Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Radical Woman Q&A with Tamara Cohen

I am pleased to share with you another Radical Woman Q & A with weightlifter and gym owner Tamara Cohen. Tamara caught my attention, when I noticed her using the word Fat a lot on FaceBook in reference to herself. Of course that made me pay attention! I discovered she wasn’t a women who was struggling with self-image, rather a women redefining it. She's not only is redefining for herself, but offers that same prospect to other women. Included with this Q&A are some pictures from Tamara’s album entitled “weight is just a number.” There is a real gift in these pictures, and I’m so glad that she shares them.

Introducing Radical Woman, Tamara Cohen....

Who is Tamara Cohen and what makes her Radical?
I’m a wife and a mom and a business owner and a competitive mastersweightlifter. I don’t think I would describe myself as “radical,” though. I think others often see me as radical because I speak my mind. If I think it, then I am probably going to say it. I have a low tolerance for B.S., and I don’t really care what is politically correct. I’ve survived using an “In Your Face” philosophy for a long time. It makes people think. At the moment, that attitude revolves lifting barbells. A few years ago, it involved nursing a three
year old in public.

How have you grown into the women you are today?
I come from a family of strong minded women. My mother has six sisters and two brothers. I grew up sitting at a family table of 30 plus people, and if you wanted to be heard, you had to speak loudly and often. All of my aunts played sports seriously. It was never an option not to play sports in my family, so I grew up playing competitive soccer. I think all of the women in my family are awesome and strong for different reasons.

You lovingly call your self ‘fat’ what’s that all about? Is there a stand that you are taking by using that word?
As a kid, I was always skinny. In fact, I graduated from college weighing about 118 lbs at 5’8. Skinny. After college, I gained some weight, but more importantly, I stopped playing sports regularly. When I started lifting in 2009, which was first at a CrossFit affiliate, I had two kids, I was still nursing one of them, and I had gotten up to 174 lbs. I ended up getting ridiculously lean. I mean, it was crazy. I had lost over 40 lbs, and I was a size 0 or 2. Everyone wanted my abs. And, then when I decided that I wanted to switch gears and get stronger, I started gaining weight again. I was amazed at how many people had a problem with that. It’s like having “the abz” is the most important goal for a lot of people, and the fact that I was giving them up on purpose made no sense. So, I flaunt my “fatness.” It’s kind of cool to me because I have taken photos of myself from the beginning. I have that very first photo at 174 lbs, and you can see how my body has changed with weight loss/gain and my increased muscle mass. I basically use the word “fat” in order to make people think. I don’t believe that most women would say that 160 lbs is their target weight. 160 lbs is “fat” or “overweight” to a lot of women, but I weigh around 160 lbs right now, and I think I look good. And, 99% of people think I look better at this weight than I did 25 lbs ago. In my circle of friends, my abz period is referred to as when I looked “extra methy.”

You’re starting your own gym, Asheville Strength & Conditioning. What are you most excited about in this endeavor?

Everything, haha! It’s awesome. Not only do I finally have a place to get my own training done, but I have a place to train others the way that I want to. I’ve been fortunate to have some really, really good people help me. In fact, I’m in awe of that every day. The number of people who have gone out of their way to help me become a better coach and a better lifter and to get this gym off the ground is just amazing.

Sparkle. Glitter. Elite. Tell me more?
I like to wear sparkly clothes and glitter. I especially love wearing glitter when I lift. And, I like making fun of the overuse of the word “elite.” My coach, Peter Haas, had to email me something one day, and he jokingly asked me, “So, what’s your email address? Sparkleglitterelite@gmail.com?” It was perfect, and it wasn’t taken, so I snagged it. And, now I have that as an email address and a website.

