Athleticism & Femininity Interview (read time 11:48)
Strong isn't always a word associated with femininity. We're told, as women, we need to be one or the other. Physically strong and bulky or masculine, maybe even "tough" or we get to be dainty and elegant with a slight figure. As the world changes and women fight for their place in powerlifting and other strength sports, where is that medium of feeling beautiful and elegant as well as strong and confident?
I've had a lot of time to think about this (curtesy of my recent but short stint of living alone. You have a surprising amount of thinking time when you live alone.) Which lead me to my conversation with Gia, the founder of The EYC Blog.
Gia Mule is an incredibly strong woman, in all senses of the word. She is leading the way for strong women to grab hold of their femininity through her work at The EYC Blog, a blog for lifters by a lifter.
Q. (The I gotta do it question) When did you start your blog and what was your mission behind it?
A. TheEYCBlog is still so new, we went live this past November. It was my second attempt [at a blog], I tried to launch ActinTough two years ago, which wasn’t well planned. I scrapped it and went back to the drawing board. I now have a mission, which is to provide a source for powerlifting information, for women and by women. So we don't have to wonder "is this for us, or will my body behave differently.
There is still virtually no information available to the woman who wants to resistance train and understand it. Most resources feature ‘roided out bros (I'm sorry but GymShark, calling you out.) or querying “for women” provides nothing but Bosu balls and pilates. Nothing against Bosu balls and pilates! It's cool, but not always what you’re looking for.
If we make research-driven data and information about heavy resistance training more available to women, maybe the stigma of powerlifting being a "manly" or "masculine" sport will dissipate the way it did with the Olympic lifting community.
Q. What got you interested in Powerlifting?
A. I’d been low-key resistance training since high school, but it was unstructured and had no progression mechanisms or programming at all, really.
I met some powerlifters in college who took me under their wing and I just kinda started following what they were doing. They were prepping for a competition, my boyfriend wanted to compete, he said if he hit a certain deadlift he’d do it. I hated not being part of what was going on, so I deadlift-ed that day, too.
A Monster deadlift PR (this is a good thing) a gym regular offered to coach me, and I just decided to compete that day and haven’t stopped.
Q. Do you find yourself struggling to feel more feminine the stronger you get?
A. I think it’s less a problem of how strong I get vs the mindset you need to get into to get that strong if that makes sense.
As a beginner lifter make gains or sees changes from literally any kind of training. These are the "newbie gains" they are your body reacting to the new movement you're asking it to do. Now, not that I’m advanced by any means, but I need a more structured approach, with my programming, my diet, and my lifestyle.
During competition prep, I track every macro, I don’t drink at all, I have a strict bedtime, my training is front and center for me every single day, priority #1
You’re also usually eating like, a lot (unless you’re at the top of your weight class) to keep yourself fuelled and that challenges the traditional ideals of womanhood, especially if you’ve gotten stuck in diet culture in the past.
Part of what really messes with your brain and feeling feminine is that training takes away those classically feminine traits. Like looking for low calorie options or going on dates.You kind of have to dissociate from being a “person” at that point, every single thing is powerlifting and because it’s such a male dominated space, too, you have no one else to identify with but your bros going through the same prep.
It is hard to only have men to compare yourself to or to compare your lifestyle too. When you come out of prep, you loosen up and realize you don’t know how to act anymore. That you've lost this sense of "girl brain" and don't really know how or where you fit in.
After my last competition is really when I felt like I lost my feminine side, and I had no competitions down the road so I needed that alternative identity, or rather, I needed to rediscover my old one.
Keeping that strict athlete mindset for too long is detrimental for anyone, male or female, for a number of different reasons.
