GIRLS CAN LIFT

A Dainty Diary of Lifting

Strong is sexy. But it’s a lot of other things, too.

15 Comments

I want to know why the LBEB men never feel obligated to take a post sexy pictures of themselves.

I feel like the LBEB women are sometimes pressured to take these types of photos of themselves to show (once again) that strong women can be sexy. Yet, all we see of the men are pictures of them lifting heavy shit.

Because of the sexualization of female athletes. That’s why. -missdeejers

Short response: Yes. Yes. Yes. A thousand times: yes.

Overly long and somewhat redundant rant that was unnecessary but incredibly cathartic nonetheless:

First off: I don’t even subscribe to the LBEB philosophy. In my mind, they’re somewhat of a joke because they embody all of the mouthy and egotistic but otherwise mediocre lifters that are ubiquitous on the internet. And if the problem of oversexualizing women who lifted ended on LBEB then I probably wouldn’t have much to say the matter. But we also tell women to do Crossfit because the chicks are hot. We recommend Jamie Eason’s Livefit and NRL4W to female novices because it will improve their appearance. Clearly, female fitness has an image issue.

Has no one else noticed  that there is some irony in the fact that we tell women they are equal to men and they should lift like men  because it will make them totally smokin’ hot for their male counterparts? Really, we were just kidding about that whole equality thing. Really, we say women should be empowered to lift – but they should do it to satisfy the male gaze!

Listen to me! I’m a raging feminist! Even though I’ve never been to a suffrage rally or anything. I just know that men and women are equal and that’s so self-evident I’m not sure anything else needs to be said. Plus, I’m a female powerlifter. That should tell you all you need to know about how much I care about gender norms. And yet, I don’t think my disdain for this whole topic stems from my feminist identity.

Rather, it stems from the fact that I was fat and now I’m slightly less fat. All those girls who say “Don’t worry about the scale! The number doesn’t matter! What matters is how you look!”  are either lying or delusional. Because there are things that matter besides appearance and your weight kind of matters, too.

Like, if you are me from the past and you’re 5’3″ on a tall day and you weigh 252lbs, then you have no choice but to drop some weight because your body is literally screaming at you to take action. Because if squatting 250lbs is a feat for most women, imagine carrying around that weight on your back all day, every day. And that’s to say nothing of the fact that no 5’2″ woman is walking around with 200lbs of lean muscle on her frame.

So I can’t say that I train for aesthetics and that was an easy decision. While I am not immune to vanity and while no one ever set foot in the gym without the intention of improving their appearance,  at this point in my life and for the foreseeable future, training to be hot would be an exercise in futility. Every couple of months, when I inevitably get asked if I’d ever be interested in bodybuilding, I just laugh in response. My own mother once hesitantly asked me, “So does this mean you look muscular now?”  and I answered her quite matter of factly: “No. All of my muscle is hiding under a layer of fat. So I still just look fat.” And honestly, as a former fat person, I have the dreaded beef jerky stomach and that will probably never go away and will never look hot.

But back to the beginning: if the lifting propaganda machine is to believed, women have no reason to train other than to look hot. But if aesthetics are such a lost cause for me, then why the hell do I find myself obsessed with lifting?

I don’t want to be strong for a girl. I just want to be strong. That’s it. I am equal to men in and out of the weight room. Which we’ve already established, and which I happen to know for fact, since I outlift the vast majority of the men in my gym. I’d be lying if I denied that there’s a pretty big sense of satisfaction in that accomplish. One day, I want to post my lift numbers online and be mistaken for a respectably strong dude. That goal has nothing to do with my appearance.

But being strong has helped me in other areas, too. It has drastically improved my quality of life. Strengthening my back means that I no longer experience debilitating back pain when I have PMS. Strengthening my arms means I can move around office furniture at work while my boss wastes time looking for one of our male coworkers to do the job. I can even change the jug on the water cooler when I’m thirsty without batting an eye, while other women look on and say, “That’s so heavy. Are you sure you’re okay?”

Lifting is also very much a learning endeavor for me, filling the void in me that craves knowledge. I’ve gone to see coaches for a couple of hours of lifting and then spent weeks focused on implementing their advice to its full potential. I follow several dozen blogs and I enjoy the challenge of critically evaluating all the opinions from so-called experts out there and trying to figure out whether they can improve my own training. I receive feedback from my own body every time I step into the gym and I’m constantly learning where my limits are and then trying to push past them. As a skill, lifting challenges my mind as much as my body.

No one’s talking about these other aspects of women’s fitness, or if they are, it’s always as afterthought or as a footnote. And yet, these are the things that really spoke to me and continue pushing me forward. I can’t be the only one. The opening statement of this very post would suggest that I’m not the only one who sees the double standing of hypersexualizing women who lift as more demeaning than empowering, either. How many women are we setting up for failure if we focus exclusively on getting that bikini bod? How many are we alienating by selling the sex appeal of the six pack? And can we ever make the shift to acknowledge that strong women are strong role models, not just because they look good?

