I f*cking HATE it when women tell me that they won’t lift don’t want to get “bulky.” But we’ve heard the arguments against that one ad nauseum. What I hate even more, though, is when we brush off the whining with something that I think is equally ignorant. ”No! You’ll look like a fitness model if you just lift heavy! And then everything will be great!!”
That’s a damn lie.
Let me back up. Obviously I’m a HUGE advocate for heavy lifting and it’s the foundation of my fitness regime. I was once one of those girls who wouldn’t even touch a 5-pound dumbbell because I was afraid of getting bigger. I was weak and noodle-y but I fit into a size 0, so I was happy. I loved being called skinny. LOVED it. Looking back, I was being an idiot, and I know that. I started lifting heavy…then heavier…and every damn day I try to push myself a little farther. But you know what?
I GOT BIGGER.
It’s a fact…when you’re a skinny bitch and you decide to lift, especially if you haven’t ever lifted before, your muscles will grow and you’ll gain some weight. A lot of people, too, gain muscle faster than they can lose fat, so their lovely new musculature is hidden beneath a nice layer of fat…and this can, at least for a little while, make you look “bulky.” No one hoists a barbell over their head and solves all of their problems instantly…we all WANT our muscles to grow and fat to disappear overnight but it takes WORK for both of these things to happen, and sometimes one happens faster than the other. And if you were a noodle-ly skinny fat weakling like I was, **you’re going to get bigger and weigh more if you gain any muscle at all because you had none to begin with.** You’re gonna have to get bigger pants. Duh. There’s a reason Crossfitters, lifters, and competitors write blogs documenting the eternal struggles and ups and downs that come with getting strong or stage ready or whatever you’re trying to do…it’s not easy, folks.
At first the increase in size…even if I was stronger and more physically capable, was not OK with me. The scale was my only source of validation. I went on and off weightlifting programs almost weekly because I’d gear up to get strong like the boys and then freak the f*ck out as soon as my size 0 skinny jeans started feeling a little tighter. I’d pick up a barbell for a few days, then would be right back to running 8 miles a day.
I was torn between wanting to be strong and curvy FOR ME and wanting to look like a movie star FOR EVERYONE ELSE.
I wanted to be skinny because that’s what I thought “beauty” was. That’s what I thought the boys liked. That’s what the girls looked like on TV. That’s what I thought would make me happy…to me, my skinny jeans meant more to me than anything else. I wasn’t afraid of getting “bulky,” I was afraid of gaining any weight, period…it could have been muscle or fat or diamonds for all I cared. Nope, didn’t want it. And many, many more women felt and still feel the same way. Society is a funny thing…you can bitch and moan about “crazy cultural norms” but they’re still there and they still affect you. Sure, they change, but that’s a lengthy process that is linked to so much more than just a few internet memes. While larger women were coveted in the middle ages, for example, for their appearance of fertility, rail thin women became the “it thing” in the late 20th century. Now, as women are proving themselves as capable as men not just physically but professionally and sociologically, there appears to be a movement among women to appear physically strong. It’s in its infancy, though, and that’s painfully obvious.
When I met my husband, he used to praise my “runner’s body”–basically, I was thin. I was about a size 2 at that point and never lifted anything besides a bag of groceries. When we got into Crossfit and I really started lifting, I gained about 10 pounds. I didn’t like it at all, but my coaches and fellow Crossfitters turned my competitive side against me and I kept going. I put all my jeans away and just started wearing yoga pants everywhere because I couldn’t bear the struggle it took to get me into my skinnies. But I *looked* better, I *felt* better, and I was *stronger*. Not an original story by any means…and it was a very lengthy process.
Men I had dated in the past would talk about how “nasty” muscular girls looked…how they looked like men…or even how they thought they were hot but that they could never date a muscular chick. How they couldn’t date a girl who was a strong as they were (I also went to military school…and looking ack a lot of those guys had a complex…just calling it like I saw it). It hurts even now to see stuff in the media or overhear office conversations from men who, for whatever reason, even if they’re being “nice” about it, see these women as less feminine and, frankly, undesirable. Even my dearest, darling, loving husband looked at me with some trepidation while I was training for my first competition and asked…very nicely, in his defense…to “Please don’t get too jacked, OK?” We have since had several arguments over whether or not women look good with 6-pack abs. I think they’re bangin’, he thinks it’s freaky. To each his or her own, I suppose, and I may sound like a superficial asshat right now but I don’t know many women (or men, for that matter) who are OK with the idea that their significant other doesn’t find them attractive. I know my husband loves me with all his heart, but he has admitted to me that it has been almost as much of a process as it was for me to realize that strength in women is attractive…working out and Crossfitting and going to fitness shows has helped a lot and now we find in each other’s physical strength a source of immense pride. He’s even writing my workouts for this round of competition prep and lecturing me on not being a wussy about some of the loads he’s prescribing…I’m a lucky lady.
But for both of us, and for so many other people, this is a change in mindset that takes time. No, lifting will not make you look like a bodybuilder, but that is NOT what women are really afraid of. They are afraid of stepping outside of their comfort zone and outside of what we have all been raised to think is “beautiful.” They are afraid that while the may feel better about themselves, that others won’t. They are afraid of the amount of commitment it takes when the rest of their lives are already so busy. They are afraid of change. To fall back on cabbage soup diets and running marathons and being skinny is just easier and comes with less criticism. Remember when Kelly Rippa got slammed for being too muscular? Ever hear that kind of nasty talk about all the skinnies who proudly tout their 5-foot-8-and-120-pound figures and talk about how much they hate the gym? Didn’t think so. In the media, and thus in many of our minds, that’s ”normal.”
So, what’s the moral here? I really can’t tell you that. Given that I’ve been there…and I was for a long time…I don’t think it’s my place to tell you what you should do because people have to figure that out themselves. I know what a struggle is was for me to get over my body-image issues (which a lot of people might say weren’t even a “bad” thing…) and I know that trying to force-feed a new ideology on someone surrounded by contradictory opinions is an uphill battle. For me, it was about making a decision for ME instead of one for SOMEONE ELSE. I STILL struggle with body image issues…trust me. Having guys in the office talk about “nasty” female bodybuilders or make comments about my “guns” if I’m in my T-shirt still hurts, it really does. When I have to shop for jeans three sizes up, it still hurts. When I watch movies with a waif starlet in the leading role, I still kinda want to look like that.
But then again, I hit a new 5RM last week on my deadlift that was 30 pounds more than a previous 1RM. I dropped the bar with a grunt…well, I think I sounded more like a beached whale. Is I picked up my things I couldn’t help but strut my perky butt out of the room…and, honestly? That felt pretty damned good.