“Even my mum thought I was weak – so I got stronger”


There is a word my mother calls me in Bengali: standard. It means “soft”. It’s the word you would use to describe a cake, pillow or skin. when she calls me what she really means is weak. I don’t know where she got this idea from (maybe she’s just projecting), but I’ve internalized this feeling for years. I felt weak.

I can’t really lift heavy things without tiring my arms and I’m never the first to be called when something heavy needs to be moved. Even my 18-year-old sister, who likes to wrestle with me, says I’m not good at fighting back. I’m not the strongest person and until recently that was fine. Until it wasn’t.

The change came during a trip to the Azores, an archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic. We had the opportunity to bike and/or kayak on a trip to the pristine lakes of the Sete Cidades. Among the cyclists, I was the slowest (I can ride a bike, but London’s blisteringly fast riding prevents me from doing it regularly), so I decided to quit cycling early and go kayaking instead. Nobody else in my group wanted to do it, so I went to base camp on my own and grabbed a kayak.

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At first the cold water of the lake splashing against my hot skin felt so good. I was in control of the kayak, floating smoothly as I instructed. However, on the way back the wind picked up and pushed my kayak further away from where I wanted to go. Every time I tried to row to the right, the wind blew me to the left. I had never felt weaker.

Eventually my arms got tired and I resigned myself to letting the kayak drift where it wanted. I ended up at another kayak company’s quarters and tried to ask them to accept my boat so I could walk the rest of the trip. But the man there insisted that I try to paddle the boat back to its actual home.

Reluctantly, I went back into the lake. The wind didn’t let up and I felt tired, frustrated and unsurprisingly weak. Why couldn’t I move as quickly or effortlessly as other people? Why did I feel so uncomfortable about myself? How could I be so weak? I burst into tears and grunted loudly with no shame as I got myself and the kayak, which I was starting to hate, back to the dock.

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That was the moment I realized I needed to get stronger and fitter. I knew even a much stronger person would fight against the wind, but I hated the way I felt at that moment.

Faima cycling in Portugal
Biking felt tough on this trip, so I decided to kayak instead — and that’s when I had my fitness eureka moment.

Where to start when you know you need to get fitter

Set realistic goals that you know you can achieve

I knew that in order to get fitter, I had to set realistic goals—for example, not being too out of breath after climbing stairs. I started increasing my step count, which was difficult at first since I’ve been working from home for almost three years; There’s not always a reason for me to leave the house.

Morning walks didn’t work for me – I’d rather take a nap than force myself to walk. But lunchtime walks to the park or supermarket to pick up my groceries worked well. After work, I would go to the gym, and if I hadn’t hit my 10,000 steps by then, I’d hop on the treadmill and walk towards that goal.

Choose beginner workouts

I also started watching beginner strength training videos and learned about targeted muscle training and compound movements. I didn’t want to build muscle per se, but it felt important to lift lighter weights and get used to moving my bodyweight. I knew that the next time I tried a new activity, strength training would make it less of a problem.

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PCOS is a constant battle – half the time I don’t know what’s happening with my hormones or when my next period is coming. But it’s something I’m trying to learn more about. It feels like the medical industry doesn’t always know what advice to give to every 10th woman suffering from this condition, so I’m taking this opportunity to take a holistic approach to learning about my body .

Basically, making the decision to get stronger, for the first time, meant prioritizing my physical, mental, and emotional health. There can be moments when I don’t feel entirely in tune with my body, and as a brown woman in a world of ever-changing ideals of beauty, that can often be the case. But this is constant, daily and consistent work. I’ve stuck to some of the fitness goals I’ve set, so the challenge now is to keep going. I know that little by little I’m getting stronger and breaking it down standard Label.

Images: Getty/Own Authors



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