'Am I looking like a man?' How Farhanna Farid overcame self-doubt to become a record-breaking powerlifter
Becoming is a series where we showcase individuals who have had to overcome adversity to become the person they are today.
In June, Singaporean powerlifter Farhanna Farid set the U-52kg deadlift world record in South Africa.
But in the male-dominated field, the athlete has not been immune to criticism since she began her journey in the sport back in 2015 when she got a running injury.
Some of it even came from her friends and family.
"For the most part, there was a lot of concern, like, 'Oh, is it safe for a girl to be doing this?'" Farhanna tells AsiaOne, "They were concerned whether I'd be able to give birth and whether I would look like a man."
But social media has led to a greater acceptance of women lifting weights, Farhanna reckons.
"It helped that I was winning as well, to gain their appreciation of the sport," she adds.
Farhanna chooses to not focus on the criticism but instead focuses her energy on things that add value to her life.
Yet, despite her self-assuredness, there were still days she felt that since so many people were criticising her, some of it may be true. Coupled with the muscle gains she experienced in the first years of powerlifting, she experienced self-doubt.
"[When] you make that transition from 48kg to cross the 50kg mark, it was quite unnerving for a girl in the beginning," the 29-year-old recounts. "And then you start being unable to fit into certain clothes, and then you compare old pictures like, 'Oh my god, am I really packing on too much muscle? Am I looking like a man?'"
Nevertheless, powerlifting made her feel in-tune with her body in ways running never had.
"I realised I'm so happy doing what I'm doing, and I feel great," she says. "It didn't matter what the others thought of me."
The first time Farhanna realised that she had made it was at the 2018 Singapore Powerlifting Open. Winning her first meet and breaking four national records, she realised that she could "make something out of" powerlifting.
"Being able to do that [made me realise] that there's more to this that I can give," she recalls. "The fact that I'm able to pull this off now, I was curious as to what else [I'd be] able to accomplish."
What Farhanna, a pharmacist by trade, has managed to achieve since then has been nothing short of outstanding.
Before the 2022 World Open Classic Powerlifting Championships, the deadlift record in her category stood at 196.5kg. Not only did Farhanna manage to surpass it by lifting 197kg in her second attempt, she lifted 200.5kg in her third, winning her the gold medal and granting her a definitive world record.
Despite breaking the world record, she remains ambitious and hungry for more.
"Even though I got to deliver world records, I feel like the overall ranking is something I could improve on," Farhanna said, noting that she had only ranked seventh in the international competition. "So if we can put Singapore on the podium, in the top three, I think that will be really awesome. And of course, to break more deadlift records, hopefully."
On top of competing herself, Farhanna has also been coaching other women to give back to the sport and further the powerlifting community in Singapore.
"I probably manifested something because I used to joke like, 'Oh, I'm gonna create a league of strong, beautiful women,' it was just a joke," she says. But now she has 10 female powerlifters under her wing. "Singapore has so much more to give, we have so much potential and I'll be more than happy to [help girls grow]."
"We have so many capable up-and-coming young athletes," she adds. "So if we can groom them and give them the support that they need. I think Singapore can actually go really far with this sport."
Is becoming a full-time athlete and coach something Farhanna might consider?
"[I have] definitely the thought of quitting my job as a pharmacist and pursuing coaching full time," she says.
"The logistics we have yet to sort out. But I feel the satisfaction I get from coaching my girls — my athletes — and how comfortable I [feel] is definitely tipping the scales."
Watch the video to hear Farhanna, a four-time national champion and two-time Asian champion, share with us how she stepped into the world of powerlifting and her struggles in becoming a powerlifter.