Women and weights: Empowered by lifting
Women powerlifters not weighed down by perceptions that the sport is 'unfeminine'
As she clapped her hands, chalk dust filled the air of the dimly lit gym.
Propping herself under the bar, eyes set forward, she took the weight on her shoulders.
With a deep breath, she entered a full-squat position and powered her way up to her feet as beads of perspiration fell to the ground.
For 26-year-old special-needs teacher Lee Lay Teng, the sweaty affair is a common occurrence at Elevate Gym at Upper Thomson where she prepares for her powerlifting meets.
Powerlifting is a form of competitive weightlifting categorised by its focus on three main lifts - the squat, the bench press, and the deadlift.
Competitive powerlifters are judged by the combined weight of their three lifts.
Lee met with objection when she first took up the sport.
Her parents were concerned for her safety, and did not think of powerlifting as a "feminine" sport.
Lee said: "When I first started powerlifting, my mother said that it was very chor lor (crude in Hokkien) and she said I was getting fatter. But I wasn't!"
But, Lee's passion paid off at the Singapore Powerlifting Open 2017 earlier this month, when she broke national records in her squat (120kg) and bench press attempts (60kg).
She registered a deadlift attempt of 120kg.
For Lee, who work as a special-needs educator for children with autism, the real takeaway was self belief.
She said: "I realised that a lot of times I need to believe in my students. They have the potential and are capable of anything.
"So, believing in myself is how I believe in my students."
Powerlifting is gaining popularity in Singapore.
When the sport's first meet here was held in 2011, only 13 people took part. Last November, The Straits Times reported that about 400 enthusiasts were actively involved in the sport.
For 25-year-old Stephanie Ng, who took up powerlifting about 18 months ago, it is increasingly becoming an integral part of her life.
She said: "I was roughly about 22 to 24 per cent body fat and weighed 52kg (when I first started). Now I am hovering at 18 per cent body fat and still weigh 52kg.
"When I first started, I had never even touched a weight before. I just wanted to explore weightlifting and weight training as a method to improve my strength and fitness for netball."
Asked about the negative perception of women who powerlift, Ng slams the "antiquated" mindset still held by some people.
She said: "I don't understand why people think that way. It is a sport which improves overall health and well-being.
"I have zero injuries and I put part of it down to strength training...
"We are not determined by how we look.
"We are determined simply by who we are on the inside."
Like Ng, 28-year-old lawyer Cheryl Ng cannot understand why society places different expectations on men and women.
She said: "I think that the traditional perception is that women need to be feminine and, by lifting weights, they achieve a very unfeminine musculature. That is not true.
"What is disappointing is when people associate muscular women as too masculine, and they are disrespected for that."