Cheryl Haworth is tougher than you.
Dir. Julie Wyman, 2012, 76 min, Viewed via Amazon Video
Cheryl Haworth doesn’t match the conventional ideal of what a woman “should” look like. And that’s quite an asset for her. Since she’s a weightlifter, weighing close to 300 pounds gives her a solid frame to work with. There’s a reason she was National Champion in female weight lifting for eleven years straight. She’s also been to the Olympics three times, plus a host of other honors for her ability to heft heavy objects.
Watching Strong!, I was torn between my general apathy towards athletics and my admiration of Cheryl for excelling in a field generally considered to be for boys only. Luckily, the movie is less about weightlifting itself (Although there’s some interesting stuff about that. The sport involves more than just being strong; one has to have flawless timing and control in order to excel) than it is about Cheryl as a person. And she makes a terrific protagonist.
While the movie follows Cheryl as she recovers from an injury and trains herself for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the true struggle is an internal one. Cheryl is comfortable with her body, but society is only willing to accept one type of woman, and the pressure is beginning to wear on her as she approaches the end of her athletic peak. This is a film about how doing the things you love allows you to feel comfortable in your own skin. What Cheryl is looking for is something else to validate her. There are many options – she loves to draw (and she’s good at it), and she’s working towards a degree in historical preservation. The doc gently affirms that, no matter where she goes next after she can no longer lift, Cheryl is going to be just fine. The title is referring to more than just physical strength.
At a brisk 76 minutes, Strong! doesn’t come close to wearing out its welcome. It’s a real crowd-pleaser, a rah-rah girl power movie that’s quite gracefully understated on the rah-rah part. It’s fun, and provides some meaty fodder for discussion about body image. Independent Lens picked the doc up for distribution, and it’s a perfect addition to the series: a small but smart piece of personal storytelling. You’ll want to get to know Cheryl Haworth whether your a sports fan, a feminist, or anything, really.