I was on a panel last night at a screening of Strong, Julie Wyman’s new documentary for PBS Independent Lens. The movie chronicles the life and career of female Olympic medal-winning weight lifter Cheryl Haworth. In the movie, we learn a lot about the work that Cheryl does to get her body physically ready to compete in the Beijing Olympics. The movie also shares a great deal about the work Cheryl does mentally and emotionally not only to compete at the international level, but also to accept a body that in some ways, falls outside the societal ideal.
There are so many ways that Cheryl has to be strong. She has to put a great deal of energy into the process of building a body that is capable of lifting hundreds of pounds over her head and holding it there until the buzzer sounds. As she mentions early in the film, to compete at her level she depends on her body’s size because, “mass moves mass”. She points out that when you’re hoisting a few hundred pounds over your head, a big butt gives you a distinct advantage. Cheryl’s big body has truly taken her places. She’s competed throughout the world, she’s appeared on national television, and she’s been revered as an American Hero from the Olympics podium.
But the in the same country that applauds Cheryl for her strength and dedication and power, it can be a real challenge finding a cute pair of pants that fit properly. And Cheryl has to live in a world where those who see her walking down the street and don’t recognize her as an Olympic athlete are likely to assume she sits on the sofa and eats bon-bons all day. All while coping with the rigorous training, disappointing injuries and wear and tear that comes with being a top competitor on the international stage in a truly demanding sport. Strong? Indeed! And Cheryl handles it all with powerful determination, humor and brutal honesty. In many ways, I’m not sure she recognizes her own strength.
So my little chicklettes, do you know how strong you are? Do you have powerful muscles that allow you to bend and stretch and dance and lift? Do you stride purposefully and powerfully through life? Do you hold your head up and get on with it in a body that in some ways fails to meet our society’s arbitrary standards of beauty? In short, do you know your own strength? I invite you to take some time today to both recognize and celebrate the myriad ways you are strong. Record your feelings. Write about them in a journal, draw them with crayons, or even immortalize them in Play-doh. But take time to appreciate and know your own strength. Because my dear chicklettes, you are probably far stronger than you think.
The Fat Chick