Woman vs. Woman

When Nutrition Analyst & Farm-to-School Coordinator Asta Garmon asked me to do an interview about women and the stigma of women who lift heavy, I really got to thinking about my experiences.

It amazed me when it really dawned on me that I’ve gotten more crap from women about lifting heavy and being bulky than I have from men.

Yea I’ve gotten the occasional comment from men about whether or not I’m worried about being bulky. But really most of the trouble comes from men when I then try to give them advice about how to lift better or when they find out how competitive and driven I am (which is honestly a blog for another day).

BUT the true perpetrators are women!

Women are the ones that perpetuate the lie.


Yes…They perpetuate it by saying things like, “I don’t want to lift heavy because I don’t want to get bulky!”

But more importantly, they perpetuate it by telling women, who lift heavy, but look feminine, “Oh wow…Your arm is so…muscular.” (They say this in a way that makes it an insult NOT a compliment.)

YEP! The worst crime is committed when women say to women who have worked hard to look amazing and toned, “You look so…buff/muscular/jacked.”

They say it in a way that HINTS that these words really aren’t a good thing. They even use those specific words because they know that most women associate those words with masculinity.

Most likely these women give these backhanded compliments because they have some insecurity themselves or because they are jealous.

And honestly, you can’t really do anything about what or how other people say things. You will run into women like that. There may even be a woman or two like that in your friend group…You may even call them your “frenemy”…you know them…you love them…and yet…

But anyway, while I would love to change those comments, I can’t. There will always be people out there that will use any social stigma to put someone else down.

BUT what I can do is change the way we, women, interpret those comments.

When comments like those are made to us, we can choose to do one of two things.

We can choose to become self-conscious and bothered by the comment. We can stop lifting and then tell anyone who asks us about heavy lifting that “we don’t lift heavy because it makes us bulky.” We can be afraid that we did, in fact, become bulky from the lifting. We can then perpetuate the stigma that lifting heavy makes women bulky.

OR we can choose to ignore the comment and know that we do in fact look AMAZING and that those women have their own issues. We can break the stigma and help other women find the strength and beauty that heavy lifting can bring!

I choose to do the second.

I wasn’t born with self-confidence. I fought a long uphill battle to get it – the fake it till you make it battle. (And sometimes I’m still faking it, but no one knows the difference!)

As strange as it sounds, what you have to do to be more confident is to pretend to be confident. To act like you are confident even when you aren’t.

So when you get an underhanded comment hinting that your weight training has made you masculine or bulky, when you know you aren’t and have even had compliments about how great you look, what should you do?

You should smile and say, “Thank you! I’ve been working out super hard and lifting heavy! It just makes you feel so good! You should come with me some time.”

That’s what I say every time.

And guess what!?!

I instantly feel better and completely erase the negativity of their comment from my mind. I may still remember it enough to shake my head at them, but I’ve taken all of the venom out of the comment.

I played the part of a confident individual, which in effect, basically made me confident.

And on top of that, they will never have any clue that their comment may have made me even a teensy bit insecure. (If it even does!)

PLUS, every time you respond that way, you start to destroy the lie that women will get bulky if they lift heavy. You won’t be giving credit to their comment AND you may even convince them to become a woman who lifts heavy!

So while it may not be easy, the key to changing the stigma is by believing that in fact you AREN’T bulky or masculine even though you lift weights. The key is believing that you are healthy and strong and beautiful because you do!

You can’t change the other person, but you can change your reaction.

Let’s start there and maybe then we will silence the haters!

Posted on February 24, 2013, in Body Image, Mindset, Uhm? and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Wow, it would never even occur to me to take “your arms look muscular” as an insult. I think it’s because my girlfriends all really mean it as a compliment–or I’m totally missing backhandedness. I think it’s the former, though.

    Anyway, I think your response is spot on. I hope people do it, and start believing it. The more muscular my arms look, the more pleased I am with them, as long as they’re also getting more functional.

  2. Great advice! Women can be so hard on each other sometimes instead of being psyched for each other’s accomplishments. Gives me a big sad.

    I feel very fortunate that the women I am surrounded with tend to be positive and supportive of each other, because it would become very tiring to have to deflect concern-trolling all the time like that.

    • I think you’ve made a great point Caitlin…we do need to surround ourselves with friends that are positive and supportive!

      I think the hard part though is when women first get into heavy lifting, but haven’t yet developed a new network of support. Their old networks aren’t always positive!

      I seriously hope though that we can change this!

  3. If I tell a woman her arms are muscular believe me it’s a compliment (I’ve always dreamt of having muscular arms) it doesn’t mean however that I like all muscular arms, it’s a matter of opinion, it can get to a point where I think it’s a bit man-like, but I think what matters the most is that you like them the way they are. The other day, I went to get heavier dumbbells and the woman at the store was trying to convince me to get the pretty pink ones (3kg) which I’ve already got at home. She seemed to think it was awkward of me to want to lift heavier. Well, anyway,Thank you for all your encouraging posts and when I do get my muscular arms, I’ll definitely think of your answer!!!

    • Thanks for reading Eve!

      Yes everyone does have a different picture of beauty, but regardless of that image, we shouldn’t ever put anyone else down.

      Being healthy and strong is really the most important thing!

      Good luck with your workouts!

  4. This post was great for me to read because sometimes I do start to feel a bit insecure when I talk to other women who make comments about not wanting to get bulky.

    I have a question for you about your very informative post about sets & reps. If my workout calls for 12 reps of an exercise with dumbbells and 12 reps with a 20 lb weight doesn’t quite fatigue me, but I can’t do 12 reps with a 25-lb weight, what should I do? I always have this question when I’m working out, but always forget to ask. Thanks!

    • Hey Jill

      You are amazing and definitely have no reason to be insecure! 🙂

      Use the 25lbs. Those workouts give guidelines and starting points. Since you’ve been lifting for awhile now too, your ligaments and tendons are ready to handle a heavier load.

      The whole point of doing 12 reps is to be completely fatigued by the 12th one.

      Good luck with your training this spring!


  5. I’m glad Asta got in touch with you! When I heard the questions she was asking me, I knew you’d be a good person for her to talk to.

    Hope all’s well!

    • Hi Lauren

      Hopefully I helped her out! I know I can ramble on for hours about exercise and diet so hopefully some of it actually answered her questions! haha

      Everything is great! How are you!?!


  6. Oh MAN did THIS resonate with me…. the annoying male co-worker that I want to trounce with pushups? ALWAYS calls me a man… or says I’m going to hulk out… or my testosterone levels are too high….or I’m going to begin throwing furniture…. roll eyes.

    And a female co-worker asked if I was going to beat her up… which I guess was supposed to be an insult but the fact someone thought I COULD beat them up and looked like I could was a HUGE compliment to me and inside I was grinning and grinning….

    I actually started growing my hair out cuz it hasn’t been long since in my 20s… and I wonder if sub-conciously it was cuz of all the man comments? I saw a Ted Talk about a Brazillian soccer player – female – who said the team members were encouraged to look more feminine and grow their hair out…

    Hmmm – it’s taken me over a year to get it shoulder length so I’m not gonna cut it now but when I do…. Sharon Stone/Annie Lennox short baby. SHOCK VALUE! 🙂

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