"No, you won’t get big!" (Because big is bad, right？)
"It won’t make you bulky!" (Because to be bulky is to break the rules of femininity, didn’t ya know)
"You won’t look like this (insert image of female body builder). You’ll look like this (insert image of crazy toned fitness model)" (because there are only good and bad bodies. Anything that doesn’t look like the model is bad, ya heard.)
"You’ll get lean, sexy muscle！" (because all other muscle is unsexy, and you only want the sexy. It’s all about being fuckable )
"You won’t look like a man" (because the WORST thing you can do as a woman is potentially confuse 2-3 stupid people about your gender. Peeps need their boxes & labels, or else…uh, chaos？).
Heard any of these phrases before？If not, you may have been living in a bubble, lol. At least, in fitness. But while they are common (and kinda true, at least in terms of women not being equipped for fast, large amounts of muscle gain), I’d argue that they do little to actually address the major concern of women who are scared about weight lifting. Because it isn’t actually about the muscle.
It’s all well and good to address the female concern of becoming too “bulky” by offering the standard go-to “no it won’t” answer. And the facts, of course. There’s lots of ways to do that, and they aren’t necessarily ineffective: plenty of women have started lifting as the result of reassurances that they won’t get “too big” (whatever that means to them). But still, the fear of size is a big issue, even amongst educated women who can recite the facts behind muscle growth verbatim. And that’s because the standard - and scientific - answers fail to address the root of the problem. They may even reinforce it: when we say “no worries, you won’t get bulky and muscular!” we reinforce the idea that muscle is a undesirable thing…
…and that’s just IT.
Because when women say they’re scared of getting too bulky, what they are actually saying is “I’m scared of breaking the rules about what women should look like and be seen as less desirable”. And when they say they’re scared of being too muscular, it’s a fear of being judged:the culmination of their experiences & observations. If it were a movie, think of a sassy montage of every single negative comment, statement or stance they’ve ever heard about women with guns. And while the media can be cruel, the people around us can reinforce negative notions with tiny comments, judgements and reminders. Negative attitudes towards women with muscle can be subtle, are generally accepted and pervasive.
If you pay attention to the way women with muscle are treated in the media, it’s hard to ignore the negative connotations and strong statements about femininity. Think about celebs like Cameron Diaz, Michelle Obama, Pink, Madonna, Jessica Biel, Serena Williams, Beyonce etc: though often revered in fitness circles ALL of these women have been on the brunt end of body shaming, particularly about their muscled bits in the mainstream media. They’ve all had strangers “debate” their bodies, been called “too muscular” and had millions of people comment on how they “should” look. Which isn’t actually unusual for ANY women in the public eye, but is particularly helpful if we are to understand why so many women are scared of muscle. (if you’re doubtful, feel free to google any of the names with the words “too muscled”).
So, MY thing is this… if we really want to address that concern head on, we have to dig a little deeper than “don’t worry! You won’t look like a man (and conversely become less worthy because you’ve been told that having visible muscle as a woman makes you less f*ckable or desirable). We also have to dig deeper than JUST supplying the facts- which ARE facts, by the way: women don’t have enough testosterone to build significant size, the loads you’d need to be lifting to build significant muscle are VERY heavy (if you can lift it more than 8 times in a row, it’s generally not enough to encourage growth, less even. 5lb & 10lb weights will NOT do much for the average woman) and muscle building takes time. SOOOOO MUCH TIME. Getting big does not happen by accident, overnight, or even
over hundreds of nights).
We also have to own our shizz more often. Especially people who WANT women lifting and getting strong. Say you are a trainer or enthusiast who spends at least SOME time trying to promote the benefits of resistance and strength training for women AND you simultaneously (and perhaps inadvertently)….
1. Make occasional comments about how a female celebrity (or any woman really) is starting to look “manly” or needs to cut back on training (without actually knowing anything about her regimen).
2. Refer to muscular women (and there is a BIG range, no pun intended) as “She-Hulks”, “Trannies”, “Scary”, “Wrong”, “Androgenous Sea Creatures” or “Gross” (PS: transphobia sucks, but that’s another discussion entirely #ally).
3. Reinforce the notion that women with visible muscle are unattractive, undesirable, unf*ckable, unmarryable and otherwise unworthy in ANY way (big or small). (Example: suggesting that muscular women may have a hard time finding a partner, or wondering aloud if they intimidate men). Not about personal attraction (we like what we like), but in general. Back hair isn’t my favorite thing in the world, but saying all men with back hair are undesirable is silly, wrong and downright offensive (right? Right).
4. Use the term “real women” or worse, use it in a phrases such as “real women are soft, have curves, are round, are petite”.
5. Make casual faces, comments, jokes or exhibit a variety of other distancing behaviors when it comes to women with muscle.
… you’re doing it WRONG.
Soooooo….. how about we start by looking at our own language, attitudes and treatment of women with muscle? Is there something there you might want to address or change? The attitudes of the people around us are a HUGE motivator: women who have support systems that encourage strength and physical fitness report higher confidence levels, positive self-image and less stress/anxiety over appearance.
Just something to think about. Any thoughts?