I have always seen myself as a strong person. I hadn’t realized how I had incorporated it into my persona until talking with other women and learning that they don’t see themselves as strong. Genetically, I am predisposed towards being strong (thanks parents and 23 and Me), but it has taken years of hard work to develop this. I do wonder, however, if I hadn’t been given access and encouraged, would I have found myself in the same place?
So often our culture teaches women to hate this or that about our bodies, to find failings, to hide ourselves with taglines like “fashions for every body type.” This discourse creates a me vs. my body disconnect; we try and mold her into every-changing perfection rather than to meet her needs as the vessel that carries us through life. Strength has been perceived as a masculine quality, which leads some women to turn away from it, or to not make it a priority, so as to embody a twisted ideal of femininity. Lack of access is a barrier for some women, and people in general, when develop their in-born strength. I’m going to call out my brother, his focus towards empowering people, and providing access and example, as a large reason that I have been able to develop my strength. Check out HardShell Fitness if you want in on this magic (shameless plug).
My motivation to be strong is because I like to feel good and to be able to do things, especially activities in the outdoors. There have been times of my life where I didn’t put energy towards it, and then was frustrated at the lack of being able to do something that I wanted to do, for example lifting heavy boxes when moving, moving canoes on and off racks, and rock climbing. I haven’t felt the same frustration from not being able to move a heavy weight or kettlebell – only when it has kept me from participating in an activity or completing a task. I think that this frustration stemmed from the knowledge that I ability to be able to do it, and that I can’t because I haven’t put energy into it. I never have thought that I wouldn’t be able to do something physically because I lack the capability to be strong.
Over the last few years I have heard stories from women in my midst who have had a very different upbringing – one in which physical strength has never been a focus. When at my yoga teacher certification, some of my female classmates were comparing their “new” muscles and talking about how strong they felt – and how they had never felt strong before, how they had never classified themselves as a “strong person.” The sense of empowerment that they felt from developing this simple, human ability was incredible; their whole world view, what they deemed possible for themselves, was changed by their new-found ability.
Another friend I was speaking with recently works in the outdoor recreation industry. She mentioned that one of the barriers that she has found in her career path was a lack of physical strength. Though she discovered weight training and has developed a lot of strength in recent years, she mentioned that it would have increased opportunities for her and helped her to be a competitive in the job market if she had developed this as a youth. Again, I was struck at the disparity: even though she was a student athlete, her sport hadn’t incorporated strength for its girls’ team (as a high school swimmer, mine had). What seems a no-brainer – having a strong body will be helpful when competing in a physical sport – was overlooked for these girls. In what other instances is it overlooked?
When hiking last summer (after we had our hiking legs under us) Jen and I reveled in the tasks that we were able to do, like power up a mountain for hours with a loaded pack needing minimal rest. On an extended hike one becomes in tune with what one’s body needs to keep going, and it really comes down to food, water, and rest. The connection of food = fuel becomes very clear, water a priority, and you learn to rest, hard. Self-care becomes a priority and stretching and massaging oneself becomes a daily activity. When giving our bodies what they were asking for, they would keep carrying us onwards. When something was out of balance, we quickly found ourselves having to put it back into balance in order to continue.
I enjoy how an extended adventure, whether it is a yoga certification course or a hike – connects my physical and emotional self. I have learned to understand and respect my limits, while also completing tasks I never would have thought that I would be able to do – not because I have doubt in my abilities, but that I wouldn’t have foreseen myself in the situations to begin with. Of course, I have been met with tasks that I am not strong enough, or flexible enough, to do yet (or on that day) and that is to be expected. Cutting myself some slack at these times has been an important lesson too. However, by pushing the limits of what is possible, while practicing kindness to myself, I am ever in awe of what I am capable of. In these adventures I am reminded that my body is all that I have to get through this adventure – it is all that I have to carry me through this life.
How can we empower those around us who haven’t learned to embody their own strength? How are we empowering ourselves?
Thanks goes to Lindsay for the use of the featured image, and my family, yoga friends, and adventure buddies for being epic strength models!