When performance artist Bryony Kimmings started weightlifting in 2017, her body-confidence was at an all-time low.
“I’d had a baby and really felt that my body wasn’t my own anymore,” she says. ”It had gotten quite a lot bigger than it used to be. I felt really ugly and gross and fat. I’d never had an issue with my body before, but I could sense a shift within me where I’d really started to loathe it.”
Aware that focusing on weight loss might cause her self-worth to plummet further, she decided to channel her energy into getting strong – really strong – and spontaneously paid £600 for a year-long membership at a local bodybuilding gym in her London neighbourhood of Tufnell Park.
“I thought if I don’t do that, I won’t do it,” she says. “Over the course of a year it changed how I felt about myself so much. I can now look at my body and think ′I love you, you’re brilliant. You really move brilliantly and you’re so strong’ – I can do anything now.”
Kimmings is arguably more in touch with her emotions than most, as her theatre fearlessly focuses on her own past experiences. Her latest show, ‘I’m a Phoenix, Bitch’ follows her through post-natal depression, dealing with her son Frank’s epilepsy diagnosis, then learning to rebuild her life after the dust settled. And yet, she was surprised by the impact weightlifting had on her mental health.
“I didn’t start it for mental health reasons. But what I realised was that the strength I was building in my physical body was making me feel mentally strong,” she says. “As soon as I was able to control the muscles in my body, to grow them and to make them do stuff that they’ve never done before, it taught me that my brain could also be manipulated in that way – and I went back into therapy because of that.”