• The Fit Midwife

How Do We Become Empowered?

Empowerment….. Sometimes I think we overuse the word. Like it sometimes it feels like it has lost it’s meaning, it has become devalued. It gets an eyeroll from certain people. But if we have to “go on” about a subject repeatedly then it is because the message we are sharing isn’t commonly accepted. So I will continue to go on about it.

I thought I should talk about what an empowered woman is to me:

An empowered woman knows she matters. She has self belief, knows her worth, knows her thoughts and her voice has value. She has the confidence to make herself heard to those around her, no matter who that may be. She can achieve anything, be anything she chooses. She is unique and that is the root of her strength. She is powerful, determined, tenacious.

Coming about this empowered frame of mind is easier said than done though. It can be done many ways. For some people it is through academic achievement and knowledge. For others, it is as a result of self awareness that comes from a heartache or being let down by those most important to you, when you begin to get back pieces that they took from you. For some, it seems unachievable. But one way I can advocate for bringing it in to your life is through training and fitness. And once you realise your strength, it can be used in every part of your life.

There will be people who doubt what I am saying. I know that. I can throw so much evidence your way if that is what floats your boat. But I wanted to keep things slightly more real. More personal. It worked and is still working for me. You have heard the saying “Your mind wants to quit long before your body does”. And this is the truth. Training has changed my mental attitude as well as the dimensions and abilities of my body.

My poison is crossfit. I have drank the kool-aid, I’m in the cult… whatever. I’m in. And I love it. And this was my gateway for a change in myself. This started me on the course of becoming empowered. But of course, it is horses for courses. Whether you choose to swim, dance, run, cycle, do callisthenics, yoga (i could go on); you will have experienced a moment where you hit a wall. Physically. Whether it is a move you cannot do, pace you cannot reach, weight you cannot lift. If you haven’t, you will.

And what gets you over this wall? Your mind, your focus, your attitude. You take a step back, refocus, change your attitude, learn and approach it differently. If you can do this, in a training situation and overcome a physical barrier using your mind. Imagine what you can do in other areas of your life. This is how training can empower.

I see it in women having babies. Women who trained before and during their pregnancy view their body differently. They see it as a this incredible, strong body that grows and sustains human life, lifts weights, runs miles. They see the strength. And their minds don’t doubt this strength. They know it is not just reserved for the gym. It is transferrable. In to a labour room. A boardroom. A changing room. Wherever. These women, tend to have shorter labours, tend to cope with the pain better. They advocate for themselves. They trust themselves.

So maybe I should give you some idea of how training has empowered me. And for me it is down to crossfit. 4 years ago, when I walked in to my first box I hated how I looked. I smoked. I drank. I worked so many nightshifts. I have always been pretty confident in my work, my academic ability. I certainly took no prisoners in that respect. But that never seemed to stretch through in to other parts of my life. If I seemed confident, I often wasn’t.

I slowly began to learn how to move differently. To lift weights I hadn’t even considered before. I slowly became fitter, stronger, faster. I stopped smoking. Because feeling strong felt so good. I started thinking about what I could do to be better. What I could do to get over those barriers I seemed to hit every other day. I learned from my peers, from my coaches. And slowly I improved. So did my self belief. My self confidence. My ability to project myself and my thoughts in situations I perhaps previously wouldn’t.

I don’t know just when I became “empowered”. I just know I am. I have had moments when colleagues or friends have said to me, after listening to whatever outburst I am having, or personal drama I am venting about, “Nikki, the things you do in the gym…. you can deal with this person/man/situation”. And I can. Of course I can. I just use the same thought process that has been drilled in to me from my training. Reassess, refocus and try again, succeed.

I also feel better about myself. I would not have said that 18 months ago. I rarely step on a scale. I train in next to no clothing and I genuinely can say I don’t care what people may think. I know my worth. It isn’t dependent on the way I look. It has everything to do with how I feel. I feel great. I feel strong, healthy, formidable. I have become proud of what my body can do physically and that has strengthened me mentally. I have stood on the floor, in a competition, surrounded by people (my personal hell right there) and said to myself “You can do this. You will be ok”. And I have done this before I stepped on stage to speak. Before I have a difficult conversation with someone important.

