Written by Katey Black
“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” - Buddha
On October 15th I will definitively get my butt handed to me by some of the strongest women in the world, and I’ve never been more excited for—or more nervous about—anything in my lifting career. Technically speaking, I will leave USAPL Raw Nationals a loser since I will not win the 72kg weight class or overall lifter—those titles will more than likely go to Jenn Thompson and Kimberly Walford, as they should. I qualified for Raw Nationals with a 765 lb total, which is only 5lbs over the minimum qualifying total for the 72kg/158 lbs Open Class of 760 lb. I’m there, but just barely. I’ve had some anxiety about this as the meet has gotten steadily closer with the passing weeks: How will I measure up? Will I be strong enough? Will I be impressive to anyone? Will I even matter compared to these other women?
It’s in these very human moments that I stop and remind myself what powerlifting is really about. I take to heart one of the most important and hardest skills I’ve had to learn : to love myself as I am in this moment. I start to remind myself where I was in October of 2015. I was weighing in at 170lbs with a total of 650 (22/135/290) and had just started experiencing back pain that would eventually lead to injury. Today I’m fully healed, weigh around 163 lbs with the aforementioned total of 765 (280/155/330), and I have two USAPL meets under my belt. Not too bad for a year’s time. It could be better, but it also could be worse. I’m not trying to brag about these numbers, but to reinforce what can happen in only 365 days. I am in competition with myself and no one else.
I could put my numbers under a microscope and compare them to hundreds of women, but regardless of the outcome that wouldn’t make me feel any better about myself. It definitely won’t make my lifts any better. My value doesn’t come from a number on the scale, or on the bar, or on the score sheet. I’m stronger today than I was a year ago, and that is what I focus on. Next year I’ll be even stronger than I am now. I am the only person on the platform come meet day, therefore I am my only competition. I know that on paper this all seems fairly simple and standard motivational talk, but how many of us really take the time to start loving ourselves? Where do we begin? Why is this important?
First and foremost, I want to reinforce that self-love is not the belief that you are the best or better than anyone else. It’s not going into a meet with the mindset of “I’m going to destroy this lift because I’m better than everyone”, it’s the mindset of “I’m going to destroy this lift because I know I can and I believe in myself”. Tying self-worth to comparison of others almost always leads to low self-esteem, regardless of outcome. Self-love is completely accepting yourself as you are in that moment in time, and it takes a great deal of mindfulness and confidence to do this. Acting in self-love is taking a moment for yourself every day to do something that makes you feel good. Some people take long baths, or go for a walk, or buy something special (treat yo self). For female powerlifters, this can mean taking the time during a hard session to take a cute mirror selfie, or chat with friends, or listen to Nicki Minaj’s verse in Monster (a personal favorite), or even just to stand over the weight saying; “I can do this”. Positive affirmation and visualization is always a great way to build confidence before a new attempt. It also means taking pride in the small things as well as the big things. It means being excited about the one-pound PRs and celebrating small adjustments in technique. This can also mean wrestling with our own desires to be the “perfect athlete” before we’re ready, and to stop the comparison of ourselves to those around us. It’s very easy to get on Instagram to see women achieving amazing lifts with ease and then feel discouraged. Stopping this cycle of negative thoughts is hard, as oftentimes being critical of yourself just leads to more critique. It’s effortless when you’re feeling good, and lifts are going up. It’s a simple thing when life is easy, but nothing worth having is going to be easy. You have to love yourself through the difficult times because challenging situations will be thrown at you. The more confident you are the easier it will be to get through them.
As women, we have a hard enough time interacting with a world that systematically devalues us, and there is plenty of scientific evidence to back this up. Regardless of various opinions on modern feminism, it is a widely-supported fact that female physical beauty is much more valued than male beauty. The daily objectification women face often results in the perception that their bodies are commodities to be evaluated from an outsider’s perspective. Most women feel as though their sense of worth is directly related to how the world approves of their physical attractiveness. This often results in women competing with and comparing themselves to other women, which leads to isolation and lack of motivation. Simply put, the less you love yourself the less motivated you are to improve. For female powerlifters, it is imperative that we have the confidence to believe in our abilities inside the gym. If you don’t believe you can make the lift, you won’t. Plain and simple. Many find that the confidence to move a physical obstacle helps tackle mental obstacles such as anxiety or depression (read more here!).
It’s a cycle of positivity: confidence helps you succeed, and then success gives you confidence. I quote the great Elle Woods: “Exercise increases endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t kill their husbands,” (Which may or may not be relevant in this context, but you get the idea.) Happy people also positively affect the people around them, and are typically more productive. Oftentimes this self love and confidence carries over into other aspects of life. It starts with little things, like catching your reflection in the mirror and liking what you see. Suddenly things like asking for a raise or giving a presentation seem less scary after you’ve put twice your bodyweight on your shoulders.
As previously mentioned, comparing yourself to others is pointless and oftentimes leads to lower self esteem. Surrounding yourself with a strong and uplifting group of women is also one of the best ways to stay encouraged and build confidence. I have met some incredible women at my current gym who vary in ages, weight classes, and totals. They have become some of my closest friends as a result of long workouts and stressful PR attempts. They have seen me at my weakest and my strongest and I have been met with nothing but love. I don’t see these women as my competition: not only because they’re my friends, but because of how pointless that comparison would be. We are in different weight classes, have different genetics, and different life experiences. The weight on the bar and of the world is already so heavy, so why not let strong people in your life to help lighten the load? Having a supportive foundation of friends helps you love yourself that much more, and they can help you push yourself further than you thought possible. Communities like Girls Who Powerlift create safe, judgement-free spaces for women to share experiences from all over the world. They encourage us all to “Be Great”, and they help on the days when loving yourself is hard. And it’s perfectly okay to have hard days! I recently had a very difficult training session where I had to hit a two rep max on deadlift. I hadn’t done that in months, and I started to get nervous and doubt myself. One of my friends got in my face and more or less told me that I had to make this lift. I needed to just go for it, and put myself on the platform at Raw Nationals. She cheered me on as I pulled 315 for a fast set of two, and I couldn’t keep myself from laughing as I hugged her. I was so grateful that she was reminding me of how strong I was. It’s in these moments that I hope my friends feel the love and gratitude I have for them because I would not be the lifter—nor the person—I am today if they weren’t there.
You are enough. Loving yourself is one of the most difficult goals to accomplish. There are going to be days when the weight stops going up no matter how hard you fight for it. Those are the days when you are going to have to love yourself the most, not to live with a failure but to celebrate that you pushed your body to its total limit. How many people can say they’ve done that? You can. You are so strong, and you are so loved. You are so deserving of love and encouragement from everyone, but even more so from yourself. You’re a badass lady lifter, and you will be great no matter what may happen around you. Just get on the platform and chase those three white lights. We’re all cheering for you.
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