Healthy Living

How Bodybuilding Has Changed Me As A Woman

I do not feel like less of a person for being more of a person
02/06/2017 11:59pm ET | Updated February 8, 2017

Originally published at Squat Rack Shenanigans

I had a mini-epiphany the other morning while I was driving to work.

Stephanie Pio

You see, winter ended last week meaning that this week it’s summer, so I was able to take my sleeveless dresses out of the closet and pack away my sweaters and pants. SoCal doesn’t know how to properly season.

But it’s the dress I was wearing the spurred the insightful moment. For the first time in months, I felt free and confident. The scale that morning had read a full ten pounds heavier than my “preferred” weight as of not long ago, and yet I was happy. I was so, so happy. My body felt strong, I had my arms out and I just knew my students would remark on it ― “Miss P, stop flexing, it’s distracting” ― and we would laugh. I had spent the previous eight weeks or so covered up in sweaters and pants, each day dreading getting dressed, feeling wholly unlike myself, like I was hiding, like I had for so long in years past.

And that’s just one of the things my sports have done for me―given me the ability to laugh with my students while piquing their curiosity. This gentle ribbing leads to questions about what it is that I do, what it is that I eat and how it is that society views me―a strong, muscular woman. Powerlifting and bodybuilding has provided me with a platform on which to educate my students about things that they have never encountered before. I revel in this opportunity, and I know that simply by being who I am, I am broadening the perspectives of my students.

Beyond the obvious strength and muscle gains associated with my sports- bodybuilding and powerlifting, I have gained a wealth of other, perhaps more powerful, betterments as well.

When I walk in public, I feel confident. I can wear shorts, leggings, tank tops, bright colors or patterns, clothes that guarantee a person’s eye does not simply pass over me any longer. In previous iterations of myself, I wore mostly black, navy, or gray ― background colors. If people notice me, I don’t worry too much that I’ve got something on my face, a stain on my shirt, or that they are thinking negative thoughts about my body. I am reasonably sure that they are noticing the hard work I’ve put in, and if they are harboring negativity towards me, towards what I look like, frankly I don’t give a damn. My body does not need to look like someone else’s ideal; my body has no requirement, no test to pass in order to be allowed to take up space. What’s more, I’m not shy to purposely call attention to myself, even! I feel confident in public and that’s what my sports have done for me.

When a friend invites me to try a new activity that she loves- hot yoga, aerial silks, bouldering, stair sprints, snorkeling, or underwater blindfolded upside down basket weaving- I can say yes. I know what my body is capable of, and I know that even if something is hard at first, my body is strong enough to push through and give a valiant effort. I have a good idea where my limits are, and I also know how far I can push them. I know that I can try an activity and stand a reasonable chance at not making a total fool of myself, and perhaps have a chance at being good at it, even. I can say yes to trying new things, and that's what my sports have done for me.

When I go to a restaurant, I don’t have to feel anxiety over what I’m ordering and wonder what is the waiter thinking? What is my friend thinking? Are they going to judge me for eating a plate of pasta? Oh god maybe I’ll just eat half so they don’t judge me... and I’ll skip dessert.

My performance in the gym has become my focus―even when I’m on contest prep for bodybuilding and calories are lower, the goal isn’t to eat as little as possible, or worry about what other people think of my food. The goal is to fuel my body in order to achieve my goals.

My sports have enabled me and pushed me to educate myself about nutrition, and freed me from worrying about what other people think about my consumption, because I know what I need to do, and I know that nobody else knows what my body needs quite like I do. I can order and demolish two entire breakfasts at a restaurant if I want to, or just two sides of steamed vegetables, and not feel guilty about my choices, and that’s what my sports have done for me.

When I step onto the scale, and the number is higher than it was the day before, it does not ruin my day. I do not feel like less of a person for being more of a person, most days. This one has been a work in progress, something deeply engrained into me by society, but I’ve found it getting easier and easier as I progress into my sports.

This number is simply a data point for me, now, and I note it and move on. My height does not dictate my worth as a person―this is a number. My bank account balance does not dictate my worth as a person―this is a number. The collection of adorable printed socks I own for the purpose of deadlifting in does not dictate my worth as a person―this is just another number. Even my squat max, however proud I am of this number, does not tell you my value. What’s more, I am the only person who knows this number.

Unless I specifically tell you, or a stranger at Target, what the scale said that morning, nobody sees that number hanging over my head as I walk around. Numbers do not tell you, or me, or anyone else my worth. They are simply numbers and the one on my scale is no different. That’s what my sports have done for me.

When I think about all of the things I can do now, as a direct or indirect result of bodybuilding and powerlifting, I’m astounded. Yes, I’m stronger and leaner, but I’m also more educated, more aware of my body and how it feels, about what I put into it and what I get out of it.

My entire view of myself and my perspective of how people and how society views me is different. Bodybuilding and powerlifting have shaped me, in more ways than one, to be a better person. I could have never anticipated these changes when I first picked up a barbell four-ish years ago. Along with my body I have not only transformed my mind, my perceptions and my attitudes. For that I will be eternally grateful to the iron for molding me and shaping me into the person I am today.