#11: It's Not You, It's Me

Alicia inhaled, guiding the 225 lb. bar down until it met the bottom edge of her powder blue sports bra. Engaging every muscle from her feet to her wrists, she pressed the bar upwards, steadily exhaling until she'd fully extended her arms. Her brother Scottie taught her not to focus on the individual reps, but rather visualize the entire set. For that reason, she rarely lifted so much above her comfort level that she could not complete her 12 reps. She pressed out three more before her endurance reached its limit. She racked the weight and rolled forwards on the bench. Clapped her hands together twice and shimmied in an impromptu happy dance.

I love being strong.

Flexing both arms, Alicia admired her reflection in the mirror on the opposite wall. Her biceps swelled with vitality, pumped from the exertion. Her broad grin became a smattering of giggles, which developed into a full-body giggle fit. She stood up and walked across the room to her sewing table, where she snagged a tape measure and wrapped it around the peak of her bicep, which felt solid as a shot put and nearly as big. The tape stopped at 18.4 inches, and she took down the number in her notebook. While she expected her muscles to be larger post-workout, this was the third time her arms measured over 18 inches this week. An excited chill ran up her back, and she squeed with delight.

I love getting stronger.

Few things made Alicia happier than the list of incrementally increasing measurements in her workout log. She suppressed her glee for the time being, however, as she still needed to finish a set of squats to complete her workout. She racked the two plates from the bench, moved the bar to the squat rack, and re-loaded the 45 lb. plates, plus an additional two for a total of 315 lbs. She was well past the point where she should have upped the weight, but she liked the simple balance of three plates on each side. Stepping under the bar, she crouched down and hoisted the weight onto her shoulders. In a smooth, controlled movement, she squatted and pressed the weight up.

How can people skip leg day?

Watching her reflection, Alicia admired the way her immense quads handled the weight with barely more than a moderate effort. Her shortened run with Whitley had left her with a little extra energy, and that, combined with the exceedingly manageable weight, challenged her focus. Her mind wandered. Looking around the basement, her eyes fell on the distressed jeans laying across her sewing desk, a long rip where the aged denim had surrendered to the lengthening circumference of her thighs. Despite being elastic and three sizes too large (with a tailored waist), she still managed to burst a seam.

On the wall behind her stool hung a photo of herself from high school, on stage in her first cosplay contest as Erza Scarlet. At fifteen, she'd had the perfect profile for cosplay: she was young, with sharp features, a lean frame, and bright amber eyes. After a few wins at regional contests, including a "Best in Show," her energetic personality, remarkable costume quality, and striking beauty had many buzzing about her as a future international cosplay star.

The following spring, the sixteen-year-old Alicia posted pictures online of herself dressed as One Piece's Nami. She'd gotten serious about weightlifting over the winter, and her physique had responded dramatically. In pictures, her curvy legs filled the skintight denim jeans, and the bikini top put her defined arms and shoulders on full display. While her followers still praised her craftsmanship, a different flavor of criticism began to emerge.

what happend to you?

Too big for nami!

Good job, but lay off the weights.

Some suggested she do Wonder Woman or Power Girl, but she didn't want to. Wonder woman wasn’t cute enough, and she didn't have the chest for Power Girl. Even with the ridiculous proportions of comic and anime women, few characters matched her body type. Fortunately, her sewing skills kept pace with her ever-increasing measurements. Standard sizes were no match for her proportions, making alterations and tailoring a necessity. Undaunted, she continued posting images, since had gained quite the following. Detractors in both the bodybuilding and cosplay communities, however, grew ever more vocal about their disapproval.

"She's way too big. Like unnatural"


"Alicia Freeman isn't a bodybuilder shes a freak"

"steroids are a hell of a drug"

"Impressive how well she hides a dick under that skirt."

And, of course, the kicker:

"...Ms. Olympia Midwest requests that you complete a biological evaluation before processing your application to compete."

Alicia's legs had begun to shake, and she grunted as she racked the weight. She'd lost track of her reps but guessed she'd pushed herself past thirty before fatigue became an issue. Her heart pounded, and she felt a tad light-headed. She concentrated on her breathing and gave herself a couple of minutes to re-settle herself. The clock read 11:45, and she had to shower and eat before her 1:00 PM cosplay construction live-stream session. Unfortunately, her workout would be extended another fifteen minutes.

