Embrace Your Bignessby Jen Sinkler
The following is a short speech—well, let’s call it a reading, thanks to my inability to memorize—that I gave at a spectacular event in July 2015 called #OwnItMpls, organized by MPLS MadWomen and hosted by Space150. (Full recap by the event organizer, Erinn Farrell, here.)
There were nearly 300 rowdy women (plus a few men) in attendance and six speakers, each of us covering a different aspect of confidence. My topic? Body confidence.
Usually when I’m front of a big group of people, it’s because I’m teaching them a new lift. So…let’s deadlift together.
Stand up, make sure there’s enough space in front of you that you can bend over. Picture a barbell in front of you at mid-shin height. It’s loaded up to 300 pounds. You got this. Step right up to the bar until it’s touching your shins. Push your butt backward, pretend you’re trying to get nasty on the dance floor, but let me be able to read any writing on the front of your shirt. Squeeze your armpits closed tightly, stack your shoulders over the bar, and then try to press your feet through the floor. Pull back on the bar, and drag it right up your legs until you’re standing tall and proud at the top. Let’s do another rep. Nicely done! You just lifted 300 pounds, we are off to a good start!
RUGBY AND DEADLIFTS
The deadlift is a simple lift, but an important one. My husband describes the deadlift as anti-aging. Think about how time curls us over, and how the deadlift resists and overcomes that urge.
But I think that it goes beyond that. I think the deadlift is also anti-bullshit.
Think about what the deadlift is: It’s rising up. Standing proud. Taking up space. This is a lift for women.
I want to tell you the story of how I got here. I used to live in a happy little body bubble. For 13 years, I played the super body-positive sport of rugby. Rugby is a sport that requires a wide range of body types: short and stout, we’ve got a position for you; tall and broad, we’ve got a spot for you; slight and quick, we’ve got a home for you. Different physical attributes were downright necessary for different positions, so different body types were celebrated, and on the whole, body confidence was rockin’. Outside that rugby bubble, though, things were and are ugly for women.
There are a lot of shoulds, lots of impractical ideals. Terms like “thigh gap”—where you’re supposed to have space between your upper thighs when your feet are together—and “bikini bridge” come to mind — the bikini bridge started as a joke, and then actually became a standard that women were trying to achieve. And these are just from the past year! It’s always something.
We face a constant barrage of ideals that may go against our very bony structures, the shape of our pelvis, our muscle fiber makeup, our body type, our limb lengths, and the insertion points of our muscles. That “long and lean” marketing? I know you’ve seen it — that depends on the insertion points of your muscles and your limb length, which will affect where your muscle bellies are. It’s not about what you do for a workout or how little you eat.
This is what we are faced with. So, when I became a fitness magazine editor in 2003, I made it my mission to spread the same type of body embracement that I’d found in rugby far and wide. And while I can’t recruit everyone in the world to play rugby, the next best thing I’ve found is lifting weights.
Over and over, I’ve witnessed a dramatic increase in body confidence when women start lifting.
SHED INFERIOR CLOTHING
I want to tell you a story about one of our Movement Minneapolis gym members, April Seifert, who went from admittedly shaky body confidence — she says she bought into the idea that she needed to be small, to take up less space — to a kickass powerlifter with an invincible will.
Let me get something out of the way: If you lift weights, you will not accidentally become a bodybuilder. It’s never happened. But…certain body parts may rearrange themselves. Bigger butt, bigger quads, bigger shoulders, smaller waist.
I remember April’s first session with us. It was a squat day. I asked her how much she usually squatted, and she told me 65 pounds. That day, she squatted 105 pounds, and I wish I could bottle up the look of pure joy on her face when she found out she’d hit triple digits.
Several months later, after getting more serious about lifting weights and training hard for her first powerlifting competition, April was in her closet trying to slip on her favorite pair of jeans…and they got stuck at her quads. It just wasn’t gonna happen.
Her reaction? It was not to beat herself up, it was not to panic, to restrict, to get smaller.
Nope. Instead, she screamed, “INFERIOR JEANS! You cannot handle my giant muscles! I am TOO BIG FOR YOU!” And with that, she says, she shed the last of the mindset that told her to shrink. She began to embrace her bigness. And it should be said that bigness is not about body size—it’s a way of being. We all need to embrace our bigness.
[photo credit: Melissa Floyd]
The takeaway? Seek new skills. Seek physicality in some way.
EMBRACE YOUR BIGNESS
This changes the focus from what you look like to what you can do—and the added benefit is that your body confidence skyrockets, too. It doesn’t have to be lifting weights, but it does have to be something physical. Aggressively pursue competence—even mastery—in some sort of physical endeavor, and your confidence will expand, too.
Embrace your bigness, whatever size that comes in.
If you’re interested in watching the video stream of the event, click below. For my speech, in particular, start at 43:45.
Video stream of #OwnItMpls
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