Lifting weights can make you physically stronger, sure. But Brooklyn resident Shannon Wagner believes it can also help you to fight oppression, survive challenges and emotional upheaval, and build community.
In early 2017 Wagner founded the Women’s Strength Coalition in the belief that being stronger is necessary in resisting oppression, and the theory that strength training can be personally healing and politically transformative for marginalized people and communities. Today, less than a year later, WSC is a small but robust network of 50 lifters with affiliated gyms in eight cities. They’re a community of women (cis and trans) and nonbinary people who lift weights not only to get stronger physically, but to build personal and community power. Many of them also compete in the three lifts that make up the sport of powerlifting — bench press, deadlift, and squat.
BuzzFeed Health asked 12 WSC members to tell us how lifting has changed their relationships to themselves and their bodies, and supported and enhanced their passion for social justice.
Those tangible moments of growth are what make me confident when I approach the platform on competition day, or when I head into a business meeting with a client, or when I’m making a decision at home as a family.
The experts who treated me told me that I would never powerlift again, but this only strengthened my resolve to get back to the gym as fast as possible.
Being an openly queer woman of color in the powerlifting community is quite the experience. I never step away from my identity as a brown queer woman or my LGBTQ rights and feminist advocacy. That does not turn off the moment I step into the gym.
Building physical strength is an extension of what happens inside.
We have taken this concept even further by building a community of empowered, body-positive, and strong individuals through our company Beefpuff Barbell.
Getting used to the gym environment was not always fun. Guys would take a squat rack I was using. They would even take weights off of my bar when I would go to get a drink from the water fountain. It was like I was invisible.
Our mission is to build stronger communities through increased access to strength training.
Regardless of how I present now, I continually feel strong, lovable, and comfortable taking up the space my body and feelings need at a given time.
The day I planned on going through with my suicide, I deadlifted 185 pounds.
When you approach the bar knowing that you are preparing to lift some really heavy weight, you have to approach it with confidence, resolve, and determination.
The stronger and healthier we are, the more connected we are, the more empowered with resilience, patience, and awareness we are, the more compassionately and energetically we can collaborate for healing and justice.
Women’s Strength Coalition’s next goal is to open their first nonprofit space in New York City — People’s Strength Coalition — for cis and transgender women, and LGBTQ individuals. You can learn more and donate here.
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