By Poorna Bell
Synopsis from the book cover
Now a competitive amateur power-lifter who can lift 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 succeed 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. Stronger will change what you think you know about strength and, most importantly, empower you to go on your own journey to discover what strength looks like for you.
I loved Stronger. Poorna has written a powerful and accessible book about women’s relationship with strength and movement. There were so many parts of the book that made me want to jump up and shout “yes” and then crack on with my next exercise session, whether that be walking my dogs or the latest in a long line of rehabilitation sessions.
Poorna writes about all the ways in which women have been held back when their natural inclination may well have been to become strong. Whether that’s because of the messages that girls are given about PE and sport in school, or the male dominated and intimidating gyms that are unwelcoming, many women have negative feelings about being strong. And there’s also the issue of putting on muscle being seen by society as unfeminine, rather than a positive and necessary attribute for women, especially as middle age approaches.
Poornas’s premise is that physical and mental strength for women are tightly interwoven, It’s possible to have one without the other, but together they help to build a foundation from which we can operate at full strength in every aspect of our lives.
I really enjoyed the passages about moving our bodies purely for the fun of it, rather than to lose weight. Topping up on endorphins and fuelling our bodies for activity, rather than cutting down and counting calories. Poorna writes about intuitive eating could be the way forward by understanding our bodies and learning how much and when to eat.
There are chapters on diet culture, mental health, illness, periods, menopause and exercising in later life, among other subjects. Throughout the book, Poorna’s strength story is interspersed with inspiring stories of women from so many sectors of society, all describing how they interact or don’t with exercise and activity. Poorna ran a survey of 1,043 girls and women to discover our experiences and influences around physical activity throughout our lives. The findings are scattered throughout the book and make for fascinating reading.
I remember messaging Poorna when I’d finished reading Chapter Six which is about how she met Jack, her power lifting coach and became her strongest self through power lifting. That chapter really resonated with me – I found it so exciting and inspiring. It’s not just about the physical part of lifting though. It’s also about how lifting helped Poorna recover from her crushing emotional trauma. There’s also the community of lifters that Poorna became part of – the solidarity and support system and friendship. These are such a huge part of finding strength.
However you move, and even if you don’t right now, there will be a part of this book that will resonate with you. It may even inspire you to put on your trainers and go out for a walk in the sunshine.