As I’ve talked about before, I spent much of my life unembodied, learning to distrust both my instincts and my abilities–an experience I think is very common especially (but not only) for women. Growing up both fat and female I internalized a lot of so-called truths about my body that I failed to question (hell, I didn’t know I could question them) and instead integrated them as my own truths. Truths such as women’s innate weakness*, body size as a stand-in for fitness** and worth*** and the idea that I was barred from certain joyful pursuits unless and until I achieved some mythical size that my has no hope of achieving.
Over the past year or so I have decided to test those culturally- (and self-) imposed limitations to see how many of them are actually real. Despite spending some time lifting and getting used to the idea of moving heavy things with merely my body, I still hung on to some ideas I just couldn’t shake. The idea that I’ll never do a full pushup, the idea that I am too weak and too heavy to do a handstand. This was grounded in two fundamental truths: women are inherently weaker when it comes to upper body strength and that I weigh too much to be able to hold my weight with just my arms.
Turns out these two fundamental truths are a load of limiting tripe. While it may be true that most women are inherently weaker than most men, who cares? (And, for a quick digression, how are we measuring this? One rep max? One rep max lifted after an equal number of years spent lifting, being taught good form and not having to fight years of socialization to pick up weights heavier than five pounds? Percentage of bodyweight lifted?**** Something, anything, that begins to attend to the profound cultural disadvantage women, as a group, have in building strength?) What matters is how strong my arms are and how much I trust them. Period. It doesn’t matter how strong they are compared to the dude in the squat rack curling away (seriously, stop that). Or how strong they are compared to the guy who’s never spent a day in the gym but hauls hay every day. Or even how strong they are compared to my yoga teacher with cut biceps and a six pack. What matters is how strong they are, how far I push them, and how I trust them.
Which brings me to my second limiting truth. I had this capital-t Truth that I was too weak and too heavy to do these amazing things I wanted to do: crow pose, handstands. But here’s the thing, forty pounds ago, when I was at a weight I feel more comfortable at, I was also too weak and too heavy to try. And probably, had I weighed forty pounds less (which some people do but my body sure as hell isn’t meant to) I would have still been too weak and too heavy to try. Not even to do, just to try. Because I bought into these myths wholeheartedly. Women are weak (why do we hear “most women are inherently weaker in upper body strength compared to most men” and rewrite it to “women are weak?”) and only teeny tiny women get to do the fun stuff.
So I just never tried. But in the past few months I’ve decided fuck that noise. I may be at a disadvantage compared to some people smaller and stronger than me. I may never achieve exactly what I want to do, but I sure won’t if I don’t try.
And so I’ve tried. And tried. And today I held crow for longer than I’ve ever held it (a record-breaking six seconds which, let me tell you, is a LONG time when you’re holding your entire weight on your hands). And yesterday I held a handstand for 7 seconds. A HANDSTAND. Something I thought was relegated to memories of childhood.
I am still heavier and larger than everyone you see in yoga magazines. I am still fighting the limitations that make these poses hard, but it turns out 95% of those limitations are mental. And if I trust my body to hold me and keep doing it a little more each day, I can do some amazing things. (I can also, as I learned going for 10 seconds in crow, land right on my face. Turns out learning how to get up after falling is a big part of learning how to do.)
***Toxic fucking bollocks
****When measured this way women are actually a hell of a lot stronger than we’ve been taught to believe ourselves.