Strong Big Sister
August 27, 2018
Being a big sister means being a teacher and sometimes that's hard. It's not always easy to set a good example when you're still learning yourself. Sisters are your best friends, your true ride or dies, and your go-to's, because at the end of the day, no one has your back like they do. It’s unsurprising then that this is how Lydia Mok chooses to describe herself. If she was simply a young woman living her life and building a business in a male dominated industry things would be hard enough. The fact that her business is built with the intention of changing the industry from within, adds a degree of difficulty that many would shy away from.
What is that change? Keep reading and find out…
Close your eyes and imagine being a woman today.
Are you there yet? What do you see?
Are you an A grade multi-tasker?, a supreme Queen of Pettiness, a bonafide badass boss who simultaneously cashes a pay check and runs her household? Yeah sounds about right.
Did you also see the 85 cents on the euro pay gap, a world where you can order food, sex and a taxi from your phone but somehow can’t buy stockings that don’t rip as soon you move? Did you also see a world too many people (mainly men) feel entitled to or seem to have an opinion on your body? Not only what it should look like, but also what you’re allowed to do with it.
- GO to the gym because you need to look fit and strong (because that’s soooo in right now…) #fitgirl.
- You need to lift weights but stay out of the free weights section because that’s the man’s world and don’t you dare lift heavy things because well you know, girls aren’t supposed to do that…
You still there?
Chances are you’re slightly pissed and feel like telling the world to fuck off because your body is your own and you’ll do whatever you want with it. But what if things were different and the above didn’t exist? A world where women didn’t need to apologise for and adjust their behaviour because men couldn’t control their hands or mouths, and a woman’s opinion
on and attitude to her body was HERS and HERS alone.
Fantasy? Maybe. Tall order? Absolutely. Impossible? NO
This utopian post #metoo society won’t be too far away if Lydia Mok has anything to do it; Because when you’re a 5’ and change female powerlifter, who’s survived being robbed at knifepoint , made it through a military hell week, and run a successful sportswear company across 2 continents, anything is possible.
I’ve known Lydia for a good while, she’s always been someone people gravitate to and one of those rare people that make you feel better when you’re around them. A perfect personality to have when you’re in the uber competitive fitness industry and need to carve out a niche for yourself. As we’re talking about life and fitness, she tells me a story about her ordeals in
Kingston, where she was robbed at knifepoint and ironically would’ve been saved had she got in a stranger’s car moments before. Turns out the stranger wasn’t really a “stranger” but a friend of a client. Funny how you can look back on certain situations and directly pinpoint moments where your life could’ve been very very different.
Lydia is a reflective character blessed with a large dose of self awareness and whilst talking about her career to date, she proclaims
“I’m not good at working with people who power trip, or think that because they’re superior (senior) that they’re better than you”
It would've been a dereliction of duty if I didn't poke the bear and probe further and ask if in her experience the people she’s referring to are predominantly men…she simply replies
The fitness industry is incredibly competitive, male dominated and riddled with ego. Like with any industry it does good things, bad things and schizophrenic things and could do with some change. According to Lydia gender diversity at the leadership level would definitely be a start, she expands on her experience in London when a female GM was appointed
for a company she used to work for "…the amount that changed. stuff just got done. you know stuff that had been on this to do list for a year…like just got done. Things like harassment cases got taken seriously, and it was nice to see that for once you’re actually going to get taken seriously for stuff like that”
As a man myself I can never tread the same footsteps as women or imagine half the things they go through on a regular basis. Situations they have to navigate, business decisions they need to make when deciding how to end an uncomfortable encounter with a man whilst maintaining their safety. Until I started asking questions of my female friends and having conversations and debates on the issue…I had no idea how big and prevalent an issue sexual harassment really is. By that I mean, of course men have a concept of the nuances of sexual harassment etc but we really have no comprehension of the mental gymnastics women have to perform each day, just to get through basic tasks that if you were born with a penis you wouldn't think twice about. If you're in a bar, as a man, are you seriously worried about somebody spiking your drink with a date rape drug? Are you worried someone might follow you and attack you in the toilet? Are you worried your next tinder date could either rape you or kill you? Something as basic as selling things online- have you ever considered not using your own social media profile and a fake address, just in case whoever turns up to collect them is a complete psycho?
