Still huffing and puffing, my training partner, Jennifer Blake, said to me, “Aaaah, you beat me!”
It was our first sprint session together, and we had just charged up a hill right around the corner from the gym.
“Don’t feel bad,” I responded. “I’m really fast!”
She laughed so hard that it took the rest of the breath she had left, and she doubled over, howling.
She repeated my words back to me several times over the course of the workout.
I didn’t apologize, but I did clarify: I was a national-team rugby player for a decade, retiring in 2009, and during that time, I played a position that required a good deal of speed, strength and agility. And, because I still train it, I’ve still got it. (At least most of it, anyway.)
What was so unusual about my response was that, as women, we are expected to downplay our strengths, whether they’re literal or figurative.
I can’t recall what internet angel sent me the sketch above [update: it was Victor Rivera], but at your next opportunity, eavesdrop on any conversation occurring among a group of women, and specifically listen for the downplaying of any compliment given to one another. Once you know what to look for, you will hear it, over and over again.
Instead of just saying “Thank you,” we will say, “Oh no, this old thing/you’re just being nice/it’s just luck/etc./etc./etc.-motherscratching-etera.”
It’s part of the social script we are given at an early age, and you know what? It’s total bullshit. (It’s also included in the manual distributed to us that we are to compliment lavishly, but that part is lovely.)
I understand that it flies in the face of societal norms, but what if we suddenly, completely stopped following the script? Will that really make us jerks in the other person’s eyes, or would everyone involved feel better? Because here’s the thing: We are super smart, we are great at solving problems, we did kill that presentation, we do have great hair, and this skirt does make our legs look fantastic, so…thank you. Just thank you.
One of the perks of being a trainer and a fitness writer is — far more than reshaping bodies — getting to help reshape the conversation, especially when it comes to physical abilities. And, of course, once that sort of positivity is set in motion, it tends to bleed into all areas of life. Strength is so contagious that way.
One of my clients has been on my mind a lot lately, because she’s smack in the middle of her transition from the full-on deflection of every compliment to a great big, “Thank you, that felt great!” Rather than shaking her head at me and saying, “Oh, I don’t think I can lift that,” she is saying, more and more often, “That felt light. I think I could do a little more.”
She is acting less and less sheepish about her strength with every rep, and it is a marvel to behold. My goal for her — which she doesn’t know — is for her to become unapologetically strong. And it’s happening.
It is what we all deserve to be, in whichever way suits us best. Own your abilities, and toss out the script. Be unapologetically strong, and just say thank you.
UPDATE: There is now a shirt. You can wear it…unapologetically. Hit the Thrive Shop for racerback tanks, women’s tees and men’s tees.
[photo credit at top: Jalbus Photo]