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15 thoughts on “Strong is sexy. But it’s a lot of other things, too.

  1. This post is EFFING AWESOME! I am training for my first figure competition, so while I’m not as fierce as you in the gym, I totally identify with all the things you said. When I first started training I felt silly in the gym with all the boys- now I laugh to myself when I sit down next to a guy at a bench and I’m shoulder pressing more than he is. I’m totally following your blog- thanks for being awesome 🙂 xxSarah http://www.operationlive.com

  2. Female motivation for fitness is fascinating.

    The discussion of female aesthetics in lifting communities is very strange. They often rail against women for spending hours on the treadmill and getting “skinny-fat,” (I hate that term) when that is the dominant ideal. They think women are dumb for subscribing to the general ideal rather than their specific alternative aesthetic ideal. Essentially: don’t look the way most people want women to look, look the way I want you to look. If you’re going to center fitness on looking aesthetically pleasing for others, why in the hell would someone choose to appeal to fewer people? Women are always being told they’re doing it wrong with regards to appearance, a slight variation on that is pretty unappealing.

    Often sports is the antidote to overfocus on aesthetics for women. Then it’s about performance. The fact that sports are usually sex-segregated can help too, in that the male gaze is largely absent. I train for rugby, and that’s how I feel, though I imagine it’s amplified by being mostly gay so I give much less of a fuck about being attractive for men. I probably need a backup plan for when I get too old to play though.

    I’m very interested in getting senior women to train too, because it would help with a lot of the chronic health problems the older women in my family have. They grew up in a time where athletics for women was heavily discouraged, and tend to have interesting attitudes towards fitness. I like talking to the older ladies I see at the Y about what they approach fitness, which is more often about being social, healthy and independent. They like to go out and see their friends in group classes. Aesthetics is something of a lost cause for them, because so much of female beauty ideals are tied to youth. I wonder if an overfocus on performance might be bad for people as they age though; I’ve definitely felt extremely frustrated and demotivated when I’ve taken some time off for injury or what have you and I can’t lift as much. Ultimately I think health and independence in daily tasks is the way to go for older women.

  3. Amazing post. I’m not going to lie – when I first started lifting I was sucked into the whole prospect of becoming really smoking hot. I’m utterly embarrassed at this point about my old rationale and pissed that I grossly misappropriated time I could have spent on getting stronger to being overly concerned about aesthetics.
    Maybe powerlifting changed my attitude, maybe I just woke up and realized that abs don’t miraculously solve life’s problems, but lifting heavy makes me happy.
    This post is so great because although it is nice to see women taking strides at being healthier, their reasoning behind it is going to leave them more than disenchanted when the other shoe hits the floor. The people who longer these idiotic ideas are doing more harm than good, and you provided a much needed wake up call. Keep up the fantastic writing.

    • I don’t think you should feel bad. There is nothing wrong with wanting to feel awesome about how you look naked. There is nothing wrong with wanting to have big ol’ muscles. I think almost every woman in powerlifting & weightlifting has her own unique balance of training/dieting for vanity and training/dieting for performance. The important thing is that it’s not the *only* reason you train, and that you can maintain a balance that makes you happy and keeps you healthy.

      • I think you’re on to something here. I think finding that balance is often more laborious than the work one actually puts into the sport sometimes though. It’s nice to take a step back and look at things in black and white, and then just reap the awesome benefits that come along with it. Being in awe of what your body can do along side of how it physically looks is like having your cake and eating it too. I’m definitely down with that.

  4. This is a really great post. The “Strong is the New Sexy” trend is incredibly frustrating. Invariably, the very women whose photos and videos are used as examples of how “lifting won’t make you bulky” do not lift heavy, ever. This includes the vast majority of figure and bikini competitors, for whom a bodyweight deadlift is considered “killing it”*. The slogan should really be “Lean and Sorta Muscle-y is the New Sexy”, in which case it’s not new at all. It’s just appealing to an ever-so-slightly different audience.

    My personal experience speaking to women about lifting is that every single woman who has been seriously interested in learning how to use barbells is motivated by something other than aesthetics. Every woman who has approached me about learning how to lift, but didn’t really want to do any of the heavy shit and just wanted to learn how to feel comfortable in the weightroom, has expressed an interest in working out simply to look good. As far as I can tell, the girls who want to squat 200lbs want to *feel* like Wonder Woman, not just look like her.

    What I find particularly interesting, however, is that the same rule applies to men. I have male friends who have asked me about lifting, but very few follow through because they just want “beach muscles”.

