Dana McMahan deadlifting

When I started lifting weights, I blew up my friends’ Facebook feeds with photo after photo of Dana under the barbell, Dana picking up the barbell, Dana lifting the barbell. Wait, look, it’s Dana and a barbell!

Dana McMahan squattingIt was an exciting new world for this lifelong utter non-athlete, and I breathlessly chronicled my progress from sedentary food writer to competitive powerlifter. And although I don’t monitor my friend count, I’m sure I lost some Facebook friends, or was at least hidden by a few who were tired of seeing Dana + barbell. I get that. We all get tired of stuff in our feed, and that block button is so handy.

I never questioned any message I was putting out, and wasn’t making a statement. I was sharing a new passion, much like I shared photos other things I loved — travels, my dogs, food.

I blogged about weightlifting too, and grew into a community, online and off, of women and men who loved lifting heavy. My story of walking into a gym unable to do a pushup and transforming, in my mid-30s, into a record-breaking powerlifter even, to my delight, inspired some to take up sports or join a gym. I loved the emails and comments I received from people who told me how much they appreciated seeing what I was able to accomplish. I became an advocate for women lifting, writing about it in magazines and websites. (For more on my experience as a woman who loves powerlifting, check out “I’m A Woman, And I Love Powerlifting” here.)

When I was seriously injured and had to give up powerlifting, I was blown away by the well-wishes from this community. And you can bet when I first picked up a (much lighter) barbell again to start over, I posted that picture. I’m a sharer, a writer, a storyteller. And you know what they say about a picture.

Recently, a good friend who lifts weights herself posed a question on Facebook asking what message women were putting out there with these photos. She doesn’t like to post photos of herself with barbell, though she shares photos of other activities she enjoys, and her question sparked a lively exchange stretching into dozens of comments. I felt a little defensive at first — clearly, I’m one of the women she’s questioning. But it was a good question to ponder. I have my own reasons, of course, but I wondered what other women think about when they post their photos throwing iron around.

Dawn McLeod squatting I talked with my friend Dawn McLeod, a powerlifter and competitor in bodybuilding contests, and one of my first role models when I started lifting. What’s she after when she posts workout photos?

“When I have 230 pounds on my back, I’m proud of that!” she said. “I don’t think it has anything to do with the fact that I’m a woman. I’m an athlete and this is what I do. When I was playing basketball if someone took a picture of me making an amazing layup I posted it. Looking at a pictures of someone pushing a thousand pounds on a prowler, it has nothing to do with woman vs man. It’s the community of athletes.”

“Because of the world we grow up in and are in now we are hypersensitive to fight a stereotype and we fight it when it doesn’t even exist,” she went on to say. “Not everything is a girl power moment. Sometimes we look for that moment when it doesn’t exist. When I post a picture of me lifting it’s just me being proud of what I do. I want to share it and I appreciate it when other people share the same thing and as a community I think it’s encouraging. It’s motivating. I saw a picture of a 70-year-old woman bench pressing some insane amount of weight. She was getting shit done!”

Dawn has always been an athlete, so weightlifting was nothing out of the ordinary for her. I talked also with the blogger behind Wine to Weightlifting. Never athletic until she decided to do a marathon about 10 years out of high school, Jennifer Hudy discovered The New Rules of Lifting for Women.

“It changed my life,” she said. She echoed my feelings, adding, “With every workout I felt stronger and even though I wasn’t doing it to lose weight, I noticed my body changing in ways that I didn’t think were possible. I was also becoming more empowered mentally, realizing that I could do more than I thought I was capable of.”

Jennifer Hudy lifting weights“I started documenting my progress on my blog and posted pictures after each stage,” she said. “At first I did it for myself, but once I noticed other women taking an interest in what I was doing I realized my pictures could help inspire them to take control of their own fitness and feel the same way that I do about my lifting.”

Jennifer likes to refute misconceptions about women lifting. “I recently did a post on how I gained 15 pounds in the past year but look and feel better than I ever have,” she said. “I want to share the message that lifting will not make women big and bulky and that it does so much for your self confidence that you are able to step outside of your comfort zone and be proud of your progress.”

A weekly feature on Jennifer’s blog is a Lady Lifter Spotlight. Along with a bio, Jennifer asks the women featured to include a workout photo. “Pictures provide proof that there isn’t one ‘right’ way to look or a typical lifting stereotype,” she explained. “I like to do this because it can depict strong, confident women of all ages, sizes, backgrounds.”

I was self-conscious for a while after my friends’ “why do women do this” post, and didn’t share any new lifting pictures, even though I was excited to be back in my garage gym again after recovering from (yes, another) injury. But you know, I’m still proud of what I do, and love lifting as much as I love travel and food, and nobody’s complaining about all those gelato shots I posted from Italy. So consider yourselves warned, Facebook friends. More Dana + barbell shots, coming up.

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