How subversive is women’s “bulking up”, really?

Today’s workout was another active recovery session– 30 minutes on the elliptical at a light effort. I’ve been thinking that the heart rate monitor on the elliptical was broken, so I brought in my fancy HRM watch– and nope, it’s not broken, my heart rate is just staying that low. Whatevs.

Now, a serious post. I keep writing this post over and over, but hesitating to actually put it up as a "reaction post" because I don’t want to dismiss the feelings of the folks who write this stuff, but it drives me nuts. So I gave it some space, but here it is.

I am tired of hearing from thin ladies who feel like they are challenging beauty ideals when they start lifting and gaining muscle.

Inevitably they talk about how people warn them against "getting big". Don’t be too big, it’s not feminine! Muscle adds bulk you know! And they post pictures of their well-developed backs and arms, flexing their guns, and complain about finding pants to fit their growing quads.

However, as a fat woman, no one ever warned me against "getting big" when I started lifting. It was assumed that I’d get smaller, actually. I lift plenty heavy (see yesterday’s post for my current bragging numbers) yet I’ve never lost my "feminine physique", My guns hardly show much when I flex. The hard ridge of my quads above my knees and the profile of my hamstrings are less noticeable when my thighs are already well-padded. My strength doesn’t "show"; indeed, most people who look at me might think I’ve never set foot in a gym.

Can we talk about the modern feminine ideal for a second? Let’s not pretend that there aren’t a billion fitspo pictures out there that look just like those thin ladies flexing. Googling "Top female weightlifters" returned a bunch of listicles like "The 12 Hottest Women of the 2015 CrossFit Games" and "Hottest Female Weightlifters in the World"– and the same thing happens for "top female athletes", too. And yet the strongest women in the country, the Olympic lifters in the highest weight categories, can’t pay their rent and aren’t offered sponsorships– because women are valuable because of their attractiveness and not their ability.

Anyway, thin ladies, please keep lifting if you enjoy it. Be proud of the muscles and power you’ve earned– and I encourage you to brag about them while being aware that you still fit well within the feminine ideal. Some strong women aren’t so privileged.

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13 Responses to How subversive is women’s “bulking up”, really?

  1. ebay313 says:

    This is a good point! It reminds me of folks who say “strong is the new thin” and such… no, thin with muscles is the new thin, and that’s not really a better ideal.

    • G says:

      Right? Before you could get away with just being thin (no matter how that was accomplished) now you have to go to the gym too. Yet another thing to keep up– and another way of taking all the joy out of the activity.

      • ebay313 says:

        It is sad to me because I think focusing on what our bodies can do over how they look would be a bit revolutionary for women. But often those trumpeting “strong is sexy” put more emphasis on dieting down to very low body fat percentages to really make their muscles “pop” more than the activities they can do.
        I actually worry about a lot of women I see who get into the bikini competitions and talk about how gross they feel when they work on bulking between competitions and wish they could stay at the competition level physique all the time. Which is not healthy at all. And it makes me sad that women are feeling gross about their body just because they can’t maintain unhealthily low body fat percentages.

  2. Gingerzingi says:

    +1 every word of this.

  3. I’m a runner with a stocky physique and a little bit of padding around the middle. Who knows, you might call me thin, but I don’t really think of myself that way. I have extremely muscular legs because of running (none of those thin runner twigs for me, unfortunately!). I’ve had admiring comments from both men and women about my legs. Not that they’re sexy, but “wow, your legs are so muscular.” I’ve felt self-conscious about them, but now I’m starting to think of the as one of my better features. They aren’t your standard long, sexy legs, but dammit they’re shapely and they’re powerful, and they look good in skinny jeans! Kudos to you to being fit and strong!

  4. Well written, and sadly, a much needed article, thank you!

  5. lozette says:

    I think about this a lot too. Why are women like Lulu Zhou, Holley Mangold, Tatiana Kashirina or Sarah Robles not the poster girls for “strong is the new skinny”. Could it be our old friends misogyny & fatphobia? Women are still expected to look a certain way even if our body goals are meant to have “changed”. Personally I think “strong is the new skinny” is just another way of dictating to women what we’re meant to look like.

  6. Gingerzingi says:

    “I am tired of hearing from thin ladies who feel like they are challenging beauty ideals when they start lifting and gaining muscle.”

    But I do love hearing from ladies of any size who feel like they are challenging patriarchal notions of female weakness and passivity when they start lifting and gaining muscle!

    “Personally I think “strong is the new skinny” is just another way of dictating to women what we’re meant to look like.”
    Too true, lozette…

    • G says:

      Yes, absolutely! Stories from women who feel strong and powerful and empowered when they start lifting bring me life :D

  7. Pingback: 2016 in review | Running While Fat

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