A Journey of Building Strength Inside and Out
A Journey of Building Strength Inside and Out
Julia Blandford: How would you describe your body?
Anastasia Stewart: I would say that I’m definitely above-average tall, and I’m a little bit lanky- in terms of being athletic. Other athletic girls tend to be a bit more stocky, and most of the time I kind of feel like a noodle compared to them. It’s strange because outside of the gym, people look at me and think that I’m probably athletic-looking, but inside of the gym and compared to other athletic girls, I sometimes fall on the skinnier side.
J: What are the things that you love about your body?
A: I’ve come to really like my abdomen area, I’ve been working really hard on it. I’ve really focused on eating right and eating enough, as well as doing ab exercises to get some definition. But yeah, I do like to wear a lot of cropped tops and things like that. I’m also starting to like my legs a lot more because I’m starting to build them up and get them more muscular.
J: Is there anything that you don’t like about your body, or something that you wish you could change?
A: Sometimes I really wish that I had bigger boobs. I’m so flat, and especially when you work out, you lose fat, and breast fat is oftentimes the first to go. So I’m incredibly flat-chested, so I feel like my lack of shape in the upper half of my body makes my lower half seem bigger. Honestly, I kind of feel like a wooden board.
“I don’t workout to look a certain way anymore. I just try to eat right and exercise, and whatever my body looks like, is how it’s gonna look.”
J: So what sort of struggles have you gone through in regards to your body image?
A: A lot. I have gone back and forth between wanting to be, like, heroine-chic thin, and wanting to be strong and athletic. My body has gone through a lot. I’ve probably gone from 145 pounds, down to 130 pounds, and then somewhere in-between. My weight is fluctuating all the time.
There are so many pressures from the outside world. You need to be thin for this reason, but on the other hand, you also want to be strong for another reason. I don’t workout to look a certain way anymore. I just try to eat right and exercise, and whatever my body looks like is how it’s gonna look. I focus now on how much I can lift, if I’m eating right, my endurance, or if I can squat more, or run more. I scale my fitness on my strength and endurance, rather than the way I look.
J: I know you’ve had a lot of struggles with mental health and depression, which is something that a lot of us go through. Do you think that those struggles took a physical toll on your body? If so, how has working out helped?
A: It’s like a teeter-totter with that. Some days, if my mental health feels really bad, I’ll lose my motivation and not want to go to the gym. I think that it honestly depends on my mental strength against my mental state. There are some days where I’ll let my mental state win me over, but then I have to think to myself, “Okay, well if I’m feeling this way, eating better and exercising will help me feel better.” Working out has definitely helped my mental health.
J: As a female who is tall and has an athletic build, what sort of comments have people made to you about your body?
A: It’s interesting to look at the people who give me compliments and I look at the people who critique my body. At the gym, there are girls who are definitely just starting on their fitness journey, and they’re like, “Oh my god, I wanna look like you.” But then there are some people that are way more into fitness than I am, and compared to them, I’m probably a twig. My coach back home calls me a noodle, or he’ll call me “Olive Oyl”, like from the Popeye shows, since I’m tall and lanky. Obviously, that’s all fun and games, so I’m not offended by it. I think it all depends on where the other person is coming from in terms of fitness. I do get compliments where someone in the gym says that they want to look like me, and that’s always astounding to me- it always makes me take a second to realize how far I’ve come.
“It hurt a lot to have someone tell me that I wasn’t good enough, or that I didn’t look the right way.”
J: With all of this focus on social media and celebrities, what are your thoughts on the expectations for women’s bodies nowadays? A: Oh my god, it’s everywhere. One thing that I’ve noticed is that people have become more open to body types, but every body type has standards that you have to meet. Skinny girls have to be wire-thin, and then curvy girls have to be like Nicki Minaj- you have to have a tiny waist and a big butt- and that’s a curvy girl. Ugh, I don’t even know! You have to look a certain way in order to have a certain body type, and if you’re not within those labels, then you’re a floater. I feel like I float, because I have people telling me that I’m a noodle, but then I have people telling me that I’m bigger, or more athletic-looking. I’m in the weird middle. There’s a lot of body positivity going on, but we’re labeling everything. Lots of girls still feel left out. It’s good for the girls that fit those labels, and it’s good that we’re talking more about different body types, but we’re really not there yet. There are still floaters out there, which is most of us, that feel left out from those body expectations. There are also people out there who are saying, “Oh, curvy girls are good, and skinny girls are bad.” It sucked that for a long time, people said that you had to be skinny to be beautiful, but now it’s flipped. People say that you can now be curvy and be beautiful, but skinny is now ugly.
J: On a side note, what happened at the fashion show last year? I heard that they cut you from the show because you were too “fat”? A: Yeah, they kicked me out, so I wasn’t allowed to walk in the show. I don’t know, I have theories as to why that happened, I think it was because I just wasn’t as skinny as the other girls. It really hurt, and it made me revert back to the mindset that I need to be wire-thin. It hurt a lot to have someone tell me that I wasn’t good enough, or I didn’t look the right way. Now I look back on it and I’m just like “whatever.”
