A competitive cross-country and track runner, 21-year-old Californian-born Global Indian Nam Subramanian has been a sports enthusiastic since childhood. But it wasn't until her late teenage years that she discovered her true calling: weightlifting.
'iGlobal' caught up with the aspiring weightlifter to trace her journey and aspirations to compete professionally in a field not very commonly associated with young girls from an Indian background.
"Weightlifting is my place away from the world, where I can truly focus on myself without worrying about anyone else,” says Nam, who discovered her love for the sport during her college years.
“I was always fond of weightlifting, but I was hesitant to join as I was afraid to go alone and of doing something wrong. I also found it a bit odd to be looking at YouTube videos on how to lift.”
It was only in the second year of college, after her friend took up a class involving weightlifting, that Nam found the courage to join. “I jumped at the opportunity, with my friend teaching me how to use the equipment and how to squat with proper form and how to bench.”
Often the only female in the weightlifting room, Nam recalls: “Part of my motivation had to do with the power dynamics between men and women that are so common on campus and outside of campus.
“I wanted to show that females can weightlift, and I wanted to feel stronger - not to prove to anyone else but to show that having a small figure doesn't mean I am unable to defend myself and that whatever my size I am capable of lifting weights.”
In India, weightlifting has proven to be one of the nation's favourite sports, and globally female representation in the sport is not scarce. Yet gender discrimination and racial stereotyping around the sport still exists.
“When I started weightlifting, I noticed the comments and reactions from the Indian community. My grandma would say don't lift too many weights, or no one would want to marry you and aunties would comment on how my arms looked big.”
It was not just within the community that Nam would find herself battling discrimination, but also in the gym. “I have had many instances where men have made off-hand comments about me being there.”
Recalling one of the experiences she faced, Nam shares: “I was doing squats, and usually if someone's taking a turn after you, you ask them if they'd like you to take the weights or leave them on. And it's just an ego thing they will say oh no leave it on it's okay - but I am more than capable to take it off, it's just that I'm a female so they react differently.”
Eager to dismantle taboos around the sport and increase female representation in the sport, Nam takes every opportunity to encourage friends to join her in the weightlifting room. “Friends around me would make comments about how they didn't squat because they didn't want big thighs. Or how they didn't bench press because they didn't want to get too buff.”
Often these attitudes to body size are a result of cultural and societal pressures and something which Nam has experienced herself.
“Part of who I am is built to not care about what other people think, but I do sometimes think about how my body will look in the next few years. It was only just the other day that I came across this Indian female weightlifter who is super buff and looks amazing, that inspired me and made me feel a bit better - that it is okay to have a body that is against what society deems as desirable.”
by Preeti Bali
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