Women typically don’t lift weights. Okay let’s be real, American’s don’t typically exercise… but often women who do are afraid of weights. And by weights I don’t mean 2-3 lb pink dumbbells. I am often told this is due to a fear of becoming “bulky” and “manly.”
This is an idea I want to spend some time on. And I already know it will require several posts. Today I want to focus on cultural reasons women shy away from lifting weights.
The first thing to know about this- is that this idea is cultural and programed. There is this ideal that men are to be big and strong and tough and women should be small and waify. This ideal is not just physical. It’s the same one that expects men to have opinions and calls women bitchy for expressing theirs and asks women to look the part of a video vixen with none of the sexual experience. In short, men get to be smart, opinionated, sexual and strong while we are supposed to be tiny, sexy creatures quietly waiting for prince charming to come rescue us from ourselves. This is all the same stuff. So lets be clear about that.
It’s pretty simple really. Lifting weights doesn’t have a place in this “tiny, quiet creature” ideal. The weight room is a playground of strength building. And we are taught that there is no place for a woman there.
You and all your friends didn’t just happen to come up with the same basic ideal body for yourself, this idea has become more restrictive and prominent at the same rate at which women have become the numerical majority and educated at higher rates than their male counterparts. And it’s so ingrained in women that it keeps most of us disliking ourselves regardless of our wonderful qualities and accomplishments. We then turn this disgust outward, judging other women so harshly (specifically their bodies and other superficial qualities) because we can’t stand to look in the mirror.
It still alarming to me that the same woman who wouldn’t dream of making a disparaging remark about a woman being too fat would quickly make harsh judgments against a woman who has a muscular physique. Calling such a woman “masculine” and “gross.” If calling another woman “gross” for being strong doesn’t scream of one’s own insecurities and single-handedly illustrate my point, I don’t know what does. In what other context do we routinely call another’s body gross? Does that put hard earned muscle on a woman in the same category as say, genital warts?
This is not to say that everyone should aesthetically prefer muscular women or that there isn’t room for personal preference in body type. If I could pick my body out of thin air it would probably be in the Selma Hayek arena; big hips, full breasts and little waist. The classic pin up look. My body is not that. I have big hips, full muscular thighs and what used to be a 38 D has been reduced to… well, I’m not fully certain of what it is because I don’t have a bra that fits correctly but let’s just say I’m optimistic I’m a B cup. But my body not looking like those I admire does not color my relationship with it. I love my body now even though it’s not anyone’s ideal per say. It suits me, as well it should as I was born with it and it now looks like MY body does when it’s healthy and strong.
I think it’s sad we don’t like ourselves very much and worse we let these insecurities sour our relationships with our bodies and other women. It makes me angry that what makes a woman “beautiful” feels like such a small box to fit into and that there is no room for strength. And I think it’s ridiculous to pay attention to any notion of women as the weaker sex.
I’ve heard that the pain equivalent of childbirth for men would be to have their scrotum pulled up over their heads. There are tribes where traditionally pregnant women stop for a moment to push out their babies in the bushes and then take the new baby with them in their days work. Interesting that this is another amazing accomplishment in terms of women’s bodies as a source of strength that is also called “gross” and not considered polite conversation…
We are not weak. We are not designed to be. We are only subject to the terms and conditions of the beauty myth to the extent to which we accept it. We come in all shapes and sizes and we are all strong.
Having that strength be physically apparent deserves a rightful place in the diverse spectrum of what makes a woman beautiful. And if no one else will yell this from the mountain tops, well then damn it I will.