Photo: Brassbound Athletics/Absolutionz/Lindsey Wirth
"Here, let me help you with that."
A phrase that, in almost any other situation, would be a refreshing blip of kindness and humanity in our tech-obsessed, selfish world. At the gym, though, and coming from a dude? It's a very different story—it's usually straight-up mansplaining.
That's exactly what inspired Ami Defesche to start her own clothing brand dedicated to empowering women in the weight room. The first design on the to-do list? Anti-mansplaining tanks.
"The whole idea was sparked by a personal experience that I just couldn't shake," she says. "I've been training for powerlifting for a couple of years and have a trainer that guides my form and dictates how much I lift. Still, I was doing bench press one day and in between sets, a gentleman approached me to say, 'Hey, your form is all wrong. Here, let me show you.' He proceeded to sit on the bench next to me and show me his version of proper form and finished by saying, 'Maybe you should try lifting less weight.' To put the cherry on top, he came back during the next set, stood over me to assess my grip on the bar, and literally dripped sweat into my eyes while doing so. I felt absolutely violated."
Defesche is far from the only woman to experience the super-fun phenomenon of workout mansplaining. (Proof: Here are 10 other women's stories about mansplaining that happened at the gym.) She shared her experience on Facebook to vent and says she was astounded when it was flooded with comments from friends about their own experiences with mansplaining and other unwanted attention at the gym.
"That is NOT okay," says Defesche. "Being in the gym isn't an open invitation for feedback. Being a woman doesn't mean that we need help or that we don't know what we're doing. And we're sure as heck not working out for anyone's approval but our own." (Also really not okay: The fact that these women were sexually harassed while working out.)
How do you get that message out to an entire gender, though? "I joked that we should make t-shirts," she says. "Well, it wasn't long before that became a reality, and morphed into an entire brand dedicated to helping women own their strength in the gym and beyond."
And so Brassbound Athletics was born. The clothing brand—which she initially created solely to silence mansplainers—is now a broader symbol of female strength and unity. Defesche says that her customers aren't just weightlifters; martial artists, acrobats, and other fitness enthusiasts were eager to share the message too. However, strength training holds a special place in her heart, specifically because it empowered her in a way that changed her life. (FYI: Feeling like a badass is just one of the many health and fitness benefits of lifting heavy weights.)
"I spent a very long time stuck in the rut of wanting to be skinny, obsessing over food, not eating enough, and suffering through cardio (because I didn't want to get 'bulky'), all in trying to look good for other people," she says. "When I made the shift to strength training, it was like night and day. My trainer showed me how to eat to nourish my body (almost TWICE the calories I'd eaten per day for my entire calorie-counting life). She broke the myth that lifting would make me bulky and taught me to lift heavy." (Read up: Science-Backed Reasons You Won't Get "Bulky" from Lifting Heavy)
"The mental changes were the most life-changing, though," she says. "My entire mindset shifted away from what I looked like to what my body could do. The first time you realize that you can squat your own bodyweight, something clicks and you realize how incredible your body is, and it makes you want to do more! Suddenly, seeing definition in your arms or a perkier butt is just a side effect of pushing the boundaries of what your body is capable of, and damn if that isn't the most rewarding thing."
Defesche knows she's not the only woman who's become enamored with the weight room—and she's psyched about it.
"This kind of mindset is slowly working its way into the public eye. Women's fitness communities like r/xxfitness are filling with conversations about strength and encouraging others to try it. The hashtag #strongnotskinny has 7.5 million posts on Instagram. The rise of things like CrossFit and even television shows like The Titan Games are putting strong women front and center, and I want to keep that momentum going!" she says.
So while her mansplaining tanks will hopefully quiet the too-outspoken dude in your gym, Defesche realizes that there are bigger repercussions for the people wearing the tanks vs. the ones reading them.
"Once they were out in the wild, I realized that the shirts act as more of a catalyst for conversation between women too," she says. "It's a powerful reminder that we're not alone, even if we still show up to a gym where we might be the only women on the weight floor." (Related: An Open Letter to Women Who Are Afraid of the Weight Room)
"And, as a bonus, I haven't been mansplained since wearing them!"