Three of the women behind Stylist Strong, Stylist’s strength-based fitness brand, share the stories behind their own strength.
Joslyn Thompson Rule
Creative Director at Stylist Strong
My strength journey began at 19 when I was at Trinity College in Dublin. It was a fairly wealthy university and I definitely was not wealthy so I felt very insecure, like I wasn’t in the right place, and was lacking self-confidence. One day, I saw a friend hobbling from a strength class she did with the Ladies Boat Club. I thought that sounded like the kind of challenge I needed (which is the opposite of how I now encourage people to train – you don’t need to be sore from a workout), and that began a four-year romance with rowing.
They encouraged us to lift so we’d be stronger in the boat, and we focused on skill and technique. As I got stronger I realised, I may not have had all the other things that the students from wealthy families had, but no one could take that strength away from me. There wasn’t a specific moment when I realised the importance of being physically strong. Instead, it was the realisation that while I had always blended into the background, I suddenly was getting a different kind of recognition. Some people were recognised for their wealth, and I was respected because I trained hard, was disciplined and gave a lot to my sport.
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In my third year, I became vice captain of the team and that required me to train the novices. I loved giving people the same feeling I experienced on my journey, watching them go from never being in a boat and not knowing how to use their strength to then winning the championships. Sixteen years later I’m still a trainer because I love helping people experience the feelings I had on my journey. A lot of women can be intimidated by lifting weights and going to the gym, so finding that confidence from a place you never thought you’d get it is so empowering. But the key ingredient to building physical strength is inner strength. Sometimes that’s the mental push to do an additional rep. But sometimes it’s the mental strength you need to simply get to the gym when you don’t want to, and the power to stick to the mundane stuff, like going to bed on time so you can get up for your workout the next day.
As creative director at Stylist Strong, I want to give women that inner strength through education: to help women move well and learn about their body. If you understand why you’re doing what you’re doing it’s so much more empowering. When you learn about your strengths, your body suddenly goes from being this thing you have so many hang-ups about to something that’s really cool. It’s about knowing what you can do with your body outside of it just being an aesthetic thing. Being strong gave me the confidence and resilience to make better decisions and own my power. Stylist Strong is my way of helping all women achieve that too.
Editor-in-chief of Stylist
Inner strength is about accepting who you are. As editor-in-chief of Stylist, my role involves speaking candidly with lots of women, and we are all connected by a pressure to be something else: to look different, to cry less, to be more ambitious or feel differently to how we really do. So often, our need to please means lying about the person we really are and who we want to be.
My own journey with inner strength is ongoing. I suspect it always will be. I consider myself to be strong in many ways: I stand up for who I am and what I want, defend and protect the people I love and face adversity with optimism and a desire to succeed. I consider myself to be emotionally robust. But I am not strong in every way. My biggest downfall is struggling to show emotional vulnerability. In others, I don’t consider emotion anything other than human, but I feel the need to hide my own a lot of the time. It’s a pressure I put on myself to be ‘strong’ by not showing ‘weakness’.
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This came to light in 2015, when I lost a baby at 23 weeks. I had been visibly pregnant, which made my loss a public one. In the past, I had suffered several miscarriages that most people never knew about, so I’d learnt to grieve privately and I preferred that. No one would see the tears, or risk knocking off a precariously formed emotional scab with their kindness and sympathy. I knew a well-meant smile would often have floored me. I really wanted to be seen as strong and if no one knew, then I could hide.
Because everyone knew, I dreaded that first day back in the office, to the point I asked my friends at work to brief the team to “not be too nice or sympathetic”. I was scared somebody was going to look at me sadly and I wasn’t going to be able to deal with it without crying – the thing I feared most in public. Everyone supported that and by the afternoon, I started to relax.
My final meeting of that day was with a PR who didn’t know. She greeted me with the words: “Haven’t you just come back from maternity leave?” I froze. I wasn’t strong enough to tell her it was actually compassionate leave, and my colleague Tom leapt in and steered the conversation away. After she left, Tom and I sat in silence. “I didn’t see that coming,” I said. “I know,” he answered, “I’m sorry that happened to you.” In that moment, I realised that the world hadn’t ended because I was vulnerable. I was happy he knew what he knew, and cared.
The grief took a long time to lose its power. There were times during those awful few months after that loss that I did not imagine having any strength again. When it all began, as the doctors prepared me for the worst, I remember sitting in a small hospital room and telling my husband I couldn’t go through this ever again, that I wasn’t strong enough, that our journey ended there. But over time my strength slowly returned and, 18 months later, I gave birth to my daughter. Time allowed me to think about who I was and what I wanted.
Once we accept these things, we’re able to rebuild our strength and fight for ourselves and others. Whether that’s finding the courage to start or end a relationship, to live independently, to enjoy your own company, ask for a pay rise, or to set goals or boundaries. Our inner worth, self-respect and pursuit of happiness all circle around this principle: accept, know and like who you are and what you stand for.
Co-founder of The Allbright
It took strength to start The Allbright. I met my co-founder at a party. I was the CEO of Hearst at the time, the publishing group with titles including Elle and Harper’s Bazaar. She was a tech entrepreneur who was in the process of selling her company. A mutual friend grabbed us by the arms and said, “You two should be friends,” and he was right. I was at the point in my career where I was thinking about what was next. I had turned 40 and it felt like, OK, do I really wanted to stay here in my nice corner office for the next 10 years?
The code name for the project was Albright, referencing the Madeleine Albright quote: “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women”, and it stuck. But telling people you’re leaving your job – as a CEO – for something unknown is scary. Lots of people told me I was mad. It felt like I took the leap when I properly looked into the whites of [my co-founder] Debbie’s eyes and said, “So, are we doing it then?” Because it was a massive deal to phone up my boss and the board of Hearst and tell them I was going.
The most challenging moments of my career have been when I’ve done something totally new. Whether that’s moving from COO to CEO of a company or going into investor meetings for the first time. In those situations, no one cares who you are or what you used to do – you could be Joe Bloggs to them – and it’s frightening. The statistic is 1p of every £1 of venture funding goes to female co-founders. You know that the odds are against you, so you just have to be better than anyone else. And remember to use the fact that you’re different to your advantage. You are standing out anyway, so why not get your point across?
I still deal with self-doubt every day, but I think that’s part of being human. I frame doubt in my mind as a problem to overcome, the same as the way I would in business. I ask myself ‘why?’ until I get to the root of the problem. But in those moments, my strength also comes from the women around me. We have this horror when it comes to networking, but if you think of it as just having a conversation with a purpose, then actually, it can happen anywhere: a coffee shop, the gym, a fundraiser. Because, when things go wrong, who is on your team? You need people who can look at the situation objectively and give you some perspective, outside of friends and family.
We added Stylist Strong into the space earlier this year. It’s taken me until my early 40s to realise exercise makes me feel better. And to want to feel physically strong, too. We constantly live in our heads, but it’s just as important to connect to what’s happening physically. And it doesn’t need to be scary. It’s about proving to yourself what you can do.
RISE TO THE CHALLENGE
Ready to find your strong? Try a free-weights class at Stylist Strong’s purpose-built studio at The AllBright Mayfair. To take advantage of our intro offer of two classes for £18, visit stylist.co.uk/strong.
Photography: Gemma Day, Sarah Brick, Eyevine.com
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