Breaking The Asian Female Stereotype: Muscles, Power, and Passion (3 minute read)

Used with permission from Teresa Yeung

One night, I was browsing through one of my husband's CPA magazines when I stumbled upon a short interview with Teresa Yeung, a young, competitive powerlifter who is currently the third strongest woman in Canada (in the 63-kg weight class). 

There was this picture of her resting a massive barbell on top of her upper back, with her hair in two braids and wearing a singlet that proudly exposed her muscular quads.

I remember as a kidthere was a lack of real, relatable female role models in mainstream media. I couldn't relate to the blonde and tanned athletic physiques of Hollywood stars like Britney Spears or Cameron Diaz. At the same time, I didn't resonate with the rail thin, pale, super feminine Hong Kong Actresses like Gigi Lai or Cecilia Cheung.

I was intrigued to see a fellow Asian Canadian woman pursuing a passion that breaks Asian female stereotypes

So I reached out to Teresa to chat about her story, how her parents felt about her endeavour and any advice she'd give to the next generation of Asian women about positive body image.

How did you get into Powerlifting?

Well, it actually started with dragon boating.
Growing up, my parents would take me to the Toronto International Dragon Boat Race Festival that happens every year in June. It would be this whole family day event where we'd bike to the island and watch the races. 
So in 2010 while I was at University, I started competitive dragon boat racing. During the offseason, I would strength train and that was when I was first introduced to the squat and deadlift. 
After I graduated, I joined a new team in the city and switched gyms. That's where I met a bunch of powerlifters who nagged me to compete just once. I refused for an entire year because I really liked to dragon boat and I didn't want to do 2 sports. 
In 2015, with 6 years of paddling under my belt, I competed for Team Canada, winning nationals a couple of times.
In 2016, I started powerlifting while maintaining my dragon boat training. I was on the water 4 times a week and powerlifting. My body was always sore and I couldn't do both. 
I had achieved what I wanted in dragon boating. I have the Team Canada jersey. So I chose powerlifting. 

What keeps you motivated to reach your goals?

I don't like the word motivation. Motivation comes and goes but it's not very reliable. I think it's more about discipline, that this is what I do because these are my goals. 
Meet after meet, I just try to break personal records, always wanting to see how far I can push my body. 
I mean there are days when I don't want to go to the gym. But then I remind myself about what I need to do to achieve my goals. And if I don't go, it'll keep me farther away from them.
How did your parents support you on all this?
My whole family is active so they kinda get it. My dad plays hockey and competes in bowling and my mom's a dance instructor.  
My dad has always been supportive. In his perspective, if these are your goals, and that’s what you want, then it doesn’t matter what you look like. That was really helpful.  
However, my mom's pretty traditional. She said my muscles are ugly and not feminine. Even with dragon boat, she wasn't supportive.  
It probably took 5 years for her to support me. My dad helped my mom accept my interests and it's a good balance.  
I know she's proud of me because she brags to her friends about my accomplishments. She'd never say it to my face but I know she's proud. 
Used with permission from Teresa Yeung

Speaking of pride, what is your proudest moment?

When I competed at Nationals in Calgary, during my third squat, I did 157 kilos. The way the weights looked like on the bar was really exciting. Each weight is a different colour and before this moment, I had only ever had red and green. This time, there was a yellow weight and I was really excited about that. 
I'm also really proud of the powerlifting club that I co-founded. It started at the beginning of 2016 with just the 4 of us. We had this idea and didn't know how much it could grow. Now we have about 40 members with a 1:2 female to male split which is pretty good for a male dominant sport. 
There are quite a few Asian women in the club too, inspiring each other to train and compete. We help each other out in the warmup room, coaching on game day, cheering each other on and being really loud. Everyone is very committed to the sport. 

What would be some advice you would give to Asian girls?

Focus on what your body can do. Once you realize how much your body can do and how strong and powerful it can be, it doesn’t matter what it looks like.  
Don't compare yourself to others. Powerlifting has a "you versus you" mentality. The competition is with yourself and everyone around you wants you to do your best. Nobody wants you to miss a lift and nobody compares themselves to you. 

My Own Reflections

As someone who struggled with body image and disordered eating growing up, Teresa gives me hope for my daughter years down the road when she enters the vulnerable stages of puberty. 

With the advent of social media, I'm excited about the diversity of women my daughter will be able to aspire and resonate with (something I didn't have growing up). 

I think Teresa's story marks the start of a new generation of Asian female role models who demonstrate true self-confidence and positive body image.

So Readers, who were your role models growing up? Are you pursuing a passion that your parents weren't supportive initially but came around? Share your story.

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