“Quiana ‘Chuckie’ Welch is showing the world that black female athletes are beautiful. But she didn’t always feel so confident in her own skin.”
When Olympic weightlifter and snatch American record holder Quiana “Chuckie” Welch stepped onto the platform at the Arnold Classic last March, she did so with more African pizazz than most of the competitors in the room.
All eyes were on her custom-made, legless singlet: Its kente-like design featured bright orange, green and yellow, while a black meshy fabric laced her arms and shoulders. It was a much more playful version of the classic, monochromatic uniforms most weightlifters wear to meets. Welch and her teammates decided to stitch up something unique for this competition.
To break the norm.
“[My team], we just wanted to have fun,” she told the Shadow League. “It’s boring to see just black Virus singlets like we are all in some army or something.”
Of course, Welch wasn’t just there for fun and games: She came to sling some heavy weight. To everyone’s amazement, she crushed 109-kilograms (240-pounds) on her third snatch attempt, which would have been a new American record — the very record she set last winter.
There was only one problem: The judges DQ’ed her lift. Why? The judges never gave her a real explanation, she said.
“At that point, I was tearing up because they had just taken that away from me,” Welch said.
After that, it seemed like everything was going wrong. Backstage, a judge came and told her that her singlet was a problem. She had to change it or fix the sleeves (they couldn’t be attached to her uniform). Welch was confused. She thought her team had checked all of the rule books before they made their singlets and no one had said anything about her outfit at check-in. Regardless, she cut off the sleeves hoping to finish the clean and jerks and put the whole mess behind her.
But when she hopped on to Instagram to post a photo of herself, she only received even more trouble — this time in the form of hateful comments.
She looks like a ho.
You’re not good enough to wear legless.
“Thot” “Classless” “Disrespecting the sport” and looks like I’m “going to a porn contest” are some of the names or statements made about me in my legless singlet. A style worn previously by BOTH men and women for Olympic Weightlifting and that apparently some choose to sexualize on a body even remotely curvy. I wanted this singlet made because this was my first Arnold, a meet that could qualify me for my FIRST International meet and one that would allow many of my friends and family who have never seen me lift before in person see me compete. It was special to me so I wanted a special singlet for the occasion. Most people loved this piece of art my good friend and teammate @janyce.okamoto made for both myself and @alyssaritchey1 but then you have those people up there that choose to impose their misogynistic and sexualized views to put you down and call you names. I refuse to apologize for my body, called those names or go out of my way to cover my body because it offends you. Perhaps instead of thinking that someone who wears a legless with fun patterns and stones who has some junk in the truck as an “amateur” thirsty thot or hoe maybe you should take a step back and look at them as a hard working, dedicated athlete just trying to make a name for herself in a sport that she loves. To those who showed all me all the love in the world and sent positive vibes, I appreciate you so much and am so thankful for you. This weekend was emotional but meeting a lot of you made it a much better experience. Thank you SOOO much ❤️ Photo by @divinefitness
28.3k Likes, 2,498 Comments – Quiana Welch (@chuckiewelch) on Instagram: “”Thot” “Classless” “Disrespecting the sport” and looks like I’m “going to a porn contest” are some…”
“And then people kept making comments about my body in general,” said Welch. “It was all just crazy.”
Unfortunately, Welch isn’t foreign to haters and body shamers. She’s seen this in the media before.
Serena Williams — the greatest tennis player in the world — has been called “savage” and “animalistic” for her muscular body and curves. Olympic sprinter Natasha Hastings was bullied in high school for “looking like a boy.” Early in her career, world-class ballerina Misty Copeland had been rejected from an academy for having the wrong build.
Black female athletes have often faced harsh criticism and racism in America. It’s a narrative that stems from the days of slavery when the female black body was not considered feminine or beautiful. It was hyper-sexualized, objectified and torn apart metaphorically and physically.
On Instagram, Welch says has been called a man, a whore, a monkey, an ape and “every other primate you can think of.”
“I’m one of the few black women in the sport so of course people want to make comments when I wear a legless singlet,” she added. “I didn’t see any criticism of my teammate or any other white girl wearing one. It was just really frustrating.”
And for many of her fans, seeing comments like that was baffling as well. Today, Welch has amassed over 150k followers on the Gram and it’s not difficult to see why. Now “strong is beautiful” and people are celebrating #blackgirlmagic more than ever. Welch is just another example of that.
To add to it, Chuckie is just fun to watch. She wears vibrant workout clothes with loud patterns. She’s proud of her natural hair and totally cool with changing her look with different weaves. She’s a shapeshifter, an accomplished athlete, and many of her workout videos feature her dancing, laughing or singing as she rests between heavy reps.
Her Insta feed is a celebration of the black female athleticism that has been neglected for so long.
100kg/220lb No Hook No Feet PR! No idea where the hell my ditzy behind got 200 from but oh well. I remember this time last year only being able to do like 65-70kg comfortably without moving or being too scared to even lift it. Just goes to show you what hard work and trusting the system works? Yahoo! ??
4,198 Likes, 87 Comments – Quiana Welch (@chuckiewelch) on Instagram: “100kg/220lb No Hook No Feet PR! No idea where the hell my ditzy behind got 200 from but oh well. I…”
But it took some time for Welch to become so confident in her own skin. As a kid growing up in rural, white Georgia, she had a hard time fitting in with other students at school — even with the other girls on her gymnastics teams.
“I think I was about 10 when I noticed that I didn’t look like anybody else,” Welch said. “They were all string beans and skinny legs and no muscle tone, and here I had all these jacked muscles and curves. So I definitely was super self-conscious.”