“I’m gonna be here in the gym lifting lots of heavy weights, and I’ll have perfectly manicured nails while I’m at it.”
J: Do you think that there’s a stigma behind women who workout a lot, or have muscular builds?
A: Yes, there are a lot. A lot of people think that muscular women are butch, and some people think that we just workout to make a point. They think that we just want to prove that girls can be strong too, and that’s the only reason we’re working out. So many people think that muscular women are gross or masculine. No. I’m gonna be here in the gym lifting lots of heavy weights, and I’ll have perfectly manicured nails while I’m at it.
In the gym, girls have to be rock-solid muscular in order to get any respect from the guys there. I’ll walk into the gym, even the SCAD gym, and I’ll be the only girl in the free-weight room; guys will look at me like, “What are you doing here? The treadmills are over that way.” I’m just like, “Sorry, but I’m gonna be in here, and I’m gonna dead-lift some heavy shit.”
A lot of times you’ll max yourself out- like that’s how much you can lift for the day- sometimes you’ll fall down, and it’s embarrassing. One time, I fell down in the SCAD gym when I was squatting, and there had to be at least seven really muscular guys there, standing around doing nothing, and not one of them helped me up. They just let me struggle. I guarantee you that if I were a guy and I had fallen, someone would be like, “Ah bro, it’s okay. Let me help you put up these weights.” But no. They just watched me struggle. It was awful. As a girl, you have to earn your spot in the gym. Any guy can walk in there and get respect from guys. For girls, it’s like, “Yeah, we’ll let you in, but you have to be seriously strong.” It’s annoying because I don’t consider myself “seriously strong”, but I’m working hard and trying my best to work towards it; it’s just mean, it’s totally sexist.
“How I look really doesn’t matter anyway; the world isn’t going to explode if I don’t have six-pack abs. It’s gonna be okay.”
J: Before, you were super on-and-off between wanting to be super thin and super athletic. What changed? How did you learn to really start loving your body?
A: I think that I just got exhausted with myself. I got tired, I was always upset with myself, and that in itself is exhausting. I realized that I have a lot of other shit to deal with right now; I don’t have time to be sad about the way that my body looks. I just don’t. There are more important things that I have to work on. One day I was probably just crying, and then I looked at myself and was like, “I have shit to do. This is dumb. How I look really doesn’t matter anyway; the world isn’t going to explode if I don’t have six-pack abs. It’s gonna be okay.”
J: What would your advice be to girls who struggle with their body image, or even people who want to get into fitness?
A: For those who are struggling with body image, you can’t just ride off people complimenting you, saying “Oh, you’re so beautiful, you should be confident.” You really need to figure it out yourself, how to love yourself. It’s great to have outside support, and it helps to have people supporting you, but at the end of the day, it’s about you being ready to accept yourself. It’s really sad to see people not being able to for a long time. I think that as long as you’re being healthy, and you take care of yourself, then you’re okay. Some people don’t like working out, and maybe you prefer just going for walks- that’s totally fine. As long as you just strive to be happy, then I think, I hope, that your body positivity will really improve.
“At the end of the day, it’s about you being ready to accept yourself.”
Getting into fitness is definitely scary at first. Especially for girls, there’s like a wall in the gym- it tends to be all about whether you can be a respected gym rat or not. To be respected in the gym, as a female, is really difficult. You have to go through a lot of disrespect from men, like when I fell and no one helped me up. For those who want to get into going to the gym, it can be really hard at first. I call it a “fitness journey”, because that’s really what it is. It’s not just something that you can pick up and immediately be great at, it takes time. Especially if you’ve never really worked out, and you all of a sudden want to get really strong- that’s not going to happen right away. It’s a long road, and it can be pretty discouraging, how long it takes. I have been a serious, competitive athlete since I was about eleven years old, and I’m still not even close to where I eventually want to be in fitness. It helps to make smaller, short-term goals. When you work really hard for six months, and you’re still nowhere near where you want to be, it can be really discouraging. You just have to keep going, and not give up so quickly.
Also, don’t become so strict with yourself that you forget who you are as a person, and forget how to let loose and have fun. There are people out there who workout for three hours a day, and all they eat is brown rice, ground beef, and broccoli. That will get you to where you want to be faster, but you won’t be happy. If you’re on your way to class and you see a danish, and you’re like, “Damn, that looks like a really good danish”, then get the danish! It’s all about balance and being happy.
J: If you could give one message to girls who want to be strong, but are afraid of what other people will think, what would it be?
A: Fucking do it. That’s it, really. Just work your ass off, and don’t listen to the shit that people have to say. And if you start to get muscular and people make negative comments, just be like, “I’m just lifting a lot of heavy shit.” You just have to go for it.
“Just work your ass off, and don’t listen to the shit that people have to say.”
Photos courtesy of Peter Chrzan