We speak to 49.5kg powerlifter Sophia Khan, the woman behind a platform promoting women empowerment and inspiring more women to get out there and train for the better.
When Sophia Khan learnt that she had developed an eating disorder (anorexia), she had no choice but to increase her metabolism. After spending hours on research, she learnt that exercising increases your appetite. In 2016, she decided to take the plunge and start her powerlifting journey.
We sat down with the fitness influencer to get a play-by-play of the obstacles she faced as a woman powerlifter, and what she’s learned in the process.
How are you using your platform to encourage other women to start their fitness journeys?
The reality is that everybody out there just wants a quick fix. A big factor that’s not taken into consideration is that in order to achieve the ideal body type, you need to sustain it – for as long as possible. Hence, I try my best to promote an honest outlook – both the good days and the bad. I aim to set realistic expectations for everyone out there. Additionally, we see a huge population of fitness influencers out there admired for the wrong reasons. They are saying what the people want to hear – not what the people will learn from. I am trying to change that by setting an honest outlook through my platform.
How do you think sports can empower women?
It helps women realise what they are actually capable of, which is a lot. It feels amazing to be able to do what men can do as a ‘small’ girl myself. Personally, it makes me realise that I’m no less than a man. I was at the gym one day and was about to go deadlift, only to find myself being approached by a man who says ‘Would you like me to unrack the weights for you?’. Rejecting that offer and the look of surprise he wore made me feel really good. Small wins.
The fitness industry is highly male-dominated. Does that make you feel insecure?
At first, yes. When I first started going to the gym, I feared that the people around me would think that I wasn’t capable of doing anything as a skinny girl. However, over time, surrounding myself with the right people, the right information, and following the right influencers online got me where I am today. It’s a learning process. At the end of the day, it’s also about the mentality you have. If you know what you’re aiming for, you can easily block out the people that intimidate you. Focus on what you’re doing and be a better version of yourself. There’s always room to improve.
For me, it’s more than being part of an industry that’s highly male-dominated. My culture and community play a part, as well. I’m Pakistani and fitness amongst women is not very common in our community. The mentality we’re stuck with is unluckily still highly traditional, where women are expected to marry at a young age. I’ve got people asking me why I’m not married yet at 23 years old. I’m young and there’s so much I want to achieve professionally. I’m not saying that getting married young is a bad thing – what I’m saying is that if it’s not something a child wants, it should not be forced upon them. A lot of people have asked me why I’m trying to do what men are supposed to be doing. A lot of people have told me I look like a man. It’s unfortunate.
What advice do you have for women starting out their fitness journey?
Firstly, if you’re not comfortable heading to the gym by yourself – bring a friend who’s more experienced! They’ll guide you. Secondly, join a team! Whether it’s powerlifting or any other sport, when you join a group of people aiming for similar goals to yours, you’re constantly motivated. Thirdly, get a coach or simply record yourself working out and compare yourself to someone more experienced online. You’ll definitely learn a thing or two and this helps you evaluate what you can achieve in your next session. Lastly, always have a plan. If you head to the gym without one, you’ll end up feeling overwhelmed. It’s always good to know what your purpose is – whether it’s weight loss, muscle gain, or anything in between. Focus on your goal. One thing at a time.
Let’s look at the bigger picture. What does women empowerment mean to you? Additionally, who are the women who have inspired you and how?
To me, women empowerment is encouraging the women around me to believe in themselves. Nothing can stop you. This is the message I aim to send out with my platform. My role model and the woman I strongly look up to is most definitely my mum. As a single parent, she has had to overcome a long list of obstacles to get my brother and I where we are today. She’s never given up on us. I admire her for her independence and the fact that she lives for herself – and not anyone else. If I come across any hardships, whether it’s at the gym or anywhere else, I know I’ll find a way to overcome it – and this is the mentality my mum has instilled in me.
What do you think can be done to ensure women take on more leadership roles in this industry?
Education and exposure. By educating more people that anyone can do anything, despite their gender, culture, or anything else, is something we need to hear more of. Additionally, expose yourself to women who empower you and women who lift you up. When you surround yourself with people who bring the knowledge to the table, you learn things. Every day is a learning experience with them. Our current society is very interrelated.
If there is one thing you could change about the attitudes of women in this industry, what would it be?
Stop doing everything for the gram (instagram)! If you want to be able to influence people, there’s a certain way to do so. Don’t do everything with the aim of more followers. Use your platform to spread valuable information to those in need. Use your platform to do good rather than just look good. The world needs more of that.
What is powerlifting to you?
As cliche as it sounds, it’s love. Anybody that knows me knows how much powerlifting means to me. It’s my definition of an escape from reality. It’s basically synonymous with me as a human.
What’s next for you?
A couple of things! I like to think far ahead and I’m very goal-oriented. So yes, I have a couple of things lined up. Firstly, I’m going to be competing in a powerlifting meet this June, followed by being certified as a professional personal trainer. I also want to work on building my knowledge of fitness as a whole and to continue spreading out accurate information to the ones that need it. But as of now, the goal is to help more women feel comfortable stepping into the gym.