For many people, hitting the gym can be an uncomfortable experience. Whether because they’re a woman, trans, a person of color, vegan, punk, feminist, fat or an other in some way, it can feel like an unwelcoming place.
Liberation Barbell in Portland is here to combat the exclusivity that comes with the typical gym experience by creating a gym that’s a safe space for marginalized people. It’s all in their philosophy:
Much of the fitness industry tells us that our bodies are never enough – or more commonly – that they are too much. Liberation Barbell calls bullshit on that! We believe in lifting in a positive, explicitly feminist fitness community as a tool of empowerment, and refuse to motivate fitness through body-hate.
Liberation Barbell is a celebration of diversity, body and fat positivity, empowerment and strength over looks. We are founded on the idea that physical fitness should be accessible to any body regardless of age, race, ability, gender identity, sexuality, current health, or size. We use barbells, kettlebells, and free weights as tools to strengthen our minds and our connection to ourselves and each other.
Liberation Barbell believes in total liberation! This means we approach fitness through a lens of anti-oppression and with an aim to always grow and better serve the various communities that thrive in our space.
Founders Lacy Davis and Christina Cabrales raised $25,000 via an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign to build a weightlifting gym that reflects their values.
Cabrales says there are many issues marginalized people face at the gym.
“For trans people, it’s very hard to find gender neutral restrooms. For women, it’s men approaching them and hitting on them or mansplaining to them,” she says. “For fat people, no one that looks like them are there. As a brown person, I can go to a gym and only see white people. It’s universal. You don’t see anyone like you so it’s uncomfortable.”
At Liberation, they create a safe space by providing gender neutral restrooms, individual gender neutral changing stalls and asking preferred pronouns at sign-up and at the beginning of each class.
Even dieting and mirrors don’t exist within the walls of Liberation.
“There are no mirrors. There’s no talk of diets. We aren’t offering diet plans or nutritional plans or anything like that at the gym,” says Cabrales. “If there’s a mirror or talking about diets, that sends a subtle or not so subtle message that you’re not good enough. But you are good enough, right now the way you are.”
Cabrales experienced first-hand body shame. Despite always being fit and athletic, as a kid she didn’t think her body was “good enough.”
“Because I was a jock my body wasn’t feminine enough,” she says. “I’m short. I’m built like a tank. I’m not this lean, long, slender person with hips and boobs. I was mistaken for a boy all the time when I was a kid.”
For Cabrales, it was important that Liberation counteracts those feelings of body shame individuals might have. Together, she and Davis worked to “predict the future of what our clients would appreciate” based on each of their personal life experiences and gym experiences.
But that doesn’t mean they think they’ve mixed the perfect potion.
“We want feedback from our clients all the time,” Cabrales says. “We’re going to welcome that. We know we’re going to make mistakes and know culture changes all the time.”
To ensure Liberation is a space where all are welcome, they offer a cleaning trade which allows individuals to get a free gym membership if they help clean the space at least one day a week.
“We want it to be accessible and we understand that a gym membership universally is a privilege,” says Cabrales. “It’s not what we would call rent or grocery money. It’s a benefit and a privilege, and we want that to be as accessible to everyone.”