This is what I was missing, all those years ago. The ability to realise what I do and say matters and to be able to vocalise this without fear of embarrassment or being dismissed. Because even if it happens, if people don’t respect my right to say and feel things, it shows me they are not empowered. They are not confident enough to hear another point of view, which is not my problem.

I want to add in some words here from my absolutely beautiful, intelligent and strong friend Lucy. She had some thoughts on this topic and asked if she could write them down for me. Naturally my answer was yes. I love hearing the words of strong women:

"‘It’s a cult’, ‘you’re going to be too muscly soon’ and ‘have you tried something a bit less extreme’. These are all things I hear on the regular since I started crossfit 3 years ago. Before you worry that this is another blog persuading you into wodding 8 days a week… it’s not. I’ve not always been a convert. I’m someone who briefly fell out of love with crossfit, and broke up with it altogether, and trained back through injury. I’m actually a big advocate of ‘pick the exercise you actually like doing.’, mine just happens to be crossfit.

However, as a 27-year-old woman alive in the world, I’ve felt really compelled recently to speak up about something that is really important to me, body positivity. I have to say, crossfit has been the vital ingredient in me being friends with my own body. I’m not lucky enough to be someone who can eat what I want, slack on exercise and stay a shape I’m happy with. If I have a McDonald’s or a glass of wine, I have to counter this with a few days of healthy eating – and I will always want to ‘lose half a stone’. Most of my friends are the same – we’re happy enough, but having a flatter stomach, perkier boobs or being a dress size down would be ideal.

Like a lot of women I know, I’ve fallen time and time again into the quick fix trap. I’ve done a juice cleanse (worked really well until I ended it with a pizza), intermittent fasting (I become the grouchiest person alive), 5:2 diet (doesn’t work when you leave the 2 off), and so much fasted cardio I can’t explain (apparently, I’m a fainter). Sometimes I did lose a few pounds, then they came back with vengeance – I felt rubbish, annoyed with myself, and no happier or body confident.

Then I started crossfit. Crossfit is hard. Some days I fail a weight, some days I cry doing double unders (my own personal nemesis), some days muscles that I didn’t know I had ache. However, my head feels so different. I noticed a few weeks ago, as I was putting my gym kit on that I wasn’t looking in the mirror holding my stomach in and thinking ‘2 more sessions and my size 10 skinny jeans might be a viable option’, I was actually thinking ‘I hope that today is really heavy squats – because my sturdy, strong legs, are good at that.’ This to me is a revelation.To me, exercise has always been a means to an end – that end was a certain weight or clothes size. I always judged success on this perfect size, and I always failed.

Now, after discovering crossfit, exercise is a way to get stronger, to blow steam off after a hard day at work – and a way to use this amazing, functional and strong body that I’m lucky to have. I come away from the gym feeling impressed with what I’ve done, feeling like I pushed myself, like I tried – but most of all, really happy. Crossfit makes me feel good. That, in a very long-winded way, is the point I’m trying to get across. In this climate of constant media exposure to ‘perfect’ bodies, the side bar of shame on some online publications, fitness gurus pushing diets and regimes on Instagram – I feel like we’ve forgotten the one of the key functions of exercise. Endorphins. The fact that exercise, and a healthy lifestyle, should make you feel happy, strong, healthy and content with the wonderful body you have. So, no I’m not pushing crossfit. Do literally any exercise you like, but make sure it makes you feel better about yourself, otherwise what is the point?

Told you she was great..... Another incredible aspect of using fitness and training to begin this journey is that you surround yourself with like minded people. I am surrounded by such incredibly strong women in my training environment and those I have met as a result of it. Your vibe really does attract your tribe. You begin to develop a strong support network. With people who have unwavering faith in your abilities and who have the desire to see you realise your goals and your potential. So by joining a class, getting a trainer, stepping out of your comfort zone with strangers you are already raising the bar in your own life.

And whilst this is just my story, my journey, I am not alone in using fitness and training to get here. I started unknowingly. And now I see where I have been. How far I have come. And now I want every other woman to experience this. To feel about themselves how they should. Appreciating what they have to offer and not being afraid to put it out there. Because as cliche as it sounds, we should be empowering each other. We should be lifting each other up.

Nikki xx

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