    Honestly, though, I think this is a positive thing. If someone doesn’t want to empower themselves to push past their physical limits, they have no business training for strength. They can find a different route to health & wellness that is more in tune with their interests & motives. Lifting is great, but it’s not for everyone.

    I think it’s more realistic to try to re-define what a “physically strong woman” is in popular culture than to stop people from obsessing over chicks with big boobs and abs. Most people don’t know what “strong for a girl” means. They see a girl with some muscles doing EZ bar curls and think she’s badass. When those pictures are inevitably linked in a thread about women lifting, ask how much she squats, or benches, or deadlifts, or how much she can chin-up or clean & jerk. Don’t be afraid to tell women they are not strong just because they touched a barbell. Motivate them to actually be strong, instead of letting them think they are strong enough for a girl.

    I think we need to start speaking up and setting the bar higher (er, heavier) for women. Once we show women what being strong really means, men will catch on.

    *As expressed here, by an unnamed “physique transformation specialist”: http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance_interviews/the_drug_coach

  5. Reblogged this on swolesister and commented:
    If you’re not already following Girls Can Lift, you should. The author (a much stronger woman than myself) makes some really powerful observations about the sexualization of women in strength sports, which is something I feel strongly about, but never quite had the eloquence to write about satisfactorily. Girls Can Lift has that eloquence. Please check it out

  6. Dude YES this is amazing and something that’s bothered me about the online fitness community for a long time now. You’ve stated it beautifully.
    This is my motto: “I don’t want to be strong for a girl. I just want to be strong.” Yesyesyes.

  7. I’d be willing to bet that the majority of people who ever stepped into a gym did it for physique transformation. This can mean a lot of things. A big guy who came to me and is now a client said these exact words “I don’t want tits, and I feel likemy back will feel better if I had less fat on the front of me.” I was shocked by the statement–most people don’t approach me like that. The underlying meaning of something like that and wanting to change appearance is that generally, how you look is a measure of health. (It is not the only one, nor is it an encompassing one, nor is it even the most important one). But, we can also tell a lot about someone by how they look. Gray, malnourished skin, ghostly pallor, being emaciated, distorted gait and motor patterns, slumped shoulders, excess fat and what have you.

    I don’t find anything wrong with getting strong to look better. I also do not think the LBEB women are pressured. Not all of them photo themselves. And, if you follow the individuals on FB the men do photo themselves too. I think the women that do photo themselves more (based on their writings and actual conversations) are extremely proud of themselves for their accomplishments. Moreover, marketing for fitness is better if done directed toward women, by women. I am not sure if it is wholly good, or wholly bad. Probably a little bit of both. But, as a sports competitor myself, and future owner of a gym, I can honestly say that male powerlifting (or other similar sports) is not all that marketable. I don’t anticipate getting any business or at least not much from people who are likeminded. At first glance, they look like a bunch of pissed off dudes who are too stiff with movement and have bad attitudes. (I know this is not true, but it is an appearance based industry so that’s merely what it looks like). I feel like I will get more business from an aesthetic minded crowd. Even at a specialized gym–one I can think of is the MMA gym I attend for Jiu Jitsu–the marketing is still appearance based and the business is, at best, ten percent of people who actually want to compete. And that’s a high estimate given the amount of youngsters there who compete.

    So, I guess through the rambling my thought was that for good or ill, it’s about what sells.

  8. love this so much i shared on fb. thanks. for this post and all of your others.

  9. Sexualization of women could account for some of that, I’m interested to hear your thoughts on how we might go about de-programming this sort of thing. How do I get my 11 year old daughter who is highly intelligent, very active and artistic to see the advertisements, the social pressures and the gender roles, (that even the school system enforces, to a degree) and notice them for what they are? a system of control.

  10. I love this post so much I want to marry it. I agree with you so much. I am so sick of Strong is the new Skinny or Strong is the new Sexy accompanied by photos of woman with no head picking up a 2kg dumbell covered in sweat. Posted something similar last week. http://diaryofanewbiestrongwoman.wordpress.com/2013/05/02/stop-it-just-stop-it/

  11. Whatever is appealing to the majority of the girls/women gets marketed …
    Therefore you have stuff like:
    ” … they should lift like men because it will make them totally smokin’ hot for their male counterparts …”

    I think we can work out on our own to realize that this is what majority of women DO actually want, and that’s the only way for them to get into lifting weights …

    Honestly, you should be more pissed out about makeup and other stuff that women indulge in (clothing etc) … if you are a true feminist.

  12. I started lifting as a way to build muscle and I thought I would whittle down to just muscle. Well, it is a lot harder than I thought, and my trainer had to give me a reality check…people train for YEARS for the body they want…so now I focus on strength and I know the body I want will eventually come…and who knows what that will be…ok, Im lying…I need my ass to stay big and round lol

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