Body Image & Bodyweight in Weightlifting

by Jessica Salvaggio

Like most women, my weight fluctuates. Unlike the majority of women, I compete in a sport with weight classes. What I weigh and how much I lift determine how successful I am in this sport. When I eat the same consistently and still fluctuate, it causes some conflict with competition. Some days I'm 61kg, and some days I'm 57kg. I've always struggled with the decision between cutting weight and not feeling as good at the competition or moving up a weight class and having the disadvantage of being smaller than most of my competitors. Decisions are stressful, so lately I've been deciding on the fly. What will I be at nationals? I guess we'll see.

With the consistent weight fluctuation I've had my entire lifting career, I've developed this magic power where I can look at myself in the mirror in my Lulu bra and shorts and have a fairly accurate estimate of what I weigh. Even if that sounds like a blessing, it's actually a curse. I can look in the mirror and see I'm over my weight class (58kg). I see my belly isn't flat, I see my butt takes over the entire mirror, I see my hips desperately trying to rip through my Lulus. I have to remind myself the extra weight makes me stronger. I have to remember that just because I'm not built like Barbie doesn't mean I'm not beautiful. 

In competition, the numbers I hit aren't reflective of the numbers I hit in training. Why, though? Two kilos isn't that much weight to lose—it's basically a Starburst. It’s because that change in my body mass changes the way the bar feels on my chest and it changes how I move. I experimented lifting up in the 63kg weight class for a year last year, and I was stronger than I've ever been. In my head, though, my strength still wasn't good enough to be the lifter I wanted to be. I want to break records and make teams, and in my head, as a 63 that was an unrealistic dream. My confidence isn't high enough at that body weight. It could be that I don't like how I look as a 63, or it could be I don't like how I move or feel. I'm stuck in limbo. 

I used to say that if someone told me that if I gained 100kg I'd be an Olympic gold medalist tomorrow, I'd do it. My dreams are steep, they're heavy and they're enormous. Sometimes I have to say, "Jess, your dreams are bigger than the mirror you're looking into and they sure as heck don't care you're not 6 feet tall and 100lbs." Who defines what's beautiful anyway? The magazines? Last time I checked, Selena Gomez wasn't trying to win the Olympic Games, TMZ wasn't a national champion and Perez Hilton wasn't an American record holder. 

I fantasize daily about not caring what I weigh, that I could just train and eat and live without stress. I look at CrossFit girls’ bodies and think they look great, when in reality 99 percent of them weigh more than I do. What's it like for them to not really worry from day to day how much the scale says? Are they worried if they eat a whole tub of almond butter in one weekend that they're not going to make weight and have their entire year ruined because they didn't qualify for worlds? What's it like to sit down at a restaurant, look at the menu to order, and not weigh everything in your head first? What’s it like to not have to log every meal and take a picture of your portion sizes to send to your coach? 

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I just stopped thinking about it, trained my butt off, let my weight go where it wanted, and avoided mirrors for three months? Lydia Valentin is beautiful, and she's a 75kg lifter and an Olympian. Holley Mangold is gorgeous, and she's a super heavyweight and Olympian. I'm Jessica Salvaggio, and I can be too... Either as a 53, 58, 63 or 69. 

I truly believe beauty should defined by the person’s passion for what they love, not what's on the outside or what's on the scale. Even though I have to check my bodyweight on a daily basis, the number doesn't define me; what's on the bar when I lift it does.



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