Redefining women’s strength and power

Almost a month ago, my friend went to the national powerlifting championships in Regina. Her partner had shared the live stream link and I was able to tune in and watch her flight along with a couple of other sets.

My friend did well, in both equipped and unequipped events, and brought home medals. Other women and men from my home province also did well, and the sport got a nicely deserved uptick in interest and huzzahs for these achievements.

There was some pretty impressive weight lifted in that competition room, but more than anything, what struck me as I watched, was how different each lifter’s body was.

There were tall lifters and short ones, lean and stocky types, older and younger athletes. Along with diversity of body types, there was diversity of ethnicity and location.

Everywhere across Canada, all kinds of women are taking on powerlifting. Quite a number of them are doing it competitively and it’s a beautiful thing.

The fact is many athletic competitions featuring women offer a big dose of glamour. Take figure skating. Despite the amount of power and strength needed for the sport, figure skating commentary about women most often focuses on grace, physical beauty, and the cute tights and flippy skirts.

I can’t honestly tell you what the amazing women in Saskatoon wore. I do remember their lifts.

I remember the ones that had to return the bar to the rack without completing their lifts.

I remember the ones that powered through their lifts, some of them raising loaded bars the way I lift a piece of toast for a bite — effortlessly.

I remember the ones who struggled fiercely, with even the commentators joining in with encouraging words and murmurs until at last the bar was raised, pressed or deadlifted to success.

It didn’t matter what the athletes looked like unless it was to explain about a point of form that lost them the pass to the next lift. It didn’t matter what they wore except when it came to explaining the difference between equipped and unequipped lifting.

What mattered was that they worked hard, that they focused, that they picked up the heavy things and then put them down again.

These women were inspiring and they were marvelous. I wish more people had a chance to see these achievements on the platform, but I most especially wish our kids in schools could see more women who are as strong and as physically fit as these women were.

It is really important that we see female strength in action. I think it can have a profound effect on your own perception of what you can or cannot do when you actually see different kinds of bodies performing at top capacity.

Too often we let all those negative stereotypes of how women should look and be as athletes dictate the boundaries of our own engagement with fitness. Watching those women in Regina reminded me how better we all would be if we let go of those old limiting ideas and instead embraced a new definition of what it means to be a strong, fit woman.

— Martha Muzychka is a writer and consultant living in St. John’s who has recently turned to weights as a way to get her fit on.

2 thoughts on “Redefining women’s strength and power

  1. skatergrrrl says:

    “Take figure skating. Despite the amount of power and strength needed for the sport, figure skating commentary about women most often focuses on grace, physical beauty, and the cute tights and flippy skirts.”

    As a former professional figure skater, I’m very disappointed by this dismissive attitude. I have watched so many competitive figure skating broadcasts from the past 30 years that I know some of the commentary off by heart, and I feel like you’ve made this up so you can dismiss this sport because it’s not masculine enough to be feminist, which is a shocking attitude. I feel this says more about what you, the writer, notice when you watch figure skating, rather than what’s actually happening in the commentary. I don’t remember the last time I heard a comment on “cute tights and flippy skirts” in figure skating commentary and I watch all the national competitions from around the world. The men tend to wear similar-styled outfits to the women and if you’ve never landed a triple toe loop in a pair of trousers you’ve no right to criticize that women choose to wear leotards with skirts, and tights. The simple fact is that it’s easier for movement. The sparkles and such are added to make the very small figure visible that’s a long way from most of the audience at any given point, and men and women in figure skating do this. How are women lifting weights in leotards and crop tops any less “glamorous” than figure skaters, unless you’re saying that the muscle distribution doesn’t correspond with your definition of beauty (which you think we need to contravene to be your definition of a feminist)?

    I would go so far as to suggest that this is an example of an anti-feminist statement about one of the very few sports in which women have equal accolades to men, and I’m very disappointed that Fit Is A Feminist Issue would come out with something like this, trying to raise the achievements of some women up at the expense of others. But then, your comments embody everything that’s wrong with feminism as it stands at the moment.

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    • marthafitat55 says:

      Thank you skatergrrrl for posting your comment. I appreciate your taking the time to write a detailed response; however, I fear you have misunderstood my post, and the reference to figure skating. My article focuses on women’s strength and how strong women are perceived in the world of sport. I’m not criticizing female or male skaters for wearing tights, and in fact, I find the innovations in skating gear that female skaters have advocated for quite exciting for what they have contributed in achieving challenging moves.

      I am criticizing the commentary I have heard and read that focused on what female skaters wore to the exclusion of the strength they display in landing jumps and other complicated moves. I do not believe it is anti-feminist to critique commentary that focuses on looks that meet a feminine ideal based on white standards of female beauty, nor am I suggesting that women who lift are better than those who skate. I am challenging the social norms for beauty and strength and questioning why one sport appears to be celebrated based on “beauty” and while another appears to be less celebrated for a perceived lack of “beauty” or “femininity,” when both require a great deal of commitment, training, strength, and mental stamina.

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