I’ve always been aware of how much space I take up in a room. Growing up, I had a distorted relationship with my body, often comparing myself to others. For a long time, my height and size made me wish I was invisible, but that all changed when I started weight training. Through developing my strength, I’m learning to view my body as valid and worthy, just as it is. My training regimen has not only impacted my sense of self, but also my sexual confidence.
As a child, I consumed a lot of media that depicted femininity as small, thin, and light (think: Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing or Bella Swan in Twilight). I never felt like I fit into that narrative, in part because I could liftall my crushes, but was too heavy for them to lift me. When I was seven years old, I broke my thumb because a friend who I now realize I had a crush on tried to pick me up and dropped me. As I grew older, I began to experience feelings of insecurity about my size, and feared being called “masculine” or “butch.”
I tried a lot of different things to heal my relationship with my body, including attempting toaccept my weight at whatever number it was. But nothing had a lasting impact on my confidence,until I discovered lifting. Although my brother has always lifted weights, it wasn’t until I saw my friend posting about weight training that I realized that I could try it, too. I took a chance and asked her about the gym she goes to, and before I knew it, I was texting the trainer she had been working with.
Powerlifting is a sport in which athletes train to lift the maximum weight on three specific barbell movements: squat, bench press, and deadlift. In short, the goal is to get stronger by picking heavy stuff up and setting it back down. A year ago, I walked into a Strongman gym in New York Citywith the intention of mending my relationship with exercise. In the past, I had viewed exercise as a mechanism for weight loss, instead of a method of learning all that my body is capable of andI was determined to change that.Walking into a warehouse full of giant tires, boulders, a fire hydrant, racks upon racks of weights, I was taken back. It was unlike any contemporary gym I had ever been inside before. When I wandered into the locker room and read, “Strong is the new skinny,” scribbled boldly across the mirror, I knew I was in the right place.
In just a short amount of time, I learned how to flip a 450-pound tire, pick up a 245-pound deadlift, and sprint while holding a sandbag to my chest. My trainer was very supportive and educational, ensuring that I didn’t get injured or discouraged. When I told him that I was struggling with my association between weight loss and exercise, he assured me that we’d focus on building my strength. After my sessions, I would come home each night, my hands rough and dry, and feel every muscle in my body ache. My soreness was a badge of honor, a reminder of the work I had accomplished. I began eating to satiate my hunger, without pausing to obsess over my food’s nutritional value. I no longer weigh myself. After a few weeks of training, I felt something inside me shift. For the first time in a long time, I felt strong and capable. Moreover, my attitude was following me outside of the gym: I noticed myself standing taller, without an urge to shrink.
In the powerlifting gym, being big is an asset. Lifting is a form of exercise that emphasizes the utility of every muscle in your body. I am strong in part due to, not in spite of, my weight and height. As I come to understand how to push my body to its limits, I am also training my mind to think differently. Being strong is amazing I can carry my groceries home without a second thought or bead of sweat. Possessing strength has helped me to see all that my body is capable of. And while I still experience body insecurity, the act of utilizing my body instead of trying to diminish it, feels like a step in the right direction.
Though I am still relatively new to lifting, I am incredibly proud of my strength. I see my biceps peeking out of my short sleeves, and I feel overwhelmed with self-gratitude for all of the hard work, time, and money that I have invested into myself. I notice small red shadows of new stretch marks where muscles have changed shape and I don’t spiral with a sense of failure: bodies change and that’s OK.
This confidence has seeped it’s way into my dating life, as well. I no longer worry about being seen as too butch or not femme enough. I go on dates and if strength comes up, I am more than thrilled to talk about my lifting. More often than not, my dates are super into the fact that I could definitely pick them up with ease (or even bench some of them).
Lately, I feel sexier than ever. Self-love is difficult, and there are still days that I struggle with body insecurity. But my strength makes me feel powerful, and I recognize that self-acceptance is a work in progress. I embrace my size, and take pleasure in being tall and big. I joke around with a friend that I would love to learn how to do the Dirty Dancing-lift with her. Despite the pressure to acquiesce to traditional gender roles and expectations, I enjoy being the stronger partner.
I was recently invited to a party, where I began flirting with a beautiful woman with long, brown hair. As we chatted about this and that, I leaned up against the wall, confident in the fact that I was at least a foot taller than her. We made our way somewhere more secluded and began to kiss, and I picked her up with ease.
When I hiked her up on my waist, she raised one eyebrow. “Wow, what the heck,” she said. “You’re so strong.”
I felt myself beam. “Yeah,” I said. “I am.”
This content was originally published here.