‘Don’t get too strong, you don’t want to get big arms/thighs/biceps/triceps/shoulders (delete as appropriate)!’
I wonder how many women have heard this belief expressed when they start to get into resistance training? I know how many times I have. Four, to be precise. While it may not seem like many in the grand scheme of things; to me, it is four times too many.
The first time was from a friend, when I was marathon training, the second was from a guy I was on a first date with, the third from a personal trainer, and the fourth from a family member.
It may or may not surprise you that some people think women need to hear this, but it probably won’t surprise you that all four instances mentioned above, were men.
It’s a strange thing to say to someone, because the sentiment behind it is: ‘I know what you want better than you do’
When I challenged the most recent culprit on his assertion that I didn’t want muscly legs, he insisted not once, not twice, but thrice that he knew best. In the end I gave up trying to convince him. I mean, why should I need to?
Unfortunately, in all the cases above, their opinions were based on the assumption that I exercise to please men – that the body I am slowly shaping, is for the pleasure of others. Most people understand that this isn’t the case, but others, apparently, do not. However, what’s equally frustrating is that when these men speak on behalf of ‘men’, they are actually speaking on behalf of a stereotype.
All men do not find the same physical features attractive in women, no more so than women find the same physical features attractive in men, thank goodness.
But that’s beside the point; essentially what they were saying was, you shouldn’t put on too much muscle, because you won’t look as good as you do now, which is the part I have always found hard to stomach.
I don’t mind people questioning why I go to the gym and why I enjoy getting stronger; if it means I get to talk about the benefits of weight lifting, then I ‘m all for it. I also don’t mind if people don’t find the look attractive; that simply comes down to personal preference, and I know that I can’t be everyone’s cup of tea.
What I don’t like is the assumption that I am doing this for anyone else but myself.
People’s ideas of beauty and attractiveness in women (and men) have varied greatly over the years and from country to country; from sculptures celebrating curvaceous, solid women, to ultra-slim catwalk models. From small bottoms to ‘bubble bottoms’, pale skin to sun-kissed.
One key trend that is now growing stronger, is the desire among women to be strong not skinny. That doesn’t mean ‘powerlifter strong’ – although kudos to anyone who does compete – but fit, with healthy proportions and muscle definition.
Again, this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and I would never suggest anyone should change how they want to be (unless of course the way they are has serious health implications), but for women who, for years, have been told that being strong is too ‘masculine’, I believe this trend can only have good consequences. Provided we don’t let it get stamped out by some poorly judged comments. Strong is gender neutral.
Luckily, you don’t have to look far for inspiration. Hattie Boydle, WBFF World Fitness Champion 2017 and founder of the Sports Model Project, provides endless inspiration via her Instagram channel @hattieboydle and via industry partnerships.
Other influencers, such as strength and fitness coach Meg (@megsquats), calisthenics athlete Malin Malle Jansson (@malinmallejansson), founder of kaisafitworkouts.com Kaisa Keranan (@kaisafit), and serious lifters Cassandra Martin (@casssmartin) and Lucy Sewell (@lucysewell_01), show how fierce and sexy strong women can be. And by strong, I mean strong! Lauren Simpson (@laurensimpson), WBFF World Bikini Champion 2018, recently squat 130kg at 57kg bodyweight. If you think that’s lightweight, think again.
These are just a few examples of the people who are inspiring women (and men) around the world. You just have to look at their followings to realise that this won’t be a passing fad.
Back in day to day life though, I am nowhere near a 130kg squat (yet) and have never competed, but I am enjoying the process of testing myself, of changing and shaping my body, of making the most of what it can do (and working on what it can’t do – yet), and of getting stronger.
So, I’ll keep smiling and even if I have to say it a thousand times more: ‘Yes, I do want muscly legs, yes, I do want stronger arms and yes, I do want boulder shoulders’. And if you don’t like it, look the other way!
Strong isn’t masculine, strong isn’t feminine, strong is strong.