Let me paint a picture for you...
You walk into a bright gym, metal clanging against metal, grunts and groans echoing against the sweat-coated cement walls. You inhale the stale scent of hardworking bodies, taste the salty air, and observe huge biceps moving in concentrated motions. Meticulous, repetitive actions overwhelm the squishy benches. Tugging at your tank top and adjusting your sports bra, you pull your Beats over your ears, turn on your "Jamz" playlist on Spotify, and gracefully stride past the army of treadmills, ellipticals, and bikes that whisper your name in their whirring motors. You pull your ponytail taut and it feels as though every eye is on you. You reach for the 35-pound dumbbell. More eyes examine your every move. The girls on the treadmill that gallop as a herd of gazelles pass slight judgement. Your hot pink tank top serves as a beacon in a sea of biceps, black tank tops, and basketball shorts.
Being in a gym can be intimidating in and of itself, but add the fact that you are a woman in a predominately male field and you may have created a recipe for tension and nerves. You spent your childhood and adolescence hearing that women should be "dainty" and "fragile" and "graceful." Typically, building muscle does not fit that mold. You spend days hearing "weight lifting will make you bulky" and "men don't like women with big muscles" and "lifting weights will make you manly."
Every time you lift a dumbbell, you defy society and gravity. You juxtapose every societal mold set for you with pride. No longer does society have its grip on you and no longer does it tell you what you can and cannot do. Now your body will represent the strength of your mind. With every bicep curl, you prove one more person wrong. With every squat, you outdo every person on the couch. With each rep, you will surpass all expectations and quite literally raise the bar. Those ideas of grace and fragility are overlooked by the confidence that you now nurture.
"Men don't like women with big muscles," you hear over and over, cycling through your thoughts throughout each workout. Any man who will love you will fall head over heels for your devotion and motivation. He will become infatuated with your drive and the confidence with which you take each step. But, you don't do this for anyone but yourself. You get up at six in the morning each day to work a different muscle group and become stronger for yourself. Nobody is telling you to. Nobody forces you. That motivation comes from within. Your goals and aspirations blind you from any comment that can be made toward you. You feel strong when you lift. You feel powerful. That feeling outweighs any doubts that you have about being accepted by others.
You are an inspiration to others. If not for yourself, you do it for the girl on the treadmill who watches you every morning when you walk past her. Her eyes follow and her head turns because deep down, she desires to do what you do. The judgement and pressure from society pins her to her treadmill. Without knowing it, every day that you walk by pushes her one stride closer to hitting that "STOP" button and following you toward those dumbbells. You are an inspiration to those that you have not even met yet. Your daughter, one day, will trace your biceps as you hold her to the sky. She will ask you how you became so strong and you will tell her that "back in my day, women were not always praised for looking strong." You will not tell her that you were not always strong and even when you were, your body could never come close to reflecting your mind. Save that for when she is older and a boy breaks her heart. Save that for the day that you see her walking with her friends, her head down and her step careful. Then, that is the day that you tell her everything, the whole story of how you came to love yourself and all that your body does for you. That is your motivation and you are her inspiration.
To the girl in the weight room, let me tell you something. Those looks that you get, they will never stop. One day, they may diminish but they will never completely disappear. Here's the problem: if you lift heavy with the guys, the compliment will be "wow, you are so strong for a female." The fact that you are a female should not haunt you, however. Let it define you. Let yourself stand for all women who desire to feel strong and fight every day to do so. Lift with that judgement and those comments in mind and the drive that one day society will crawl into its cocoon and be released as accepting. You are not the only female in the weightlifting community although I know that it feels that way sometimes. Fitness can be a lonely sport because your accomplishments are your own and therefore only seen by your own eyes too. I see your struggles though and more importantly, I see your progress. I know how hard you fight and how hard you work, so keep doing what you are doing. For your sake, mine, and the future generation of women who need to know what strength truly feels like.
To the girl in the weight room, I've got your back.