Spotlight series with Nike: Boundary breaking weightlifter Shazia Hossen

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We teamed up with our good friends over at Nike to help bring a spotlight to the unsung heroes who are creating real change in the world. We sat down with the first British hijab-wearing Nike ambassador Shazia Hossen to talk about breaking conventions and being bold, always. Hear from Shazia on being the representation she wanted to see, feeling empowered and being inspired by unapologetic women.

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Tell us a bit about what you do, and how you got into it.

I am a personal trainer, founder of inclusive clothing brand. #SHmodelle and creative. I aim to use my platform to redefine what it means to be Muslim, brown and a woman in both the fitness, and beyond. I seek to empower women and young people of colour through movement and imagery. As a trainer I encourage women to push past their comfort zones and try things they would otherwise feel apprehensive about, such as lifting weights, flipping tyres and swinging a sledgehammer, as well as mindfulness elements to bring both mind and body to the forefront.

In 2015 after having finished my Sports Science course, I decided to create an Instagram page to connect with other women in fitness, particularly women of colour, who I could relate to. This has grown into the wonderful community I’m a part of today.

What is the one achievement you’re most proud of?

It’s hard to pinpoint just one thing. I am very proud of where I am right now as I am in a position to help elevate those around me while continuing to grow myself. However, this year alone I have been a part of some really exciting projects, namely the Nike Women’s World Cup presentation in Paris. It was a very surreal experience sharing a stage with great athletes including Simone Biles, Dina Asher Smith and Ibtihaj Muhammad and having a glimpse of the future of sports. Being a 5’3 brown skinned, hijab wearing woman modelling in France, where the hijab ban is in place in many public spaces, felt wonderfully empowering.

Who inspires you?

I am constantly inspired by the women around who live unapologetically, whether they realise it or not. Single mum’s completing their final year of university while making time for their wellness, youth workers who wear crop tops and don’t apologise for having skin that folds when they sit, twerk instructors spinning on a pole through their final trimester, activists with engineering degrees who writes books about black muslim girls. I’m so grateful to have such incredible people to look up to. Because they are, I am.

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What keeps you motivated to keep trying new things and pushing conventions?

Looking after my health and wellness is a part of my faith and I believe that we have been created to do so much more than going to school and working 9-5. So I consider pushing myself in training and challenging my limits, both in and out of the gym, as a form of honouring myself. What a shame it would be to go through life never really knowing what it is we are capable of.

What would you say to someone that is wanting to try to make change in the world, but doesn’t know where to start?

Start where you are at with what you have. Great change begins with yourself and there is no need to rush the process.

How did you get over your ‘gym-timidation’, especially being a hijabi woman in the personal training world, which is often male dominated?

I had been playing sports and training in male dominated spaces from a young age so I had personally never really felt much intimidation until about 3 years ago when I first wore hijab to the gym. I felt very self conscious throughout my workout, but by the end of it I realised there was no need. Being a hijab wearing woman in the weight room may turn some heads, but is not necessarily negative. It doesn’t last and should not get in the way of anyone achieving their goals.

I would recommend having a training buddy, or two, especially when just starting out. It helps to have someone on the journey with you.

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What advice would you give to other muslim girls who are looking to pursue a career in fitness, but may feel put off by the stigma surrounding it?

Someone somewhere will always have something negative to say no matter what it is you choose to do, so you might as well go for it. One thing that really helped me in my decision to start practicing the hijab as a baby girl in the fitness industry was connecting with other muslim women who were already training in hijab on Instagram. I actively searched for them via hashtags and mutuals, because I remember thinking they must exist somewhere. I’d like to think that now, 4 years on, we don’t have to search as hard to find that representation though there is still a way to go.

Follow what Shazia gets up to over on her Instagram.

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