Long ago I used to flip through Vogue magazines and idolize the models on the cover; their airbrushed faces, perfectly put-together outfits and symmetrical features left me in awe. I would make collages of the beautiful photos and hang them around my room. This kind of cut and collected beauty was what I, along with many other young women, determined to be ideal. As these unrealistic body standards are being spread throughout the media, it is so common for our perception of the “ideal” body to be shaped by our accessible sources. Magazines have created a look that everyone wants, yet only some can achieve. Little did I know that an entry into the fitness world would completely transform my concept of beauty. With experience and a plethora of new skills I learned in the gym, I realized that creating an imperfectly perfect, strong and vibrantly beautiful cover is much more valuable than an airbrushed one. I realized that with some time and patience, you can truly create the strongest and healthiest version of yourself.
It wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I began to set my own personal goals and focus on being accepted to the University of Michigan. Along with academics, I began to try and elevate my life through physical and mental wellness. My brother, who is now a licensed personal trainer, inspired me with his own physical changes. He started weightlifting and completely changed not only his fitness routine but his diet, health and mindset. I was motivated to learn more from him and create my own plan. Soon enough I was meal prepping, tracking my progress in the gym and even feeling a sense of craving for my after-school lifts. I stopped caring about dieting my way to the magazine-ready physique that I once idolized in Vogue and focused instead on my newfound strength. At first, the process seemed so contradictory to everything I knew about fitness. It was no longer about shrinking but about growing. It was about fueling and pushing — overcoming the challenge to set goals bigger than myself.
The transition into weight lifting has made an immense impact on my life. Lifting weights has not only increased my self-confidence but changed my perspective on life, both mentally and physically. A step into this new journey has initiated a new era: a fitness-filled journey of improvement. I encourage others to take their own improvement measures rather than conforming to the set ways of society. Lifting is my go-to way for changing not only my body, but my mind as well.
There are many positives to weightlifting beyond just merely getting stronger. It is shown that strength training progressively lowers your stress and improves your self-esteem. You can kick off your day with a feeling of accomplishment and control. This is vital because as the mind and body are connected, your physical being has a lot to do with your self-perception. Moving forward, on the internal side, strength training can improve a low mood or dampen feelings of depression and worthlessness. Interestingly enough, weight lifting even has more long-term effects than a cardio workout. Cardio can be beneficial but when it comes to long-term progress, weights take the title. In a study comparing resistance training, aerobic exercise and no exercise, weight lifting appeared to have the largest effect on reducing anxiety. The feeling of overcoming challenges and working toward set goals improves your self-esteem. Lastly, seeing and feeling new progress leads to a boost of confidence.
Scientists refer to this effect as “neuroplasticity.” This means that the increase in hormones from exercise can physically change the structure of the brain for the long haul. This effect of neuroplasticity can physically change the structure and function of your brain to create a long-term alteration in hormones to become a healthier and happier version of yourself. On the same brain wave, heavy lifting allows your brain to create more neurons to store memory. It also reduces inflammation which can contribute to reducing the vulnerability for diseases such as dementia and other neurodegenerative conditions. So whether there are gains or not, the takeaway from lifting is a lasting change. On the physical side, weight lifting helps create more definition and burn body fat, especially over time. Compared to cardio, strength training is better at helping people lose body fat. Although cardio burns both fat and muscle, weight lifting burns strictly fat. Take that, holiday weight gain!
Throughout my entire process of learning the ins, outs and arounds of health and fitness, I have aimed to inspire others. As a fitness guru, health leader and wellness “influencer” with the username @Madz_4_fit, my experience in the gym is something I continue to work on each day. It has allowed me to grow as a person and seek new meanings behind the superficial things that we accept as a society; from diet culture to calorie counting and everything of the sort, I have learned so much about my body and leading with internal rather than external desires.
My break from the common path to cycle through rigorous cuts/bulks, and workouts was not something I achieved on my first day out. It was something I pushed through as a timid and curious learner about the whole weight lifting experience and lifestyle. Those first couple times at the gym were scary, but it’s safe to say building up to this point was worth it. I had to trust the process and my new inner faith with a long-term commitment to the lifestyle. The power and potential I feel now to try new things? Much more than the cost it took to go a path less traveled. It was no longer the vision to mold myself into anyone else, a beautiful fashion model on the cover or not. It was about the process to see what I personally could do when I put my mind to it. With fuel, motivation, inspiration and always a sense of hope, I could see beyond the picture-perfect qualities. I could see myself as a newly strong and fierce woman, tackling her goals one barbell at a time.
Maddie Wein is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.