Now a competitive amateur power-lifter who can lift over twice her own bodyweight, Poorna Bell is perfectly placed to start a crucial new conversation about women’s strength and fitness, one that has nothing to do with weight loss. In Stronger, she describes how taking up weightlifting after the death of her husband helped her to find the confidence that physical pursuits can amplify – the confidence that has been helping men to suceed for centuries – and that women can find too.
In these pages, Poorna centres the stories of a diverse range of women, investigating intersections of race, age and social background. Part memoir, part manifesto, Stronger explodes old-fashioned notions and long-held beliefs about getting strong, and explores the relationship between mental and physical strength.
Thank you firstly to Book Break for sending me this book, an inspiring story that explores predominantly women and strenght but actually the pervasive notion of white male dominance and all others having to work around this and ‘fit into’ a society shaped for them.
Am I making sense? Well Poorna Bell is an amateur powerlifter, she talks eloquently about women’s strength; physical and mental and the dynamic between the two. She talks about being physically strong and the strength she has achieved through powerlifting. She reflects on how this is not consistent to being female, in terms of society’s expectations. As she unpicks this it is hard to see any alternative but a need for women to be weak. She refers to unsolicited comments about her body, framed as compliments, ‘you look great but you don’t want to build more muscle’ and insults, ‘are you growing a dick’.
Her book starts with PE, she recalls the trauma of gym pants – who else remembers them? But the attire, the sports and the dialogue, her recollections resonated with me, I quite liked PE but it did nothing to guide me to a path of lifelong fitness and exercise. Gyms, are they welcome spaces? The ‘gym body’ the epitome of health, but is it really? Is it true that plus sized is always unhealthy and why does this draw such explicit judgement compared with smoking, alcohol… the list goes on. Mental health, disability, BAME, LGBQT and age are all considered in their inability to ‘fit’ into the spaces that promote exercise. The book offers helpful examples of the need for people to see themselves reflected in places and how oppressive this can feel when they are not. We hear a lot about this, the need for diverse representation in film, tv and literature, but the gym example of slim, young white women is helpful.
This book is powerful and enlightening, things I hadn’t previously considered sparked a lighbulb moment, it is intelligent and thoughtful and I found it to be inspiring and motivating.
Thank you to the publisher for the gifted copy of this wise book. My non fiction read for April is definitely one I will be recommending.
About the Author
Poorna Bell is an award-winning freelance journalist of fifteen years and a digital editorial expert, having previously worked as UK Executive Editor and Global Lifestyles Head for HuffPost. She freelances for The Times, The i paper, Grazia, The Guardian, Red magazine, and Stylist among others.