I’m a nutritionist by profession. In every other waking moment of my life, I’m a…
“I love your broad shoulders”
It was a comment from my boyfriend that came out of nowhere. It was intended as a loving comment about my body, but for whatever reason, my first reaction was hurt.
Broad, bulky or strong: they’re not words that are usually associated with positive feelings when it comes to a woman’s body – but perhaps they should be.
I’m proud of my body, especially my back and shoulders. It helped me finish my first marathon and for the past 18 months, I’ve been trying to build muscle mass through strength training.
Do muscles make my body manly? That seems to be a recurring narrative and in all honestly it makes me furious.
Let’s talk about what muscle does.
Obviously, building muscles makes you strong. That means I can carry my groceries up the three flights of stairs to my apartment, hold my hairdryer up for longer and (my favourite part) lift heavy stuff. Hitting goals in the gym puts a smile on my face. It makes me proud of myself and gives me a big confidence hit.
Muscle also allows you to burn more energy while you’re exercising, but also a little extra while you’re doing nothing. That’s right, these manly lats of mine mean I’m burning more calories in my workouts, while I’m walking and even a teeny bit while I’m getting my beauty sleep – how fabulous is that?! This helps me reduce my body fat, feel awesome and once again more confident.
I could write a whole post just about the benefits of muscle. But that’s not really what I’m here to talk about.
I’m here to talk about how being strong doesn’t equate to being masculine.
What I am concerned about is that this kind of commentary perpetuates the myth that lifting weights will make you ‘big’, which deters so many women from picking up weights when it’s one of the best things you can do for your body and your mind.
Performance Coach Alan Romero says that if you’re worried that lifting weights will make you big and bulky, you needn’t worry.
“Getting ‘big’ requires years of commitment and dedication. Read that again. No-one ever became muscular by accident, so if you are a guy concerned about putting on too much muscle, you can rest easy, it ain’t gonna happen.” says Alan.
“On a daily basis I see a countless number of guys that are putting in the hours, day in and day out trying to ‘get big’ and very few succeed in this endeavour, so please don’t insult these people’s efforts by insinuating that you have to hold yourself back so that you don’t unintentionally win the next Mr Olympia bodybuilding show.”
“As for women who also have this concern, I’ve been around the industry a while, and I’ve never heard a horror story of a woman who did her first weights session and woke up the next day looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger, that’s just not the way it works.”
There you have it, straight from the mouth of an expert. So why does this myth exist in the first place?
I can’t help but wonder whether it’s the ever present insinuation that muscle and strength is somehow contrary to feminine and sexy, often fuelled by jealousy or sexism.
It seems to be particularly prevalent on social media. For every body positive post or “strong is the new sexy message”, there’s a barrage of commentary slamming women with muscle. Take for example Alice Jane, a Canberra-born fitness model and personal trainer. Alice is a fitness professional spreading a message of health and fitness, actively making a difference in the Canberra community and worldwide through her inspirational videos and pictures on social media.
Not too long ago, a fitness motivation page ‘stole’ her image and posted it.
“Some of the comments were serious tear downs – ‘she looks like a man’, ‘I wouldn’t date a girl like that’, ‘she must take steroids’” says Alice.
Alice is incredibly feminine and beautiful, and was chosen to appear in the Lorna Jane February Look Book. What an excellent move by one of Australia’s favourite activewear labels to move away from fashion models to strong, inspiration women.
I digress, and in fact Alice’s looks are almost beside the point. Alice, nor any woman for that matter, should ever have to defend their body against the opinion of others. Least of all some some bitter keyboard warrior with one hand down his pants, looking for the next confident woman to troll.
The point is, Alice loves her body, and her defined muscles come from a healthy lifestyle, with years of training and a healthy diet. Abundant confidence and health should be celebrated, not torn down.
So what can we do to support kickass women like Alice?
Well firstly, we can stop judging other women’s bodies purely based on how they look and admire them for their strength, dedication and body confidence. We can get over our ill informed fears of “getting big” and embrace strength training for what it is – a fabulous way to gain strength and confidence.