By Ryn Daniels
For decades I had an adversarial relationship with my own body. I spent years struggling with an eating disorder, trying to shrink myself down to take up as little space as possible. I viewed my body as something that needed to be punished, and for a long time that’s the way that I approached exercise.
Powerlifting changed that.
When I first tried powerlifting, it was because a colleague had suggested that it might be helpful for dealing with chronic back pain. I figured that it couldn’t hurt to try, but I wasn’t expecting a lot. My pain had been with me for most of my adult life, and most suggestions for treating it had gone nowhere. So when I stepped into the gym, I didn’t anticipate lifting would change my life, but that’s exactly what it ended up doing.
Very quickly I got caught up in the excitement of feeling strong and powerful. A lot of eating disorder recovery emphasizes appreciating your body for what it can do, rather than what it looks like, and powerlifting helped me explore that. The first time I deadlifted my bodyweight, I was thrilled. Finally, the number on the scale represented something badass I had accomplished, not a negative judgement of my worth. My back pain actually did start getting better, but in a way that was secondary to the other benefits I found from lifting.
Around the same time I started lifting; I started transitioning. I’m non-binary, which for me means that I don’t feel like either of the man or woman binary gender options describe me. When I started figuring this out about myself, I realized that a lot of my problematic relationships with my body had been gender dysphoria subtly rearing its ugly head. I hadn’t hated my body because it was too big, I had hated it because other people used it to shove me into a gender that didn’t fit.
For years I had felt like there was something not quite right about my body. I was always somewhat uncomfortable, like having a little pebble in your shoe that is too annoying to ignore but not annoying enough to stop and shake out. Before I had the words to describe my gender dysphoria, I blamed chronic pain or an eating disorder for why I felt out of sorts. Most of the time my discomfort wasn’t unbearable, but I never felt quite comfortable either.
When I started transitioning, and when I started lifting, I finally began to feel at home in my body. I was able to take active steps towards having a body that felt like it really belonged to me, whether that meant building more muscle mass at the gym or taking steps to medically transition. It stopped feeling like me against my body, and became me working with my body, doing the difficult work of navigating an uncomfortable world. My body became part of me, and I started looking for ways that I could actually support myself.
Getting to lift in an inclusive, woman-owned gym added so much to those feelings of comfort. Things like gender-neutral changing areas and restrooms meant that I could work out without having to worry that someone would call me out for being in the “wrong” space. I didn’t have to spend my gym time feeling out of place, or being mansplained to by someone who thought I didn’t belong there. Unlike every hyper-masculine gym I’d been to previously, an inclusive and diverse gym environment became another ally that helped me feel more comfortable in the world.
Strength For All is a gym deliberately designed to be inclusive and welcoming, with things like sliding scale memberships and workshops targeting people who are all too often left out of health and fitness discussion. It’s the sort of place that I wish I’d had access to when I was younger, and I’m super excited to see where it goes. If you’re in the NYC area you should stop by the space, and if you’re not (like me, who has moved and is now writing this from an ocean away) you should donate to their Patreon and help support a space where people can learn to be comfortable with and empowered by their bodies.
Women’s Strength Coalition is a 501c3 nonprofit, dedicated to building stronger communities through increased access to strength training. We envision a world where everyone has equal opportunity to express their voice and embrace their power.
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