Q. How do you balance feeling feminine while also feeling strong? Which can be seen as a more masculine trait.
A. Clothing. I used to think that was a silly answer (we do not think that.) and I thought female athletes who promoted these little floral sports bras were selling out. DAMN I was wrong. It’s probably the universal way for someone to define themselves, period. Whether you’re chasing a feminine identity or any other identity. How you dress influences how you feel, but also what you present to others, which is going to influence how they perceive you. When you have the gym bro attitude with a slammin’ ‘fit and maybe some mascara, it’s the most powerful combo. Some people won’t even know how to act around you, (which I secretly, not so secretly love) you look like you got it all, you have your cake and you eat your cake and it’s damn good cake, too.
Q. How is The EYC Blog different?
My focus is driven by 3 tenants:
“Finding the strongest version of you” -> A lot of women don’t realize that having strength or performance-based goal will often help reach their aesthetic and size goals; more importantly, this style of goal setting has been found to lead to greater feelings of success, competence, and satisfaction overall, meaning you’re stronger physically but also mentally. It’s the concept of mental toughness, though there’s no real definition for that.
“Annihilating diet culture” -> this plays into what I mentioned about eating during prep. Traditional diet culture is about less, less less, and if you’re skimming research you may see that the average woman often requires less calories a day than the average male. That’s likely not true if you’re an athlete, especially a strength athlete. Even as a powerlifter, I look at food and traditional diet culture echoes in my head like, “do you really want that much pasta? How about some extra broccoli instead.” Don’t get me wrong, mama loves broccoli, but shifting the idea from “we need less food” to “how do I fuel this beautiful machine to complete this activity” is step 1. Step 2 is transitioning from “I need to run everyday for my dream body and if I hate running I’ll never get my dream body” to “what activities do I like and how can I do more of them during my days.” Cardio is a great way to get into a caloric deficit, but if you hate running - DON’T RUN. Lifting weights may burn less calories in the moment, but it can still help you get to your deficit, and in the long run, will lead to physique changes and increased total daily energy expenditure that can often give you the aesthetic goals you’re looking for as a byproduct. I think a lot of bigger women, in particular, think “I’ll get to my goal weight, then I’ll start training” as if they don’t go hand in hand. I did. And I see that athlete’s that look AMAZING and I wanna look like that, but they were slender before lifting, so I thought I had to start there too. I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been, but I feel the best I’ve felt, too. I’m in the best cardiovascular shape of my life, too, even with my stretch marks and belly.
“Show ‘em what it means to do it like a girl” -> there was a campaign a few years ago where they were like “throw like a girl” and “run like a girl” and it was just women kicking a$$ at their sport. I like that. The fact that we use “like a girl” as an insult is so outdated and lame. Even in powerlifting, some of the guys I interact with tell me my lifts are good for a girl and everyone has to start somewhere. Someone actually said that to me because I was on a de-load week so I was deadlifting like 60% of my max and I felt sad because I’m an ego lifter at heart and I like big pulls. He was like, “hey that’s still pretty good for a girl, you gotta start somewhere, you’ll get there” and my jaw dropped. Homie, what if that was my max? How freaking disrespectful is that, what if I walked up to him and was like “Oh that 315 squat is pretty good, we all start somewhere. I remember squatting 315. I do 350 now. You’re pretty good for a skinny guy, though!” He’d be appalled (Probably through in the word, "audacity"), and anyone who heard me say that would think I was a huge douche. But telling a woman everyone’s gotta start somewhere is encouragement, not disrespect. And that stigma keeps women away from the sport.
So that got way off topic, but I think the root of everything I want to accomplish is breaking the barrier between the sport of powerlifting and traditional feminine ideals by providing research-backed information. I keep repeating that, and I’m sorry, but I do use peer reviewed literature and textbooks from my exercise science courses when I’m creating content for the blog. Which is a whole other issue, because there’s a lack of research for some resistance training topics on healthy adults, but even more so on healthy female adults. One example is creatine. A lot of women drop out creatine studies because they’re afraid it’ll lead to weight gain through water retention. The current belief is that you’ll only experience weight gain due to water retention if you go through a loading phase, but small sample sizes of females in research leave gaps on how the female body responds and if there are any differences than how males do. I went on a tangent, but I think all of that together drives me to keep educating both myself and the masses. (That one got a bit too sciency for me)