Her hair was also short so people just assumed she was a boy. Her mother, Queta, tried to dress her in girlier clothes to make her seem more feminine. But in middle school, Welch was still ashamed of her body and tried to cover everything up.
“I would start wearing long sleeve shirts that are kind of billowy so they couldn’t see any curves,” Welch said. “I tried to wear my skirts that didn’t show my quads.”
One day, she developed a crush on a white boy in her class. Her white friend told her that she couldn’t date him because of the color of her skin. So Welch began sneaking into her mother’s makeup bag to put on powder before she went to school. Her mother’s skin was fairer than hers, and Welch hoped that her mom’s makeup would make her more attractive.
“Those magazines like Allure and Vogue were presenting fairer skin everywhere so I thought if I could somehow get myself lighter it might help my situation,” she said.
But the powder only made her look ghastly and the boy hardly noticed her. She had to try something else. Sometimes when she and her mother when to the beauty store to get her hair done, Welch would try to sneak skin lightening cream into her mother’s shopping cart at checkout.
“Of course, [Mom] would put it back so it never really worked out for me, which was good,” Welch said.
When she went to boarding school in Florida, she continued to struggle with her insecurities.
“There was only a handful of black people at school, and I was always the darkest out of everybody,” she said. “I loved the sun and I loved being outside. So I didn’t mind being darker. But then people would make comments. Like, ‘why are you so dark?’ I would think to myself, ‘What do you mean, why am I so dark? I can’t help that I’m this dark. What am I supposed to do?’”
There were times when Welch felt helpless. So how in the world did Chuckie go from being super-self-conscious to the confident, carefree spirit we see on Instagram?
She claims that her mom was the one who really taught her what it meant to see her own beauty. “Your black skin is beautiful,” her mom would always tell her.
Look who came to watch me? MAMA Q!!!! So happy I was able to hit PR’s across the board today for her and not duck up her Mothers Day ?❤️ Now to eat some Deep Dish and pass out!!!! Oh! and @alyssaritchey1 says Hi too ???
3,315 Likes, 52 Comments – Quiana Welch (@chuckiewelch) on Instagram: “Look who came to watch me? MAMA Q!!!! So happy I was able to hit PR’s across the board today for…”
“There was like a time where I would try to stay out of the sun because I didn’t want to get darker,” said Welch. “But then I would have these conversations with my mom and she was like, ‘You need to just get over that and love yourself.’ And she would get subscriptions to Essence and Ebony, and I would see more people like me. That actually helped me with accepting my skin.”
Welch also watched her mother survive several bouts of cancer and has always admired how she loved her body through sickness and health.
“My mother’s a very confident woman,” said Welch. “Even when she didn’t have hair and her skin was burned from the chemo, she would still throw on her wig and wear red lipstick. She was always a happy, jovial person about everything. So my mom plays a huge part in who I am. She’s where I get my confidence from.”
Sports had a huge influence on Welch’s self-acceptance as well. During high school and college, she played volleyball and met more girls with her build. In 2009, she played in the Lingerie Football League and found a community that loved their muscles just as much as their makeup.
“I think that’s when I became ultra comfortable with myself,” Welch said. “Granted, [the league] was like super sexualized. But all of us just wanted to f***king play football, because when can you play tackle football? We wanted people to see that women can play football, look the way that we look and still be cute.”
The following year, she moved to New York and got hooked on CrossFit. But soon she discovered what she really loved was Olympic weightlifting.
“Just watching [people lift], it looks so pretty,” Welch said. “Since I used to be a gymnast, I’m all about movement and mechanics. Anything that’s super elegant and glowy but also has the power and the strength aspect of it is pure magic.”
So far, her immense passion for the sport and extreme athleticism has accelerated her to the highest ranks in the country. At the American Open last December, she snatched 107-kilograms to beat Olympian Jenny Arthur and break the national record. Today, Welch’s dream is to make the U.S. Olympic team for Tokyo 2020.
Meanwhile, on social media, her unabashed self-love has captured the hearts of thousands of people all over the world. Back at the Arnold, Welch clapped back at the internet trolls and received an overwhelming support from her fans.
When you and fellow Chocolate Drop @quadslikecasia make it on @hookgripusa for the 1st time ?☺️?? #TaylarIsMissing #NaturalChocolate #ImComing107
3,158 Likes, 40 Comments – Quiana Welch (@chuckiewelch) on Instagram: “When you and fellow Chocolate Drop @quadslikecasia make it on @hookgripusa for the 1st time ?☺️??…”
“I refuse to apologize for my body, called those names or go out of my way to cover my body because it offends you.” she wrote. “Perhaps instead of thinking that someone who […] some junk in the truck as an ‘amateur’ thirsty thot or hoe maybe you should take a step back and look at them as a hard-working, dedicated athlete.”
In some ways, it’s ironic that her nickname is “Chuckie” like the character from The Rugrats. Chuckie Finster is this pale boy with red hair who’s fear of the world prevents him from fully embracing life. Welch is just the opposite: Black, strong, daring and willing to take on anyone who challenges her being.
Like 2x Ms. Figure Olympia winner Latorya Watts, who shattered the misconceptions of black women in bodybuilding, Chuckie wants to show other black women that they don’t have to spiral down the path of shame and self-doubt. There’s another journey to be had — one where she can wear whatever she wants, be whoever she wants and dance all the way to the podium.
“I just want to let people — especially black women — know that you can do what I do. You can totally do it and you can do it how you want to do it. I don’t want to fit within this stupid little box. That’s just not who I am and I love this sport.”