Strong, not skinny.

This morning I woke up to see yet another woman being attacked with horrendous abuse and rape threats on Twitter. My first reaction was despair. “Not again. Will this never stop?” Before I made myself feel defeated by ignorant morons, I got down on my floor and did some push-ups. I ended up doing 100, not in a row, in total. I may do more later. I don’t normally do push-ups every morning, but today I wanted to, needed to feel strong.

Until two and a half years ago, I had hardly ever done a push-up before. Maybe the odd one in PE class at school. Probably on my knees…

In spring 2011, I got a personal trainer. My youngest son was 2 years old and though I was going to the gym to do some weights and a bit of time on a (fucking) treadmill, my abdominal muscles were still basically useless. I was completely incapable of sitting on my bum and lifting my legs so my body was in a V shape, even for one second.


After I had my first son in my 20s, my body just popped right back into shape. Having a baby at nearly 40 was a much harder strain on my body… I wanted someone to help me get fit again so I wouldn’t be stranded on my back like a turtle, rocking back and forth to try and get out of bed.

Right away my trainer got me doing push-ups. Proper ones. No knees. At first, I could only do a couple at a time. OK. Maybe one. Now I can probably do 20 at a time. Maybe 30. Yea. I could probably do 30… Wait. I’m going to go try. One sec… OK. 34. That’s after the 100 I did earlier.

Sometimes she has me do push-ups with a weight under one hand which I lift at the top:

Sometimes she has me do atomic push-ups with a TRX:

I do all kinds of push-up variations: arms wide apart, hands touching together, one foot off the ground, both feet up on a park bench.

Now, after two and a half years of interval and boxing training, I am in better shape than I’ve been in my adult life. I’m in better shape than I was when I ran a marathon. I’m in better shape than I was when I rode my bicycle an hour a day. I’m in better shape than I was when I was a stone and a half (20lbs) lighter than I am now.

I am in better shape because I am strong.

This physical strength has given me mental strength and a physical confidence that I’ve never had before. By “physical confidence” I don’t mean that I think my body is “superhawt”, I mean that having a bit of strength in my arms AND knowing how to throw a punch properly has made me feel less physically vulnerable than I did before. You know, vulnerable from being physically attacked by “men”.

I’m not saying I could beat a man in a fight, but I could definitely land a well executed punch to an attacker’s face and get the fuck out of there while he deals with the pain of a dislocated jaw. I know I could do that. And that is a great feeling.

A couple months ago I was in a cafe and a “crazy guy” decided he was going to go “crazy” at me for no reason at all. He started shouting at me. Shouting. Shouting. I turned away. He kept shouting. I turned and looked straight at him, right in the eye. Stared him down. He still was shouting, but I didn’t feel afraid. I turned my back on him. He came up behind me and slammed his fist down on my left hand which was resting on the countertop. My first instinct was to make a fist with my right hand and power up for a punch. I didn’t punch him. I turned to him again before the staff removed him. I had never, ever in my life instinctually prepared to punch anyone before. I felt physically confident for the first time.

I used to hate “gym bunnies” and the idea of “working out”. Even at my skinniest, I wasn’t skinny. I was so thin I got bruises on my hips when I slept and I was a (UK) size 10. With “healthy” thighs. I was never going to be a size zero nor even have a svelte silhouette so what was the point of doing some stupid aerobics class?

Now, however, I just want to be strong, healthy and fit. What does that look like? Well, I’ve got a six pack… I’m sure I do, somewhere, I guess it’s hidden there under the jiggly bits. And my thighs are still rather meaty…

This photo from the book, Athlete by Howard Schatz and Beverly Ornstein shows you what strong, healthy and fit looks like. These women are all professional athletes- one’s a basketball player, one’s a gymnast, one’s a weightlifter… and they all look different.


Strong, healthy and fit looks exactly like you do, if you are strong, healthy and fit. You don’t need to be skinny. You don’t need to be sporty. You don’t need a six pack… And nothing is stopping you becoming strong, healthy and fit. You just need to start…

So, if you’ve never done a push-up before, try one right now. A proper one. No knees. Just one. Down as far as you can, even if you just slightly bend your arms, then up again. Just one. Do one every day, until you can do two… and then three…

6 Replies to “Strong, not skinny.”

  1. Thank you! I needed that! I’ve never managed more than one push-up at a time, but you’re right! It’ll just take a little effort! I’m going to stop being a wuss and bloody practise until I’m strong! :)

  2. I started to push the strength side nof my ashtanga yoga to the limits for this reason…the feeling of being “vulnerable from being physically attacked by “men””
    Doesn’ t sound much when I say it’s yoga, but we kind of start with something like the atomic push-up (great tip, by the way)
    Thanks for the text, for sharing the story, it’s nice to know more women overcome this vunerability feeling ang transform it in a feeling of being strong.

    p.s: I actualy had the chance of punching someone in the face, was kind of cruel because I had a piece of metal between my fingers, but I was alone on the street and had to use everything,… that was enough for him to run away.

  3. Thank you for this inspiring read. Going to do my push up…. I did it! That was tough. But when I feel better, I will do another one. I’m turning 40 this year, and I’ve only ever felt strong one time in my life when I had to do core exercises for my back. Not really strong, but I had a glimpse of it. I want that again. But better. Thanks for the reminder that I can do it if I want it. And I really want it!

  4. I’m six foot one and for most of my life I’ve got instant hostility from short men because I make their winkies feel inadequate or something. Sometimes standing my ground is the right thing to do but more often just walking away is – not because I feel weak but because I am confident enough to take control of the situation and opt out of the scenario they are trying to force on me.

    I’ve been going to the gym forever and one thing I’ve learnt is that even though I’m fairly strong for a woman, even a small man is stronger than me.

    Yes, being fit and strong can make you feel more confident, less of a victim, but it’s really important that strength doesn’t make you over-confident. Ask any club bouncer, the best thing to do is to defuse a situation and if you can’t, then back off. You still have to be vigilant when you’re out at night and in any confrontation no matter how strong you are. Learning a whole range of self-defence tactics, some physical, some verbal, will help you protect yourself.

    I really don’t want to sound negative as it is really important for women to feel confident about their bodies and in society. But always balance confidence with pragmatism.

    PS I’m impressed with 100 press-ups – I can’t do them as my rotator cuffs don’t work properly, damn it.

  5. Tessa, I totally agree, though having the strength and a bit of knowledge on how to physically defend oneself is 100 times better than not.

    When I was 16, I was walking down a street somewhere in France with my mother and a man came up behind me and grabbed me between the legs from the back. I turned around and without thinking slapped him. He slapped me right back… Oh, if only I’d known how to jab, cross then…

    As LauraB pointed out, all you need is to stun someone for a moment so you can get the hell out of there. They won’t be expecting it…

  6. Bear in mind that if you punch someone in the face you’re very likely to do serious harm to your hand – aim for the solar plexus and put your weight behind the punch. Kneeing someone in the groin is not really an option for me as I’m so tall most groins are too low down to get the full swing in! Yelling loudly right in someone’s face can stun them for a moment especially if you can make some sort of weird animal/non-human sounding noise. They’re expecting a victim response, so any kind of shock tactic can work to control the situation.

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