Body Image and Being Different
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Last weekend, I spent the day at a Strongman competition watching 2 of my female teammates compete, applying their tacky (one is allergic), cheering them on, and encouraging them. Afterwards, we all decided to decompress a bit with some wine and ice cream in my backyard. While we were sitting around my table, photos from the contest began to be posted on Facebook and we all immediately whipped out our phones to check them out. We all commented about how absolutely awesome these ladies looked, the greatness that is a deadlift face, and looking jacked thanks to good overhead lighting. There was talk of having big thighs that touch, shoulders and lats that break blazers, and how proud we were to have more muscle than the average woman. It dawned on me that this conversation, this scene of a group of women eating and drinking and talking about taking up space, is something that would seem pretty out of the ordinary to most people. It always is a little jarring to overhear other groups of women talking about how much they want to eat something or how they wish their hip bones were visible or how much they hate their bodies. I’m very lucky in that I’ve nearly forgotten what that’s like.
As a woman, you spend a lot of time hearing about how to “shrink” yourself into some shape deemed “attractive” by society. Magazine (I actually just typed “magainzine”) articles are focused on how to get a “bikini body”, eat less, and get smaller. Women are supposed to want to shrink away and heaven forbid you lift weights because, you know, you’re going to get bulky. This mentality is markedly absent in strength sports because the focus is on performance, not necessarily aesthetics. Women are proud of what their bodies can do. But that mentality doesn’t exist everywhere in “real world”.
There will be snarky and downright mean comments about the fact that maybe you’re too “bulky” and how that’s a bad thing. Sorry world, but some of us work very hard to gain muscle and there is nothing wrong with bulky. There is nothing wrong with wanting to get lean either. What is wrong is that people feel that it’s perfectly okay and acceptable to comment on women’s bodies (I’m speaking about women because that’s my experience but I see that this happens to men as well) and how much they don’t want to look like that person. Well guess what? You won’t. Because you have your own set of genetics that are unique.
When you get into lifting or any strength sport, having quads that men in your gym envy becomes a good thing and it’s easy to feel good about your ample legs when you’re pulling a heavy deadlift. Your self confidence skyrockets because your body can do some pretty kick ass things and it’s rewarding to see how strong you really are. You find gym buddies and training partners that understand the struggle that is finding a pair of jeans that fit your thighs and your waist, and everyone agrees that spandex and cut off t-shirts should be considered casual work attire. When you have a solid support system, it’s easy to continue to feel good about your body.
But there will always be a time when you’re suddenly bombarded with the fact that you, indeed, are different.
You will be shopping and rip the quads out of a pair of jeans in the dressing room (I may or may not have done that), you’ll feel a little twinge of frustration when you have to reach for a bigger size because your lats are stretching a dress to their limits, and at some point, you’ll hear a comment about how “if you’re so frustrated with x,y,z then why don’t you just stop lifting?”. There is the expectation that you are supposed to be at war with your body. When you violate that expectation, people get confused. How dare you be different and actually like yourself?! The fact that women are expected to hate their bodies is terrible. The norm should be that people like their bodies, appreciate their bodies for all of the things they can do, and do things because they love their body. It’s not an easy thing but it’s a possible thing. So continue to confuse people by celebrating how seriously awesome your body is and do things to make it even better, not punish it.