means putting the disclaimers aside, doing something that was once thought of as impossible, and walking away with accomplishments and a sense of pride and joy. Our women’s strength class is more than a class about “lifting weights”. It’s about exploring and embracing all forms of strength. Strength of the mind, strength of the body and strength of community. The first step to embracing strength is acknowledging how weakness pervades our minds everyday. As women we are constantly putting ourselves down, we make excuses as to why we can’t, and we give our strength away to make others feel better about themselves. To alter this internal and detrimental dialogue we have to write a new script. We have to change the language we use to describe ourselves, we have to change our thoughts about how we look at our bodies and how we compare ourselves to others and their bodies. In our strength classes, attendees are gently reminded to take back a self defeating comment, to say I’ll try instead of I can’t, and to except a compliment, as hard as it may be. This constant practice of self love and acceptance will eventually become the way we genuinely feel about ourselves. Imagine that? The second step to embracing strength is changing the perception that skinny is the only version of beautiful. We all come into this world in a unique body. These unique bodies will grow at different rates and in different ways. I recently learned something interesting at a puberty worship that I went to with my oldest daughter. When boys go through puberty they move closer towards society’s perception of the ideal male body type. When girls go through puberty they move further away from society’s ideal female body type. How messed up is that? Because of this women fight to stay in a prepubescent state for the rest of their lives. No wonder the struggle is real.
As a trainer for nearly twenty years now, I have seen a lot of women at all stages of life. And the pervasive idea that cardio will bring them their ideal body lives strong. They want to believe differently, but they are afraid. I have spent many years trying to convince otherwise, but women were not ready to throw away these engrained perceptions and give the proverbial middle finger to the subliminal oppression of women. Women don’t want to be weak anymore, they want to be strong as fuck and raise their daughters to be the same. In our strength classes women are asked to lift weights that at the beginning of class they would have thought impossible. They are asked to be vulnerable and try. They are encouraged to think more of themselves and what they are capable of. Recognition for attempting and or achieving what was once thought of as impossible is the foundation of every class. As we recreate and redefine strength for women, we must validate and positively reinforce what it feels like to tap into strength. Women’s strength must be measured in small increments and rewarded in big showings of love and support. The third and probably the most important of the three to embracing strength, is community. Communing with other like minded women has been the way women function best for centuries. However, through media and message women have been slowly taught to mistrust other women. As women we have been encouraged to pit ourselves against one other, to compare ourselves, to judge one another only to make ourselves feel better about the distorted and unattainable versions we have constructed for ourselves. As a new generation of women arises, a generation of empowerment and support for difference, women are ready to change the beliefs that no longer serve us. Women are ready to support other women and women are ready to be supported by other women. In our strength classes, women are asked to spot each other through a move. This role of supporter is just as important as the role of being vulnerable and allowing someone to assist through a challenging endeavor. Support doesn’t always come naturally. Women either try to help too much or they are afraid that they will fail and hurt the one that they are spotting. Women are encouraged to fail, because through failure we find success. We stop and cheer for those that are attempting a personal record in a weight or a first time attempt at a move. Others are subliminally encouraged by others success to try something harder or outside their comfort zones, just by being a woman. I have always said that if I see a man do something I may be impressed, but it would never inspire me to think I was capable of achieving the same thing. When I see a woman do something, I can immediately put myself in their shoes. They might have big shoes to fill, but their is hope and possibility and inspiration. At the end of class every attendee to asked to high five and say “Good job” and “Thank you” to the other women in class. This show of love and support is imperative to changing the narrative. A narrative that will most likely be ever changing, but will now include positive perceptions of strength for women. There is nothing better then feeling strong and our mission is to help as many women find this untapped strength, in mind, body and community. Women are deserving of the opportunity to embrace their bodies and all of its’ capabilities.
With Love, Support and Gratitude,