One of the things which irks me most about being a female weightlifter is that people have a fixation on what your body looks like, rather than what it can do. I understand that lifting will inevitably change the shape of your body, and that may inspire people to make comments about your appearance – whether wanted or not.
What I do not like is when people gloss over my strength achievements to focus on my appearance. And I really don’t like it when people make bitchy comments that my body should look “better” given the amount of time I spend in the gym, and so on. Firstly, why is anyone concerned with the way I look except me? And what if my goals are completely different to what is socially acceptable?
Newsflash: I do not want to compete in bodybuilding or do any kind of fitness modelling. I have nothing against those who do and at one time I certainly did want to pursue such a goal, but my motivation for lifting has changed over time. Now, my main goals involve being strong and competing injury-free.
I do not spend time in the gym selecting exercises that will make my delts pop or give me glutes like Jen Selter. I perform exercises which will make me as strong as possible and allow me to be a competitive athlete.
A significant reason behind my shift in motivation was my accident. For those of you who haven’t been reading that long, I was hit by a van and underwent three surgeries. One of those surgeries was to repair a retinal detachment and I was initially told that, due to the nature of the surgery, I would never be able to lift weights again.
Yesterday marked the two year anniversary of my accident and, purely by coincidence, I had a MRI booked in as I’m exhibiting signs of ongoing brain damage. I will post more about this once I receive the results, but it’s nothing to be too worried about (don’t panic, mum!).
The repercussions of that accident are something I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Not a day goes by where I don’t experience some form of grief from my eye, my knee, or both. Even though I am constantly reminded of what I went through, it has sadly just become a normal part of my life.
It’s true that having a near-death experience will deeply affect you. It prompted me to make life-altering decisions about my career, marriage and friendships, and it even changed the way I conduct myself as a person.
I sometimes forget just how amazing it is that I am competing in strength sports, when I could have easily accepted my doctor’s diagnosis and never picked up a weight again. I know I am not strong in the grand scheme of things – in fact, by powerlifting standards, I’m embarrassingly weak – but I don’t care.
I have competed in five strongwoman competitions (two of which I won) and am preparing for my first powerlifting competition next weekend. That is pretty damn amazing considering I spent the first three months after my accident absolutely terrified to pick up even a 5lb weight for fear of my eye exploding.
When I first started lifting, it was motivated solely by the desire to make myself look better. Once I shifted my focus to getting stronger, that aesthetic drive gradually diminished until it disappeared altogether. Obviously, I am still human and want to look good, but I find it’s something that happens naturally as a result of training hard and eating relatively well. I am confident in my body, but that largely comes from knowing what I can do rather than what I look like.
Since mid-January, I have lost 3-4kg. I am being cryptic here but I have a strength-related goal in mind, and I need to be well under 75kg to achieve it. It’s also notable that in the past 10 weeks I have added 10kg to my squat and 7.5kg to my paused bench press (let’s not talk about my deadlift!).
Recently, a few people have started commenting that I look better. Outside of my lifting friends, no one gives a shit about my performance in the gym. Any time I try to steer the conversation away from my weight loss back towards the reason behind it, my friends and colleagues just ask for my “diet secrets”. While I’m certainly not going to be a bitch about receiving compliments and I certainly don’t expect everyone to care about my PRs, it makes me sad that society is still so body-obsessed.
I can, hand on my heart, say that I don’t lift for aesthetic reasons. To me, lifting is a hobby that makes up an integral part of my life. The time I spend in the gym is often the highlight of my day, and not some kind of punishment I endure as part of a dream to acquire the perfect body.
I don’t comment on other people’s bodies because I genuinely don’t give a fuck what they look like. It is none of my business whether you have 12 per cent body fat or are 50 pounds overweight.
I spent many years hating the way my body looked and doing everything I could to change it. I was also at my most critical of other people’s bodies during this time. When I stopped fixating on my own faults, I realised that I had no reason to be concerned with what others were doing. I feel 100 per cent confident in my own body and would rather focus my energy towards bettering myself not only as a competitor, but as a person.
I hate to say that it took a life-changing accident for me to reach this point, but it really did. I posted this quote on my Instagram page a while back and it’s so true. I don’t want to waste my life obsessing over my body fat percentage. I have a life outside of lifting and exercise, and enjoying my life with my two friends Ben and Jerry is more important than having the perfect body.
Do you lift for strength or aesthetic reasons? Do you think the two go hand in hand?