Are you ok with not fitting in, or would you rather blend in with the crowd? If you are watched, noticed, and possibly commented upon by your community, would that derail you from your pursuits? If these discomforts don’t deter you, ladies may I suggest you take up weightlifting?
Early stage weirdness requires being willing to wander around the weights portion of your gym not sure what to do. You’re going to have to guess how much weight you can lift and you’re going to have to wonder how to do the lifts correctly. You will mess up. You will stand out. Not because you are new, because there’s always someone new, but likely that someone is male and many males have an armor of “fake it ‘til you make it.” So, I suggest you do the same. Strut in there, fake some competence, and walk out knowing you started on your journey.
As you develop some competence and confidence, those who are sincere in their pursuit of weirdness will likely need to begin to log their work at the gym. You will be less weird if you do this on your phone, but those who are aiming for purity will begin to carry a workout log book. The log book will allow you to switch up your workouts day to day and week to week and see your progress as you go. There can be real celebration in this form of weirdness, because you will have concrete evidence of your growth. As you move up in weights, away from smaller dumbbells towards larger ones, or begin using the barbell and adding weight on the bar, you can see that you are getting stronger. This is wonderful! It will also make you different, as only a small percentage of those around you will be working out with such a sense of purpose and focus. Expect people to ask you what you are writing down in that little book.
This intermediate stage of weirdness also includes some changes you may choose outside of the gym. You might find that you want more protein at each of your meals, which can require feeling different from the other ladies when you go out for brunch. No longer are you splurging on the pancake plate and hashbrowns. No, you need to get your protein in, so how many eggs does that omelette contain? And can you add some smoked salmon to it?
You may decide you like wearing tank tops, even though the women around you are always talking down about their own arms, shoulders and bust. You know you don’t look like a model, but you’ve become proud of what your body can do and it’s fun to show off a little bit. That pride is wonderful, but it isn’t normal. You will stand out. Dig in deep to this weirdness!
You may try new things that you’ve only seen online or learned from a trainer. Maybe you do dynamic tension, wrapping huge rubber bands around the bar before you squat or bench press. Maybe you begin lifting in minimalist shoes or even just in specially designed lifting socks. You take the risk of trying all the rep ranges–you don’t let your ego force you to go heavy every time nor allow your fears keep you with lighter weights and high rep ranges.
Standing out in the crowd really takes on a whole lifestyle change somewhere along the way. At this point, when you walk into the gym, you are going to walk with confidence to the heavy weights and then begin to do things few around you are willing to do. You will stand out as you set up your bar with weight plates. Your confidence and sense of space–that you own that place in the gym at least as much as the next guy, and maybe more so because you’ve earned it from dedication and hard work over a long period of time–this will make you different from the people around you. They will notice. Some of them will find you inspiring. Others will feel challenged by your existence and may try to cut you down. This can be a real test to your ongoing pursuit of weirdness. How will you respond if a man, through his actions or words, suggests that your work is less valid than his? Are you ready to be really weird and stand up for yourself, loudly and where all can witness it?
You may need to stand up for your weirdness with family and friends, too. Are you ready to defend your choices to your mother who is worried you’ll hurt yourself? If it applies to you, are you ready to answer the question, “How does your husband feel about you getting so strong?” to a well-intentioned but totally off-base friend? These challenges are real, but they are worth it. In exchange for standing out in these ways, for being labeled and harassed, you will have the confidence of knowing you are living a life in tandem with your values. You can feel mentally and emotionally stronger by persisting to explore the limits of your physical strength.
Are you willing at this point to dig in deep to your weirdness and pursue real strength? You could choose an elite level of weirdness and possibly try to even GAIN weight and get BIGGER? Would you eat more food than you need so that you can pack on some muscle? Those who get to this level of weirdness are pushing the boundaries of what is expected of women, and as they show up in their bodies every day, they are making a statement about who they are and what place they are creating for themselves in the world. It is not easy to buck expectations for femininity at every meal. Few will understand your goals. Even fewer will be sympathetic if you find it challenging. “Poor you, you can’t gain weight. I feel really bad for you.”
Are you willing to stand out even within the strength-pursuing crowd and avoid the quick fixes and half-baked solutions? Go evidence-based and feed yourself the fuel you need, do the work, and trust the process? It’s a long game, and there will be folks who seem to be your peers suggesting things that you need not do to reach your goals, things that are potentially harmful and are certainly unsustainable. Again, you can find inner strength as you gain in knowledge and confidence.
Succeeding at being consistently weird is a lifelong journey. At not all stages of your life will you be willing to push being different from others to the same degree. It’s ok to let your weirdness ebb and flow with other priorities in your life, but know that this is a goal that can really change who you are and how you interact with others in powerful ways. And it’s worth it. Taking up more space and owning it, having confidence and competence, will improve your life. So ladies, are you ready to be weird?
Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found standing out in the crowd, picking up heavy things and putting them back down again in Portland, Oregon.