My name is April Harper, I am a 148 OPEN weight class powerlifter with an above elite total of 924 and some change: 308/214/402 .
I’m currently training for RUM in February, using my coach, Brian Schwab’s training method , the Minimalist Method. I also train with Brian and my husband and team OBB at Orlando Barbell.
Ladies, have you heard this before?
You should dress up more, wear more makeup, do your hair, don’t get anymore tattoos, smile more, talk more, don’t get too big, you’re too skinny, don’t curse so much….
These things have been said to me all of my life. And I’m sure most women have gotten a few of these themselves. I am pretty much a little rebel and I will 100 % do the opposite of what you tell me unless what you tell me pushes me to grow or is positive. Just ask my mom…poor mom.
But, what I WILL NOT do…is be told WHO I AM , WHO I SHOULD BE, or HOW I SHOULD BE.
And you shouldn’t either.
I began powerlifting two years ago, and in those two years, I have put on about 20 pounds….mostly muscle…and some fat. I’m not super lean…as I like to eat, and I like to be strong which goes hand in hand with both lifting and eating. And I’m totally okay with that.
But what bugs me is that the more muscle I put on and the more people that come into my path, the more unsolicited comments I get. I go into the grocery store: “Are you a crossfitter?” At work: “Don’t get any bigger, you’re bulky.” Some old friends: “You’re huge…kind of fat”…and on it goes.
First off, when did it become okay to make comments on people’s bodies???? Never. Second, just shut-up.
Now, a lot of people will and have said, “Take it as a compliment! I wish I got those comments! They’re just jealous!” And to that I say…No. I will not accept people telling me how to look, giving their opinion on something that is not their business, making inappropriate comments and bullying me as well as several other women.
Sure, sometimes people do mean it as a compliment, and in those times I do take it that way and I say “thank you” and move about my day. But, the ones that mean it in a mean way….yes, it does get to me. And I’m sure it gets to a lot of women who are starting to find or have found a passion in being strong, fit, and muscular. At first it’s fun: “Oh look, my arms are getting muscle! Oh look, I have quads!! But eventually, “Oh shit, I can’t fit into any of my clothes.” And at first, you get support from a lot of people: “You’re so strong! You’re so inspiring, that’s so awesome! And then…it turns to, well, people picking you apart and again saying inappropriate bullshit.
In the past few weeks, I began questioning why I do what I do. Why do I powerlift and put my accomplishments out there to be knocked on by every Tom, Dick and Harry who feels like saying something about me? Why do I keep pushing when I have to deal with strangers commenting on my body? WHY??
And after much thought, and I must admit…I considering quitting…until I realized that the support I get from the people who actually care, makes it all worth it.
The Girls Make It Possible
Why didn’t I stop? Who kept me going?
- The girls who have messaged me and told me that they started getting into shape and changed their life all because I inspired them.
- The people that tell me they are proud of me and to keep going and never stop. THOSE PEOPLE matter.
The overwhelming feeling of joy, accomplishment, humbleness, love and respect that floods my heart when someone reaches out to me to tell me I made a difference or helped them in some way….BY SIMPLY BEING ME…by simply doing what I love…weighs much much more than any disrespectful comment ever thrown my way.
So, while it may bother me that my arms are big, or my waist isn’t tiny or I’m not the average girl who everyone finds to be “correct” or the social “norm” ….I am ME. And being me, is actually helping other people fight demons, break through plateaus, and change their lives. And I wasn’t even trying.
While mean people are out there trying to bring us down, we who focus on what truly makes us happy, come full circle and make those around us happy.
So, don’t stop when people tell you to stop. Don’t quit when what you’re doing makes you happy and you are doing something positive. I always have this thought in my mind that I want to change the world, I want to make a difference, I desperately want to help people…but, how, and what do I have to offer? And even though I might not change the world, I am helping people, and those people may go on to change the world….therefore, I changed the world…or was at least part of a catalyst for good.
All because I showed people me, doing what I love, being who I am and pushing past the stereotypes of what everyone said I “should” be.
