Chronicles of the Fat Powerlifter

Written by Tara Duncan

“You’re beautiful, even though you’re fat.”

“You’d be so pretty if you just lost weight.”

“You so big, you need to stay in the gym minimum of two years.”

“Wow, you’re really healthy for a big girl.”

“Holy sh*t what a fat piece of crap.”

“What a pretty face! Have you thought about losing weight?”

“Hey fatty, why don’t you reduce your fat?”

“You shouldn’t be proud of yourself, you’re fat and unhealthy and telling people that’s okay.”

“You shouldn’t be eating more than 1400 calories a day.”

Let’s play a game... can you guess which of the above comments came from social media trolls, doctors or random strangers?


It’s no wonder when people feel they can say things like that many women feel intimidated at gyms. Especially if that woman happens to be, say, an extra meaty potato in all her glory, a la... me. 

We spend a lot of our time, as women, worried about our weight. I’ve written before, I've known how to suck in my stomach since I was 7 or 8. I was aware of my cellulite-y thighs before I was even a teenager. There are certain unspoken rules about what numbers are acceptable on a scale and those that definitely aren’t. We don’t talk about being fat, rolls, booty dimples, none of it. Most women are focused on what their bodies look like and not what they can do.

I was that woman. I mean, if we’re being really honest, I have moments when I still am. I could do without the lower belly hang I affectionately refer to as my c-section shelf, and I’m not overly interested in my back fat rolls. There was a time when the above comments would have destroyed me. 

But the power balance has shifted and most of the time I’m now only focused on what my body can do. 

I may weigh almost the most I have in my entire life, but my body is stronger than it’s ever been. I can do things I never dreamed I could, lift weights and objects I never thought I could, complete challenging workouts, everything. And I couldn’t be happier with that part of the work I’ve done on myself. 

That’s why I am here to tell you that you do not need to be self-conscious if you’re a lady... or even a lady with a little extra at the gym. I am here to tell you that you have just as much of a right to the equipment as anyone else, and you can be just as badass as anyone else. Your size has no bearing on that or your deservedness to be training wherever you want to train. 

I mean, let me tell you— your new-found confidence doesn’t mean you won’t get comments. People are always going to stare. No one looks at me and automatically assumes I’m an athlete because I don’t really look like one. They usually act like they don’t believe me when I say I am. In any life situation, people usually doubt I can pick up whatever object by myself, I can carry my 26 lb. bag of dog food, I can carry all my groceries, I can carry a mini-fridge around my office, etc. 

But instead of letting that bother me, I turn it into a positive. Let me prove you wrong. Watch me... you can underestimate me, that’s fine. Instead of being offended someone thought you couldn’t bench a plate, be proud that you can do something many can’t. Let the guy blow you off when you try to give him helpful feedback or a helpful cue because he scoffs and assumes there’s no way you know anything about lifting because you don’t look like a bro. Take it all as a challenge and use it as fuel to perform your training session at your best. It’s pretty satisfying being in an unfamiliar gym or situation, completing a lift strangers assumed you couldn’t do, and then have someone come up to you and tell you how impressed they were. 

When you take back the power, it can’t hurt you. That’s why I do call myself a potato. That’s why I will describe myself as fat, and I’ll talk about my fat rolls. If those are words that have power over you, you’re probably over there cringing right now. Be honest, did it make you feel uncomfortable? Was your initial reaction to think something like, “No, you’re beautiful. You’re not fat.”? If so, let’s think about why.

Fat is an adjective. It is a fact that I have a lot of fat and I am fat. From a physical health standpoint, this isn’t something to celebrate, I’m in no way condoning obesity and I recognize some changes for my health could be beneficial. But from a mental health standpoint, understanding that my physical description is just that— a description and not a definition, has been absolutely crucial. It doesn’t define me. I am way more than that. And by taking the power back from that word, by owning that word, it no longer hurts me when someone ignorantly throws it at me. It no longer holds me back. I don’t care if you think I’m fat and don’t want to see me in shorts or my sports bra. If you’re more concerned about what I’m wearing at the gym, while I’m working my butt off, you’re not there for the right reasons anyway. 

At the end of the day, as powerlifters, the numbers that matter are the ones on the platform. Yes, I understand for some, the scale matters when it comes to making weight for a particular weight class, but other than that, it’s just a description. 

And you are way more than just a description. 


  • amy: May 18, 2020

    I thought “that side of the gym” wasn’t for me. Then, a colleague at work who was into strongman took me under his wing, and taught me all the basics. And when I first went to that side of the gym, I got the looks — until they saw me talking with him. Then they saw me coming back, day after day, whether he was there or not. They saw me struggle through the workouts that sucks, and come back and do it all again the next day. The attitude of “the regulars” started to shift. Instead of being ignored, or getting “the look” I’d get simple eye contact and nod from the ripped guys that lifted in their hoodies and never spoke to anyone. It was fascinating to me to see this progression.

  • Chelsea: May 15, 2020

    I really needed this post today. I have not been able to train as hard as i normally can with the COVID and all. I’ve been feeling down on myself about it. Thank you for this post! I’ve shielded myself from comments about my weight my whole life and it was not until i found powerlifting that i truly started to love myself and my body,

  • April Davis: May 15, 2020

    TRUTH! Great read!

  • Toni: May 15, 2020

    I love this! I’ve been lifting weights and going to the gym for 20 years and I’ve always had a side eye from people when I tell them that because I am plus. Now that I’m 40, I’m starting to see all of the work I put in pay off: strong bones, endurance, balance, power, good skin…all things that can’t be measured by the scale. I want to keep moving until I’m 100!

  • Michelle: May 15, 2020

    You are the epitome of Uplift and Lift Heavy!!!!! Thank you for all you do and say. Our sport is better with you in it!!

  • Andrea: May 14, 2020

    Love this message!!!! We need to empower the youngest girls to start feeling this way earlier so they don’t feel all the pressure to be thin. Strong is the new sexy!!

  • Ambre: May 14, 2020

    Thank you for sharing your inspiring thoughts.

  • Jen Hernandez : May 14, 2020

    I love all the articles on here! This one hit the spot! I’m always underestimated because I don’t look “fit” ♥️

  • SHelly: May 14, 2020

    Great write, Tara, as always. Proud of you, lady ❤️

  • Tara Duncan: May 14, 2020

    Thank you, ladies! <3

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