Why would you encourage women to strength train?
Because lifting a heavy barbell is fabulous. I was in love with barbells from the beginning. In fact, I am not sure how I survived 33 years of my life without a barbell. I clearly remember when my goal was to put 100 lbs overhead. It seemed unattainable, so the first time I jerked over 100 lbs was a very big deal. And, now I can press 100 lbs, haha. I think that lifting a barbell is probably the single most important thing that women can do to improve their body image. Lifting heavy and feeling stronger and seeing how muscle mass changes your body is a phenomenal experience

What are your thoughts on having a healthy body and body image in general?
I think I am fortunate that I’ve always had a pretty healthy body image. Even when I was at my heaviest in 2009, I didn’t think of myself as “fat.” I took that picture of myself, and the only thing I thought was “No one would ever look at this picture and think that I was an athlete.” That’s what defined me. Body weight wasn’t important, but being athletic was. And, when I got super lean, I never thought, “Wow, being skinny is awesome!” Even though I wouldn’t want to go back to being that lean right now, my body at that point reflected my training, so it was fine.

What are your thoughts on food and eating?

I think the number one rule is eat real food. Eat things that aren’t processed. Cut sugar. Meat, fruits, vegetables, and things that you can easily recognize as food. At the same time, I’m not compulsive about it. I ate strictly “clean” for over a year, but I never felt guilty if I had something that wasn’t “Paleo” or “clean.” Once I started trying to gain weight, I found that eating some Jif peanut butter was easier than other options. I’ve added dairy back because I like it, and I don’t seem to have a problem with it. So, I’ve relaxed my “rules” to fit my goals. I just never feel guilty about food choices. If I want it, I eat it. And, that’s another part of my In Your Face philosophy. If I have a DQ Blizzard, you can bet that I will probably post a picture of it on Facebook. Because someone out there is thinking about what a horrible person I am because I ate a DQ Blizzard, and that person needs to get a life.

"You have to figure out a way to love yourself without attaching that love to a number on the scale. As long as you have an “ideal” bodyweight in your head, you will never be happy. Even if you reach that number, you won’t be happy. That’s just not how it works. Find something that you love and do it."

If you could change one thing about our culture in regards to women’s health and their relationships to their bodies, right now- so that your own daughter would experience something different….what would that be?
Sexy does not have to mean skinny. Sexy is about self image. It is about confidence. When you are confident, it shows. I think lifting a barbell is an obvious way for women to develop confidence. It takes strength to get physically strong. Anyone who has been under the bar for a 3x5 or 5x5 set of squats knows this. So, lifting a barbell accomplishes so many things at once: mental strength, physical strength, confidence, and sexiness. This is why I love barbells.

What would you most like to tell women about health and body image?

You have to figure out a way to love yourself without attaching that love to a umber on the scale. As long as you have an “ideal” bodyweight in your head, you i'll never be happy. Even if you reach that number, you won’t be happy. That’s ust not how it works. Find something that you love and do it. As much as I love barbells, not everyone does. If doing Zumba or running a marathon is what gets you out of bed every day, then do it. Because doing something is always betterthan doing nothing. I did nothing for about four years, and it completely destroyed my self image. Find something that you are passionate about and work to get better at it every day. Then, teach it to someone else.

Thank You Tamara for taking you time to do the Q&A. The world is a better place with all your sparkle and glitter in it!


Cheri Wissmann said...

Great interview Tamara! I hope you have tons of success with your new gym, and that you train lots of young girls how to be awesome weightlifters and how to love their bodies as athletes. :)

And I just love that last line -- "Find something that you are passionate about and work to get better at it every day. Then, teach it to someone else." Awesome.

margiewheeler said...

Tamara, great thoughts! Congratulations on you, your gym, everything!

ideal body weight said...

Great presentation Tamara.. I like your thoughts.. my gym instructor also have great thoughts like you.. :)

Staryidbntyhuntr said...

I'm just starting to do CrossFit and I found this interview AMAZINGLY motivational. I hope you don't mind if I put a link to this interview in my blog that I'm starting! See it at: http://betcheslovecf.blogspot.com/

I think your blog's take on promoting positive body images is so great! I can't wait to read more!