By: Savannah Schepp
Confession: I find columns on “body acceptance” to be trite. Frankly, they’ve been done before, and I don’t know how many thousands of articles it will take to break schemas that have been bred into us for decades. That’s not to say that I believe the media is representative of all humans or that I think we shouldn’t encourage self-love – but stop reading now if you’re looking for an article about why we should feel confident at any size or why thick is the new thin.
I think there’s something to be said for how we make statements with our bodies. Personally, exercising bodily autonomy once meant stealing my mother’s cigarettes and sticking safety pins through my lip at house parties. I used to think the embodiment of being a riot grrrl meant a fist in the air, a fringe over my face, and dark eye makeup, but I’ve come to recognize that there are alternative, and perhaps more effective, ways to give the man the finger. The same animal within me that once was racing to shotgun this beer faster than you, motherfucker, is now set on fire in a new habitat. They play death metal here, too, and there are plenty (nearly exclusively) tattooed men. The difference is that my subculture of choice is no longer the underground crust-punks, but the powerlifting community. And I’ve learned that there is no better way to give the man the finger than by being a woman with muscle.
Maybe the carryover is that, to some extent, I’m still engaging in self-destructive behavior on a routine basis. I wish that sentence didn’t scream teen angst, but hear me out. The counterculture scene champions reckless behavior in the name of hyper-liberal self-expression; likewise, lifting has promoted a similar restlessness. Demolition forces growth. Some people genuinely enjoy the bravado of mosh pits. They get excited at the prospect of having fists flung at their nose, chest, and crotch to the clamor of screaming over a hammering bass. I willingly subject myself, on a routine basis, to performing movements until failure. I’ve seen bars loaded with over six hundred pounds of iron nearly clip a man in the throat. I like the burn from sniffing ammonia before a heavy set, I like the pressure of holding a heavy load, and I even like the scars and bruises left on my back and shins from the barbell’s knurling.
The point is not that lifting weights is the new post-punk. Rather, this is a call to complicate the notion that we have to celebrate our bodies merely on an aesthetic basis. My body is badass, not because I have killer thighs or a flat stomach – in fact, it bears a lot of wear and tear from my lifestyle – but because of what it is capable of. I wish this had been clearer to me when I was suffering with my self-worth. Imagine if the message could be altered from “love your curves” to “love your capability”. What’s most problematic about the body-acceptance, or body-confidence movement is that it takes an offensive angle against the idolized model’s physique as perpetuated by the media. It attempts to promote the love of all bodies while clearly identifying specific bodies as unrealistic. And by highlighting the unobtainable, it further emphasizes that which we aspire to, yet cannot obtain. It’s an endless cycle, and it does not break the hierarchy of thinness.
I’d love to see more women (and men) exercising resilience and embracing their own strength. I’ll admit that my journey here has been a tumultuous one. I still battle with disordered habits – and I won’t blame those on the unrealistic standards set by fashion magazines or my childhood Barbie dolls. But with time I’ve learned that when I am struggling with my demons, I am to remind myself of all that I have accomplished and of my potential for growth. I suppose I’d call that “hardcore”, nuanced.