She needed some bag time.

Alicia never shared any pictures or video of her self-defense hobby, or even mentioned it to her followers. In fact, outside of her instructor, her family, and Krysta, she kept her martial arts aptitude a closely-guarded secret. Bench pressing 350 pounds made her feel powerful and debuting a new cosplay she'd spent half-a-year crafting made her feel beautiful. Disarming a knife-wielding attacker with an elbow across the jaw and ripping them to the ground gave her a high she savored more than anything in the world.

Alicia had discovered both weightlifting and self-defense through her (favorite) brother Scottie, who, while two years older, stood a half-head shorter than her. Regardless of stature, she looked up to him, awed by his determination and focus. When he'd realized in high school that he was unlikely to grow any taller than 5'3", he dove into weightlifting as a consolation. Eventually, Alicia joined him in his hobby, and he was happy to have her train alongside him. The two siblings shared a close bond, and when the fruits of Alicia’s dedication began to show, he encouraged her to join him for self-defense classes as well.

"You're strong," he told her. "Really strong. Some guys are going to see that and want to cut you down. With me, they see a short guy with muscles and confidence and want to prove they can take that away. You think guys can't stand being shown up by a short dude? Wait ‘til a teenage girl kicks their ass on the bench press."

At his recommendation, Alicia started with taekwondo, which she immediately excelled at, but did not enjoy. Scottie, also a gifted martial artist, recommended she switch to Krav Maga, which he had practiced already for several years, and she never looked back. While her brother—who has since started his own MMA studio—entered and won many tournaments, Alicia did not care for competition. Her superior strength and skill was a matchup nightmare for most other women, and she was not remotely interested in fighting men. She did not want the attention, and she had nothing to prove—she trained for herself. The only competition she needed was her brother who would sometimes let her kick his ass for practice, coming at her with a prop knife, and challenging her to overpower him until her movements became second nature.

Her kick landed on the bag, cracking like a gunshot. The floorboards above her creaked as the bag lifted ever-so-slightly before dropping down and jerking on the crossbeam.

It didn't take long for others to pick up on her confidence. Even beyond her physique, not an ounce of her radiated "victim." She felt confident protecting others, often looking out for Krysta on the occasions when they went out together. Krysta liked to call Alicia her "deadly weapon," and even took the time to learn some self-defense basics herself. She suggested Alicia teach a women's self-defense course for extra money at the college, or even volunteer to head an Impact course. As much as she could use the money, Alicia never pursued it, determined to keep her hobby a secret.

Alicia doubled down, attacking the canvas with a flurry of punches. The bag swung backward, and as it re-approached, she side-stepped and drove her elbow into it. Grunting loudly, she drilled in several more punches, followed by a roundhouse kick. The bag yanked on the cross beam again, the chain chipping a sizable splinter from the wood. Winded, she caught the bag with both hands and gave it a big hug.

“Sorry, buddy,” she said, patting the worn, yellow canvas. “It’s not you; it’s me.”

She gave the bag a final squeeze, before peeling off her kickboxing gloves, grabbing her phone, and heading to the mirror. Her face glowed with perspiration and exertion, but she felt refreshed and energized, and it showed in her posture and demeanor. Taking a moment to adjust her bangs, she held up her phone, flashed a peace sign, and winked, snapping the shot just as the first traces of a smile appeared on her lips. Nailing the shot the first time, she typed a quick message.

Morning workout: done! Hittin' the shower, then I'll be streaming at 1. See you there, luvs!

She jogged upstairs, snagged a fresh towel from the closet and underclothes from her room. She queued up her J-Pop Pandora station and was about to drop her phone onto the bathroom counter when she tapped open Instagram to check her stats. In just a few minutes, she'd already received 25 likes and two comments.

A LOT of plates on that rack behind you. What're squatting these days? 400? #stud

Yay! Can't wait to see you!

Alicia grinned, watching as two more likes trickled in. She gave her phone a quick kiss on the screen and set it on the counter, before stepping into the steaming-hot shower.