Q. How do you define your style as an athlete?
A. I asked my partner this and his first word was “dark.” I’m very monochrome, haha. But for real, I’ve recently discovered that my style is multi-faceted. You helped me get to that point, actually. (blushing) So in the gym in particular, I think what I try to go for is “commanding.” I like dark clothes, recently I like more form-fitting clothing. If you read my post on femininity and athleticism (link here), you know I talk about these little tiny spandex shorts that I bought. I love them. They’re a huge part of my gym style now because it highlights my femininity, my bad-on-ka-donk, y'anno what I’m saying? (WE DO!) But it’s functional, and with a long-ish, dark shirt I feel powerful. My quads are on display, that’s why.
Outside of the gym, I think I’m either in my gym clothes (I’m sorry I know I know this is what I’m working on LOL) or sort of a soft grunge? Not really, I just wear very ripped jeans and I have a skeleton tattoo on my thigh that I show off. I like crops, high rise, cute boots and Keds. Definitely though I like a bit of a badass vibe still. Very rarely would I describe my outfit as soft or girly. But that doesn’t mean it’s not feminine!!!! Hell yeah it doesn't mean it's not feminine!
Q. What tips would you give to someone looking to get started in their fitness journey?
A. Just do it. Don’t worry about planning it, if you’re really just getting started don’t kill yourself to get the diet and exercises perfect. Don’t worry about “traditional” exercise if that’s not your jam. Find an activity you LOVE - walking, running, dancing, powerlifting - and find time to do more of it. If you’re starting in a commercial gym, you may feel uncomfortable with the amount of people there. Just know that everyone’s too focused on themselves to notice you. Even the person who appears to be rude and douchey and the ego lifter king of the gym type of vibe - he’s too into making himself look “cool” to worry about you. You owe yourself the same mentality. Do it for you, and that’s that. If you do want to get into powerlifting, I recently started a YouTube channel and the first video actually was why you should try powerlifting. Feel free to check it out, here's the link .
Q. What is one thing you wish people would ask you more?
A. This is an AMAZING question. And also really hard. Truthfully, I wish people would ask me who my inspiration is more often, just so I can talk about them more. It’s shifted through the years, but I love Cameron Brown AKA @thepowerfulpeach. Cameron, if you’re watching, hi, ‘sup, I love you, and your hair is always flawless. If you don’t know Cameron, she’s a 63 kg American record holding powerlifter, she provides excellent memes on her IG stories. She’s recently started talking about powerlifting as a woman from her perspective.
The woman who inspired me from the very beginning is Meg Gallagher aka @Megsquats. Her mission is to get a barbell in every woman's hands and she’s so successful and determined. Always looking for a way to better serve the women who follow her. I don’t want to bore you guys with my fan-girling but Meg is a literal icon and if you don’t follow her, you should. She’s also the queen of the Powerlifting YouTube game, her content is awesome and informative and fun. 12/10, really.
Q. What’s the next big thing you want to accomplish with your blog?
A. I want to become a CSCS (certified strength and conditioning specialist) and open a small coaching business, specifically for female powerlifters. I think another industry gap is female coaches, though that is rapidly changing. I want to be a part of that solution, so the next step is to get certified so I’m qualified to do so. I think there’s an art to coaching someone, and learning to interact with strangers on an intimate enough level to write an effective program for them. I wouldn’t be comfortable offering services to ANYONE until I’ve at least formally learned that art.
This conversation was so good and got me personally thinking more about my athletic women and what they struggle with and how we can effect change by having it start from us. The more we, the consumer ask to see change, the more the industries will listen.
If you have your own thoughts on femininity and athleticism, or how you're able to feel both strong and feminine please feel invited to leave us a comment!