What I see: A 5'0 (and then some) 24-year-old black woman who has a petite yet toned build.
What people actually see: A fun-sized, black teenage-looking girl with a body that doesn’t look like could do 33 pull-ups.
If it wasn’t said out loud, I’d continue overthinking what others thought of me, but because it is said so often out loud, I am beginning to grow tired of assumptions no one has any business saying to my face.
While I can make another article just talking about strengths in general, I’m going to discuss my literal strength.
I feel like I can admit now that I was more of an athlete than I gave myself credit for. I liked to move my body. I liked to challenge myself physically. I’d play with the boys after school, jump off stuff, you know. If someone were to ask me to try to do something I’d just do it because you won’t know you can do something until you try.
The first wave of assumptions came at an early age. While I never felt too angry about my height growing up, people always made it known. Anywhere between:
“Can you see over that?”
“Can you reach that?”
“You can’t even hit it over the net!”
“You won’t be able to kick it that far.”
“Isn’t that jump a little high for you?”
Then there was the:
“Come closer guys, it's a girl.”
They would do just that. In 4th grade, the guys would come closer to the volleyball net in a game of prisoner and I’d start to grin a devilish grin because they made the wrong assumption. I remember hitting the ball so far you saw everyone's eyes follow the trajectory of the ball, and landing far beyond what anyone had imagined, which landed to our victory.
I’d get a kick out of it in my youth. Being small and a girl was like being the David to everyone's Goliath. If you did anything despite your gender (which obviously girls are way stronger) or height it was seen as almost impossible. Boy’s egos would erupt at the fact that they got beaten by a girl and one nearly half their size. It was a good feeling for a while.
My second assumption was a lot more personal: my asthma and my mother.
I was in the middle of taking a spelling test in 5th grade when I could not stop coughing. I refused to leave because I wanted to finish the test but Ms. Abrams would not have it and sent me to the nurse's office. My coughing turned into not being able to breathe and soon after that my mother picked me up to rush me to urgent care.
That night I had a prescription for two inhalers.
My mother amplified the crutch that was my inhaler. She didn’t want me to do anything that exerted too much energy. When I would tell her I know my limits, I would get shut down because mother knows best. Even with the 3650 days since my last incident, she will still ask if I have my inhaler.
Since the time I was growing up, we’ve seen ads from Tampax to Google about how girls can be tough and T-shirts to match at Old Navy to dispel the notion that men and women are in fact equals. But the inner fabrication of the patriarchy and misogyny will take longer to reconstruct for many even if they’re the biggest fan of Simone Biles.
I don’t know what happened between those years, but the smirk on my face before defying people’s assumptions about me is gone. And I think I have a good reason for that. We’ve all seen what people can do despite their height or gender or abilities and disabilities. We should not be surprised that so many people are incredibly strong and powerful whether they are 4'8 or have no legs. It is 2021: the shock value should be gone.
Do you know why I am such a huge fan of American Ninja Warrior? One of the reasons is that there are so many different kinds of people that compete on that show. I can see myself amongst everyone else and still do just as well. It is a community where if you are shorter, then people will help you to adjust. That even if you are a woman you can still become a champion. There is no judgment, only a team effort to want to succeed.
The community in ANW is what I want the future to look like. Instead, I still get a man to have the audacity to ask me, “Are you sure you can do that?” If I needed help then I would ask. I am capable enough to know my strengths and need help when I have a weakness and I do not need you to assume on my behalf.
I continue to compete with myself. I continue to challenge myself. The only doubts I should hear are from myself and about myself. But tell me, how have you overcome this? Do you respond to people if they doubt you?