These and a million others like them are things women think about and process in real time as they make it through their every single day.
“ I was with my friend from New York, and we’re just walking around London showing him the sights. It’s late about 1am waiting for the bus, and there’s a guy standing really close to a girl at the bus stop. So I’m watching and observing like they’re either together or he’s bothering her, and my friend (who’s a guy) was like ah no they’re fine duh duh duh. But I was very conscious and still watching. She was very very drunk…completely messed up, and it turns out he was trying to get her on a bus home to his place.”
At this point Lydia and her friend step in and make sure the drunk girl made it home safely. “This happens regularly, very regularly right, and as a woman that its happened to before, you’re more aware I think because you empathise with those situations.”
Positively this gave her male friend a glimpse into a reality that Lydia and all women know too well, he was like “wow I know this stuff happens but I’ve never really witnessed it in real life”.
Unsurprisingly the fitness industry isn’t immune to female harassment “it definitely happens, in the early days i’ve had a trainer saying he wanted to train me, and we were on the leg press machine I remember and he was putting his hands like on my quads, your hands don’t need to be on my quads, like why are they on my thigh?, they don’t need to be there. Would you be doing that to a man? Probably not, so why you doing it to me? Just because I’m wearing shorts and a sports bra, doesn’t mean that you can touch me”
The beauty of fitness and sport is that when it’s done properly, its the closest thing to a meritocracy that you will ever find on earth. It doesn’t matter who you are, colour, background, gender, sexuality etc. in the gym or the ring, on the pitch or on the court we’re all equal. And the only thing that separates us is what you do out there. I think it’s abundantly clear by now that female empowerment is really important to her, and this unapologetic, take no prisoners attitude is refreshing to see and hear; and it is the essence of the company she now runs, Strong Girl Takeover. The name is not by accident, it is an intentional rallying cry to women of the world to put their preconceptions and fears to one side and not let being a woman limit what you believe is possible. The free weight room is not a male only zone, there is no such thing as a male only exercise, women do NOT need to “train like a man”. Educating women, empowering them and breaking down these myths is fuel to an already strong fire.
“We did one (an event) last year at muscle works which is a traditionally male only gym. I became the first woman to have a membership at that gym and I thought it would be an awesome statement to bring 30 girls there who are all super strong women, confident as hell, and are very confident in the gym”
"It’s very powerful to see a large group of women come into a very traditionally male environment and just boss it, know what we’re doing, and helping each other and learning from each other.”
And...if you're a typical gym bro who uses spotting women on the squat machine as an excuse to get closer to them...
“No we’re spotting each other, we’re helping each other.”
Breaking down barriers and stereotypes is a constant theme of our conversation, and is essentially her mission in life. We can't change the world around us unless we think about old problems in new ways. Racism, anti-semitism, islamophobia, sexism, climate change, all of these societal problems CAN BE solved if we all develop a willingness and openness to solving them coupled with an urgency and personal incentive to do so. Despite being more connected than at any time in history, it seems we’re more segregated and tribal than ever before. We engage with people who think like we do, we’re more entrenched in our views and seem less willing to embrace differing viewpoints, and that is why projects and businesses like Strong Girl Takeover are so valuable.
“Stereotypes are broken down when you (get to) know someone from that demographic”.
The more we educate and engage both men and women about fitness, strength, health & wellness, the easier it becomes to break down long held stereotypes and start to push the boundaries of what every woman believes is possible in the gym.
The revolution has already begun but there’s still a long way to go. Which begs the question what’s next? Immediately, events in New York City & LA and long term an eventual permanent move to the West Coast of the USA…”there’s just more people within the sport and the reach and influence is just greater out there”
Influencing the fitness industry and empowering women to be the best versions of themselves without limits? That’s a pretty lofty dream but one I feel is attainable and I have zero doubt that when the fitness industry gets there, Lydia and women like her will be the reason why.
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