Sometimes I feel like I have to make a choice–pretty or strong. That’s actually a lie–I definitively feel that I have made a choice, and it is to be strong. Your reaction to this might be one of indignation. I know that the enlightened, body-positive way to talk about body image as it relates to strength training is to say that your body has changed and wow, do you feel gorgeous. I have tried to adopt this mindset, but I find a major barrier to it comes in the form of a certain tenet that generates a contradiction I cannot ignore. This tenet is the idea what we should strive to erase the emphasis on physical appearance and the assignation of worth derived from physical aesthetics our culture systemically embraces and promulgates. In other words, there is empowerment in rejecting the stronghold physical appearance has on defining individual worth.
I think many members of the female powerlifting community grapple with this question in a more specified sense–embracing the action over the image, praising the numerical achievement over the subjectivity of physical “improvement.” But you see a wavering on the Instagrams of female powerlifters–and might I say male–a blurring of lines between the powerlifting community and that of the aesthetic competition community. This is in part because there is so much crossover between the two: some individuals compete in both physique competitions as well as powerlifting, and very often training methodologies overlap. Physically, share the same space, as training for both powerlifting and aesthetic competition takes place in a gym. Ultimately, you’ve got powerlifters performing lat spreads for the camera and figure girls trilling about a squat PR in their Facebook statuses.
But at the end of the day, especially at higher levels of competition–although not always, a la the feats of Susan Salazar–the two camps are different. And if you are a woman, the ability to drop and then keep your body fat to an appreciably low and train for maximal strength becomes contradictory. I would further argue that if you are in the beginning of your powerlifting career–say, five years or less competing–it’s not a particularly good idea to strive to keep your weight low for a variety of reasons.
Let’s turn back to my own experience. I am not nor would I ever make a blanket assertion that heavier women are less attractive. But at this point in my career as well as my personal history as well as my relationship with my body, I would be lying to you if I said that I feel I am more attractive at my current weight than when I was 110 or 115 pounds. For context, I’m currently, as of this morning, 135.0 pounds, a weight that is in line with my goal to actually gain a bit and be in a calorie surplus leading up to my upcoming meet. Now, am I exponentially stronger at my current bodyweight than I was 20 pounds ago? Yes. Without question, and even when taking relative strength into account, which you do if you are at all versed in what it means to compete in powerlifting. For my weight, I am much stronger than I ever have been at any bodyweight. It’s fantastic. It is absolutely fucking fantastic. I believe powerlifting is possibly the only thing in my life I have ever been appreciably good at or accomplished anything significant. Deadlifting 420 pounds as a 135-pound girl is the shit. It feels near-spiritual. And I choose to manage my body with powerlifting being the priority because I will support and preserve anything that has made me feel like that above all else.
Perhaps you’re reading this and thinking “you don’t have to make a choice! You can be beautiful and lift! Heck, this is the message we WANT to get out there to women!” And I’ll tell you that I’m thinking “do we?” because given that I am aware that I don’t feel my most attractive these days, and it is in part because of decisions I’ve made prioritizing my lifting, my problem becomes grappling with this and attempting to reach some sort of resolution with it I feel good about. And what consistently gets me closer to this resolution is championing the idea that we must reject valuing ourselves and others by appearances.
You might think you have this down–like, oh my god, it’s so OBVIOUS and we are told not to judge and value appearances from when we are, like, toddlers on you guys–but it is when you truly begin to reject the death grip aesthetic obsession has on our culture that you realize how deeply embedded it is within yourself as well as others. I could be wrong, but I suspect this process takes years and is why you hear more women well into their thirties and beyond expressing more satisfaction with themselves than you do those who are younger. That is if they truly ever start to tackle this process themselves.
So from day to day I’m fairly ok with my body if I have to consider it from an aesthetic standpoint. LIke, it’s alright, I have really huge arms and shoulders, and I’m kind of weirdly lanky in relation to that mass. To be honest, this sort of self-appraisal is something I try to avoid doing when possible, and it usually is possible until I remember I have to put on a freaking wedding dress in under two months. After going through the process of planning a wedding, I don’t think I ever realized how extreme the pressure and focus is on how one looks on that day.The fact that months after blogging about it and then disappearing from my blog for a while, I’m blogging about it again should be a good indicator that I haven’t really arrived at peaceful terms with the idea of having to march around in front of people wearing a very nice dress that exposes a lot of my physique. It feels like signing up to do a modeling job would probably feel–an idea so preposterous for me that it’s literally laughable. But this wedding is HAPPENING and people expect me to look nice that day because all brides are supposed to look absolutely stunning, right? And I’m just over here like “I just feel so deeply fucking uncomfortable with this, can I have the rest of the wedding without the dress part?”
The reason I’m bringing the wedding dress up here is because it is causing this huge hiccup in my quest to reject and devalue physical aesthetics, almost at a philosophical level. Somehow, I’m betraying my own pursuit of a more realistic and self-honoring relationship with my body by playing into the “pretty dress-up bride” schtick. And get this–I’ve recently decided to attempt to put ON a few pounds leading up to my meet, which is a month before my wedding. Powerlifting, for me, trumps the aesthetics every time, because when a woman says she’s looking to put ON weight for her wedding, that’s nearly news-worthy. So there you go. I’m choosing powerlifting over pretty. I’m prioritizing performance over image. And I would–and will–do it again. Except for the wedding planning part. Absolutely not again.