I still became successful, and happy, doing everything everyone told me not to do, but everything that was exactly what I wanted to do.
And so can you. Don’t stop. Be strong and BE TRUE TO YOURSELF, ALWAYS.
April is a Doughnuts and Deadlifts sponsored athlete. Check out April’s athlete page on Facebook and give her a “Like”!
Have you encountered negative feedback for being a STRONG woman? How do you cope with other people’s rudeness? Let us know in the comments below!
Stephanie Wimer says
I am so thankful for this post. I love my muscles and I love it when I see strong women, and it really drives me CRAZY when people make comments about how girls “aren’t supposed to look like that.” I’m not talking unnatural/steroid looks…I’m talking the “I lift weights and have muscles” look. Why shouldn’t women be strong?? Why do women have to be compared to stick-thin models all the time? It drives me crazy. I want my future daughters (or everyone else’s daughters) to grow up in a world that embraces strength and good health as beauty. Not starvation, dieting, and “how small you can make yourself.”
Society sucks sometimes. Some days I look in the mirror and think “Wow, I look big, I should cut back on the carbs and the deadlifts…” but why should I be conditioned to think this way? A family member said to me over the holidays, “Are you still exercising? You don’t look like you’ve gotten any smaller.” SERIOUSLY?!!! I know there was no harm meant in the comment, but why should my goal be to get smaller? Isn’t my goal to be healthy and strong? I feel good! I feel strong! I am healthy! How will we ever change society’s way of thinking???
But you’re so right April on the fact that together–we are definitely making a difference. Every time someone makes a negative comment or I start feeling down, I’ll hear that I inspired someone or that someone wants to “be strong” like me. When I think of how far I’ve come in my journey and people are saying that they want something I have, how can I take that for granted?
Not everyone may understand the desire to be strong and love muscles. And I totally applaud you, April, for standing up for yourself! I wish I was a little more like that. 😉 This post is great and I think so many women will relate. Thank you!!!
I love this post. Absolutely love it.
I started working out in high school. I worked out a lot. When I skipped school they would call my parents to find me and they always knew to call the gym, because that’s where I always was. I was in the process of battling my eating disorders and working out seemed to be what “healthy people” we’re doing. My mom got me a personal trainer who was into crossfit–this was before crossfit was cool–and I loved all the crazy workouts he designed for me. I was strong, relatively healthy and obsessed with working out. I distinctly remember one of my guy friends commenting on the size of my leg muscles. I was rather shy and always kept to myself and always wanted to be one of the “skinny girls”. The old me would have let that comment consume and change me. Instead, I continued to workout and got my health in check. I tried out for the competition cheerleading squad my senior year and started the diving team at my school. None of that would have been possible without my “big legs”.
Six years and two kids later, I am stronger and healthier than I ever have been. I owe most of that progress to Stephanie. She has taught me so much about health, diet and exercise over the past couple years of our friendship and I cannot thank her enough. I want to be strong. I want to be healthy. I want to do this for me. But, I especially want to do this for my daughters. They will know what a healthy diet is. They will know what a healthy, strong woman looks like. There is no reason they should not.
Stephanie Wimer says
<3 your reply Myra makes my heart smile. You are so strong, so beautiful, and the BEST role model for your little girls. They are so lucky to have you!!!
Brian K says
I love to see all kind of different people, body types, levels, and yes women in the gym. I’m privileged to workout with some of the strongest women ( one a world record holder on the squat). As a man, I do not find it challenging or unnatural. I find it pretty freaking cool! But this article makes me realize that there may be some times that I don’t think when I make comments to my fellow powerlifters trying to be motivational. I can honestly say though, that I make the same type of comments to both male and female lifters. I know how it is to be different when I was younger and have people poke fun or be downright mean. I don’t I don’t like anyone to feel that same way. I think April is just saying she wants afforded the same opportunities and be treated the same – and I agree. Yet we all have to remember that we put ourselves out there when we do look a little different from societal norms. But today’s differences are tomorrow’s norms…
Unfortunately, I do have to make one comment as a man. I find strong women sexy – not just for the figure, or the muscles, or the physical strength – but more for the strength of character it takes to do what you all do. Powerlifting takes dedication and determination – and as women I see that you also have to go against societies views on what they say you should be doing and who they say you should be. That takes true strength and it is pretty damn awesome!
