There’s this insidious thing that won’t seem to go away, and it is the incessant chatter about athletic women’s bodies- is it ok for women to have muscles? Is strong really better than skinny? I don’t know if men are the main perpetrators or if it’s mostly us doing this to each other (let’s blame the men, that’s more fun). Either way, it’s apparent that certain forces are less than enthusiastic about the fairer sex being yoked. Don’t be scared, everything is going to be ok, even if us gals get barbells in our hands. I usually chalk the negativity up to mostly internet trolls- a subsect of the population I find it best to ignore. Frankly, I just don’t like giving life to the subject by discussing it further. I don’t feel the need to defend my choices for my body, or encourage others to choose the same path I have. Some see fit to inundate the inter-webs with articles and memes trying to dispel the myth that weight training makes women bulky, that strong is in fact superior to other ways of being, and working to assuage women’s fears that if they pick up a barbell their feminine curves will combust into a manly, hard body. Fears. Fears? Somehow, with everything going on in the world, development of strength, muscle and physical competency has become something that has risen to the status of being fear-worthy. I mean, what are these crazy girls going to do next, try to grow beards!? (Not likely because beards are vile and germ infested. If you don’t know about this you must read The Twits.)
But I digress. A couple of recent events transpired that sparked my interest in this subject. My opinion on the matter, like anyone elses of course, is shaped by my experiences. I grew up as a gymnast- a sport that produces strong, muscular athletes. I grew up with a strong mother. She was not an athlete, but she was strong as a horse in my child’s eye view. She always worked two, usually three jobs (often physical ones) to support us. My mother consistently encouraged my sister and I in our athletic endeavors and frankly, I felt that I was expected to be an athlete. I don’t remember her ever being sick and I only saw her cry once, when I was ten years old and her grandmother died. The problems explored in The Feminine Mystique did not exist in our house. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, in many ways I feel I was freed from the confines of stereotypical notions of femininity. I’ve always included strength as a completely normal characteristic for a woman. When I think of the ultimate woman, being able to handle business physically is one of the foremost thoughts in my mind. Bearing and nursing children, physically carrying them, raising children, doing labor to care for and support herself or her family- these are all things that I find utterly feminine and the ability to do them is enhanced and facilitated by a fit, strong body. One of my favorite things is when my son tells me I’m strong and emulates my athletic movements.
Back to the two events that got me thinking about this subject. One was a woman who contacted me after some of her loved ones reacted negatively to changes in her body after 5 months of CrossFit. Basically, they felt that her new muscle definition looked “manly”. My comment to her was essentially, if you have conviction about what you are doing, you must hold onto that as your shield against the naysayers. You are responsible for your body. You are responsible for your own health and happiness. How your body transforms is secondary to the discipline you’re displaying and the sense of accomplishment you earn in your daily workouts and progress towards your goals. People who really care about you should be uplifted by your joy, hard work and accomplishments. In my case, I’m fortunate that overwhelmingly I am affirmed for what I do with regard to fitness and I’m realizing not everyone has that experience.
The other happening was a conversation with one of the top weightlifting coaches in the country. He told me that he’s had multiple adolescent female lifters quit the sport of weightlifting because they (or their mothers!) felt it was making their butt and thighs too big. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I found this fact shocking. We discussed the matter a bit more on “Weightlifting Talk”. Maybe I hang around too many people who appreciate a developed butt and quads, but WHAT?! First of all, when you’re an adolescent girl, your body is supposed to grow and develop, weightlifter or not. Second of all, what’s wrong with a butt and thighs?
I came away from these two occurrences shaking my head and more convinced than ever that the best way to deal with this obsession with critiquing women’s bodies is to identify your own beliefs and values about your body and what you choose to do with it, and say FTW. Whether it’s too “manly” because you’re lifting weights, or too curvaceous because you’re lifting weights, or too thin because you like to run, or too whatever. In Tina Fey’s book Bossypants, she documents the list of attributes that every girl is expected to have:
- Caucasian blue eyes
- Full Spanish lips
- A classic button nose
- Hairless Asian skin with a California tan
- A Jamaican dance hall ass
- Long Swedish legs
- Small Japanese feet
- The abs of a lesbian gym owner
- The hips of a nine year old boy
- The arms of Michelle Obama
- And doll tits
Great list, funny and reflective of the ridiculousness of it all. It’s a shame there’s no tidy conclusion to this matter so we could stop having this conversation over and over. I suspect that won’t happen anytime soon. In the meantime, I leave you with a lyric from a song my mother used to play:
“But it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well, You see, ya can’t please everyone, So ya got to please yourself.”- Rick Nelson