Natalie Hanson of Bethel has broken both an American record, and an unofficial world record in powerlifting. Hanson said that part of her record setting success has been due to her ability to appreciate her body for function over appearance, which has led her to create a movement within the sport.
Last month, Natalie Hanson broke yet another American powerlifting record at the U.S. National Championships in Orlando, Florida. Hanson’s squat lift of 270 kilograms (595 pounds) also broke the unofficial world record.
Part of Hanson’s success is due to her careful workout, diet, and lifting schedule, but it's also the result of a shift from paying attention to what her body looks like to what her body can do.
“When I found a sport where I could just be as strong as possible and there were no extra points given for how I looked,” said Hanson, “that’s where I found a lot of freedom.”
Growing up in Bethel, Hanson was an athlete at Bethel Regional High School. But, she said, she’d always felt like she was striving for something that was unattainable.
“You know, I played volleyball and basketball in high school, and you were always wanting to lose weight so you could run faster or jump higher, and I never felt like I was educated on eating for performance,” said Hanson. “It was always just, like, eating as little as possible so that I could try to lose some weight, but I would be faster on the court.”
When Hanson got to college she stopped doing team sports, thinking that might help, but she still found herself running, lifting weights, and eating as little as she could to narrow down. By her senior year she got into CrossFit, which she said started to pull her out of that rut, but she soon realized that many of the gymnastic movements were less accessible for her body type; they work better for slender, lightweight people. For instance, it's more difficult to do a pull up if you weight 160 pounds than if you weigh 130 pounds.
Standing at 5 feet 3 inches, Hanson said she’s always been a more muscular, stoutly structured person. When she started lifting weights, she started seeing her body as an asset.
“When I started powerlifting, I realized this is the physical strength that I am capable of, and there is no component here that forces me to lose weight and fit into this society's mold of the ideal body for a woman,” said Hanson.
Over the next four years she put on more muscle and more weight, slowly transforming herself from 160 pounds to 185 pounds. But this time, it didn’t bother Hanson in the least.
“You know, I tell people I weigh 185 [pounds] and they don’t believe me,” said Hanson.
To Hanson, that’s because people are focused on the arbitrary numbers shown on a scale rather than what their bodies can do. They also don't realize that they can be physically appealing and healthy without being small.
But, even in the women’s powerlifting world, Hanson says that women are still plagued by the male gaze, resulting in more sponsorships and media attention going to women based on appearance alone.
“You know, even though we’re in a sport where all that matters is how much weight you can lift, this is still happening,” said Hanson.
This prompted Hanson to start "Beefpuff Barbell," an online powerlift coaching and apparel business with fellow lifter, Chelsea Savit. The two wanted to create a positive space to train, where all genders could find “self-love and acceptance.”
Hanson says that their mission aligns with "The Representation Project," a non-profit group aimed at breaking gender stereotypes for girls and boys. Hanson donates a percentage of Beefpuff Barbell’s yearly profits to the organization.
Hanson hopes that with her and Beefpuff Barbell’s effort, women and men will learn to stop working against their bodies.
“I hate to see people who are trying to completely change their genetics,” said Hanson. “You know, it’s exhausting and it’s not fun either. Just take what you’ve been given and roll with it, and make the most of the rest of your life because that’s what we’re supposed to be doing. It’s supposed to be enjoyable.”
Hanson will get her shot to set an official world record for the women’s squat lift next November.