Keep it up women! Not that you need us, but your fellow powerlifters are behind you.
Stephanie Wimer says
I love your reply Brian! “Today’s differences are tomorrow’s norms” …YES!! 🙂
Julia Ladewski says
You’re beautiful, April! What a great post!
Holly Spicer says
I started power lifting about 7 years ago, and here, in my area, especially at that time women, by general opinion, didn’t DO that. I started because I was after 4 years of a regular gym routine, getting strong, but not as strong as I wanted. Despite the negativity around me, I dug my heals in and went for it anyway. As I got stronger, as I got bigger, comments went from me being ‘too skinny’ to, ‘careful, you’re going to look like a man!’ I hated it. I hated how it made me feel for the five minutes after each time a negative comment was directed at me. Who were they to have say in what I looked like? What gave them the feeling they had that control? I just wanted to be left, doing my thing. Couldn’t they just back off?
They day I hit my PR 350# deadlift, and followed it up 2 days later with my PR 175# backsquat, I felt AMAZING. I was a strong woman, pushing through, following my dreams. I had been blogging about my fit and active life for a year and had built a small, but dedicated following. I loved my body and how it looked (I did not like that I could not find a pair of jeans or a T-shirt that fit at all though). I was in a good place.
Until a man told me that I looked pathetic trying to play with the big boys. That I needed to go upstairs and do some cardio. I looked ‘gross’. For the first time ever, for more than a few seconds, I let myself become defeated.
I found a lot of stories very similar to mine on the web, through blogs, fitness sites, etc. Women like you, gave me that power to turn my back on the neagtivity that one last time and rise above. I have always been a rebel. Tell me I can’t and I will. And there is nothing I love more than having other, strong women, right there in my metaphoric corner, doing the same.
Keep kicking ass and doing your thing. You’re a true inspiration for not just all women out there, but anyone, period.
Erik Walker says
Great post April. Unfortunately, we still live in a society where both men and women want women to be small and weak — easily dominated.
Many men in society are insecure about their own strength — physically, mentally, and character. As men we are “taught” we need to dominate our women. But how do you dominate someone like April or Steph, or the rest of Strong Figure’s female audience? Since we are insecure about our own issues we tear down those around us — haters. Just look at Holly’s example above. Holly, that guy was intimidated by your strength. And not just your physical strength. It takes a strong character for a female to lift with the men. Holly’s hater was a weak man. He has been taught his whole life that men need to dominate their women but he knew in his mind he was a little bitch. How can he dominate this strong and inspired woman? The only way he knows…to tear you down.
Steph occasionally lifts at my gym. And she is as strong if not stronger than the majority of men who lift there. When she does deep back squats at 250+ she gets quite a few looks. The majority of men seem to be in awe and admiration but I have seen more than one dirty look from females. There is one girl from my gym that actually hates Steph so much (seemingly for being strong? or maybe for gaining the attention that she desires?) that ever since she saw that Steph and I were together, she has been rude to me as well. I guess you always hear that women hate on other women. I imagine this is some evolutionary thing? It really makes no sense for women to tear other women down. To me it seems like women should be tearing down the stereotypes and norms that are trying to keep women as little fragile wallflowers. I love the Strong Figure audience because the men are real men and the women are real women — strong, self-assured, powerful…all qualities that society typically connects to masculinity and not femininity. Myra, I love the part about you being an example for your daughters. You are right. And in addition to knowing what a healthy strong woman should look like they will know what a healthy strong woman is! After your guy friend tore you down, you didn’t stop, you overcame! Your daughters have such an amazing example of a true strong woman.
Thank you April for helping to tear down our stupid social norms — you are an amazing ambassador for Strong Figure and an amazing ambassador for women!