The support and feedback from my last post was just incredible. I am so glad you guys liked what I had to say. That is a topic where there will always be more to add…but I will save it for the next thing that truly upsets me.
Now, this was attributed to an article about women who are scared to lift weights because they don’t want to look like a body builder. I have an issue with both sides of this. First of all, it is insinuating that the woman on the left is in no way a desirable option. Personally, that really is not how I want to look, but I support those who do and I don’t think there should be the insinuation that it is some terrible thing. And secondly, the woman on the right is over-sexualized, probably did some water manipulation for this shot….and is holding what looks like a 3lb weight. Which I highly doubt she uses in any exercises.
But what this really got me thinking about is intimidation in the gym. That is, women’s intimidation of the weight room. I am no stranger to the gym, but up until recently, and even still sometimes, I had a healthy fear of lifting free weights around men. So what this picture really had me wondering about was this stigma that we have of women in the weight room.
There are tons of articles out there now about how women need to lift weights – about the amazing benefits that in can provide like increasing your happiness, bone strength, heart strength, brain strength (aka cognitive function), life longevity, diet, fat burning rate, etc. More and more society is trying to say, “yah, ok, you should lift some dumbells now instead of just running the treadmill…” I am so excited for all of these articles. They are so so true and I certainly hope you read some of them here, and here, and here and…. you get the point
But I think that the lack of education about weightlifting pales in comparison to the way American society looks down on women who lift weights. Maybe you have experienced this yourself out on the weight room floor. People staring, guys asking if you are using equipment as if there is no way you really should be…
When it comes to females working out, there’s a glaring and insulting double standard—women should be toned but never jacked. No wonder, then, that women (and men) tend to treat cardiovascular exercise—the treadmill, the stationary bike, the elliptical machine—as the holy grail of female fitness. The fairer sex can sweat it out in hot yoga, but must never lose the softness, the femininity.
One article I read was spot on
“Body image is the real reason women aren’t lifting weights. We aren’t supposed to be strong. Just look at Michelle Obama and her pumped-up biceps. The first lady’s sleeveless dresses have sparked conversation everywhere from ABC News to the opinion section of the New York Times. “She’s made her point,” columnist David Brooks quipped. “Now she should put away Thunder and Lightning.” If the incredibly fit and beautiful Michelle Obama is ridiculed, what can the rest of us expect?”
I have done my share of sports in my life – swimming, track, cheerleading (small time during middle school), golf, fencing, water polo, triathlons marathons, yoga, kickboxing….but being in a weight room was never something I felt comfortable doing alone. nope…I’ll just stick to these machines in here…
Towards the end of college, and when I lived in Texas, I finally recruited a lifting partner. A man who would take me into the world of weights and keep me safe. Even though I already knew all of these exercises and understood all of the equipment, I felt more validated having a man in there with me.
Once we were in there though, I worked hard. In between his sets and mine we would take those 2 – 45lb plates off of either side and put on my 10 or 15 or however much weight on either side of the bar for me and back and forth. His goal was to get big. My goal was just to stay in shape initially..and then it was to lift more weight. And it was nice because he pushed me to work harder and I never felt judged or like I didn’t belong there. But when I left Texas, I lost a bit of my confidence too. Strange, I know.
And then I dated a guy who worked out a lot and I thought, ok cool, maybe I can do this too and work out and lift with him. I really missed the weight room. That’s when he told me “Guys and girls shouldn’t work out together….guys and girls do different workouts because they have different goals, I’m trying to be big, and you just want to, what, be tone?”
…scratches head. Weird, because when I swam I did the same workouts as the guys…when I did track I did the same workouts as the guys…when I did fencing I did the same workouts as the guys…when I did triathlons I did the same workouts as the guys….and when I was lifting every day with the guys I did the exact same workout every day. I just used the weights that were in my ability level. Sure I’m not trying to gain 30 lbs of muscle mass, but that was never going to happen. My goal is always to push myself a little more, to try things that are different. When girls and guys workout together, that is exactly what happens, at least for me it is.
It felt like everything that society kind of had set under the surface just popped out and hit me in the face. You don’t do the same workouts as men because you don’t need to be jacked…just toned. OhMyBad. Except I don’t have the right amount of testosterone to get big and jacked like a man. And I don’t eat a low carb super high protein diet like a man trying to get shredded. So really, I could do the same thing as a man every day and I am never ever going to get the same results as him. DUH.
But saying out loud what I had been trying to fight against so long made something snap. And suddenly, that weight room was my challenge and I was going to run over every part of it. alone.
Society is moving to where it is ok for women to be strong. But how strong? Why does it remain socially uncomfortable for some for women to lift large amounts of weight, or any weight? Why must women struggle to preserve socially condoned images of femininity while they try to honor an athletic identity that challenges those gender norms? And who says I can’t lift as much or as little as I want and not look feminine?
I know my fellow females are sweating it out upstairs on the elliptical and bike like I used to be … Maybe you are curious about the weight room too and just need that extra boost to get in there. Maybe this post will help you.
5. Optional. Bring a partner. Grab your guy and do the same workout he is doing. Grab a girlfriend and go through this process together. Or just bring your ipod and maybe a notebook to keep track of your workouts and progress.
6. When you see yourself working hard in those mirrors. Just accept what you see. Don’t judge yourself.