This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What’s your Substack about in one sentence?
She’s A Beast is a newsletter about being strong physically, mentally, and emotionally.
What inspired you to start writing about weightlifting, and what sets your publication apart from other fitness advice?
One of the things that sets me apart is that I made this transition from having a totally antagonistic and guilt-based experience with working out and eating food to actually liking and enjoying them. I think most fitness people have always “gotten it,” and their job is to work with people who already have some motivation. But something like 80% of people don’t work out, so if the advice is focused on people who are already in the door, it isn’t speaking to most people.
But because I went from one end of the spectrum to the other, I know it can be done, and I know what helped me to finally stop treating my physical self like this weird inconvenience. I think there is so much to unearth there that would really build the connective tissue between how we conceive of our physical existence and what we do to enable it. I’m always saying: My body is where I live 100% of the time, and I am trying to make it nice and as enjoyable and frictionless as possible.
I’m also interested in what informs our conception of health and hotness, which is where the cultural criticism part comes in. Almost all of what informed the ways I treated myself badly throughout adulthood came from magazines and movies and TV, and I imagine people today are largely getting it from Instagram and YouTube and TikTok. We also do all kinds of assuming and emulating based on what people look like or the plates of fruit they are standing next to or the boxing gloves they are wearing, and marketing absolutely encourages that. But there is a massive information gap that the weight-loss industry works to its advantage, which gives me a lot to process and debunk.
My body is where I live 100% of the time, and I am trying to make it nice and as enjoyable and frictionless as possible.
What did your personal journey toward becoming a “swole woman” look like?
Before I started lifting, I was circling the drain of constant dieting and cardio. I thought about food constantly and had ongoing guilt about eating this or that food, or never working out enough, and never being small enough. I felt bad but wasn’t even aware of how bad I felt because it was so normalized; I thought this was just what being an adult woman was. Dieting and weight loss defines most of our understanding of our bodies and exercise and food, not because that’s correct but because there’s just overwhelming and aggressive marketing that pounds it into our brains.
But then along came lifting weights, where the directives were like: You are supposed to eat. You are supposed to rest. Your workouts don’t have to be long and meaningless slogs for the purpose of “hotness”; there is low-hanging fruit that will change how your body works. I dare you to even try to “get bulky.” You can go as hard as you possibly can for years and if you could gain even 10 pounds of muscle, you’d be lucky.
And on top of that, I loved how I looked and felt. It’s not an exaggeration to say this changed my life completely, a 180-degree turn from having this tight-fisted, shrewish, exasperated relationship with my body, food, and exercise to actually enjoying the process of it all.
What are some common misconceptions you’re trying to dispel?
A big source of tension in our relationships with our bodies and food and exercise is that they mostly revolve around “losing weight,” which is very concrete but misleading; and “being healthy,” which is extremely abstract. Weight loss in particular is a false errand, because (a) many, many people who “want to lose weight” don’t actually need to, and (b) many people who are being honest and digging deep will tell you that, maybe barring certain functional limitations, losing weight didn’t make them happy the way they hoped it would.
I think a lot of people call it a “personal wellness journey” they are on “for themselves” if they can just “have enough discipline.” I have a lot of empathy for them, but a lot of “personal wellness journeys” are just disordered behaviors carrying water for the weight-loss/diet industry. You’re physically cold all the time? You are trying to feel “nourished and loved” by the single taco you ate as a meal? You are ob-sess-ing over whether to have a piece of the birthday cake someone left in the office kitchen? You are calling yourself a “fatty” for getting a whole-milk latte? This is not living! It’s not your fault, but you don’t have to accept this.
What do you want to tell people, and especially women, who are just getting started with lifting?
I love you so much for giving this a shot. I think your life is about to change if you let it. Surround yourself with other people who lift, as best you can, and if you can’t do it in real life, do it on social media. Clear out your current account or start a new one and follow as many strong people as you can find. And please don’t be scared of the weight room. The bros in there can be nicer than you think, and it’s fair to expect people to share equipment and be polite. You all pay the same membership fee.
It’s the season of New Year’s resolutions. Do you have advice for how people should think about fitness goals in 2022?
If you have a results-based goal, make it something you do and not something you are. This is the basis of a program I just published called LIFTOFF: Couch to Barbell, which helps people learn to lift weights in a functional way that pays off in regular life and builds strength they never really lose again. Learn to deadlift 135 pounds, or throw a 40-pound sandbag over your shoulder, or, sure, run a 5K. Don’t make your goal weight loss, I’m begging you.
Who’s another Substack writer you’d recommend?
I have so many, but I have been especially enjoying my friend Max Read’s Substack, Read Max. In an ecosystem where publications are straining to SEO-optimize and categorize and market content, Max resists that neat packaging, and he can have so much fun writing and thinking deeply about the things he’s interested in. The ’90s dad thriller opus is a high-water mark and a topic that is very dear to me because I too had a dad in the ’90s.