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!
When I was little my mom always read me fairy tales in which the leading lady rescued herself (and sometimes even the prince).
The women in these story were never the rescued, they were the heroines.
Whether or not its having a strong mother or the women in these stories (or both!), I’ve always been my own heroine. I’ve had no delusions that someone else will come along and solve all of my problems for me.
But in a society where women usually are the rescued, where do women like me fit in?
And even though we logically know we can and ARE our own heroines, why is it that we still sometimes want to be rescued?
I know this seems random and not directly and obviously related to the usual content of my posts, but it really got me to thinking….
Is this whole “being rescued” thing part of the reason why women are so afraid of lifting weights and being bulky?
Is this why even the women who do lift weights sometimes question their own femininity?
Honestly, I’m asking a ton of questions because I don’t have the answers.
I see all of this duality in my own life.
I LOVE lifting heavy weights. I preach their importance to just about every woman I meet.
I tell them they won’t get bulky, and I believe it.
Yet sometimes, in those moments of self-doubt, I question my own femininity.
Are my arms too big? Shoot aren’t my shoulders just so broad….
I see this confusion between being my own heroine or “the rescued” even in my confusion over my future.
I’m driven. I want a successful career. I love working, in great part because I love what I do.
I feel like I would be selling myself short if I ever gave up my career ambitions.
BUT I’m also a firm believer that at least one parent should stay home with children if the couple decides to have kids.
And I’ve always wanted to be the parent that gets to stay home with my kids, but I also feel like this is partly me wanting to be “rescued.”
So now my question is, does it have to be one or the other? Don’t we all want to be heroes or heroines? Don’t we all at points want to stop fighting and have someone else save us?
Anyway, excuse the slight digression and ramblings. But hopefully it gets you to thinking about your own life and even why you or so many women you know are against lifting heavy because they fear getting bulky!
So last night I met with one of my clients, Juliana, who also does my lifting class.
Juliana has gotten super into the lifting and has grown by leaps and bounds. Her movement patterns have improved and she is now lifting human beings! 🙂
She seems to enjoy the lifting and seems to like the way she looks!
But then this week, a situation that has happened to almost all of us female lifters, occurred. It is a conversation that can scare off many beginning female lifters.
The “you don’t want to get bulky do you” conversation. Juliana had two people start-up that conversation.
Luckily I didn’t even have to convince her that they were wrong! She already knew what she was doing was right!
Lifting heavy won’t make you bulky people!!!!! COME ON!
Having extra fat is what makes you “bulky.” Eating crap so that you have bad body composition is what makes you “bulky.”
Not leaned toned muscle mass!
I’ve gained about 17 pounds in the last two years. I still wear the same clothes I wore when I was 17 pounds lighter. Actually some don’t fit as well now because I’ve shrunk in certain areas…like my waist. I’ve shrunk because I’ve lost FAT. I haven’t become any bigger by adding muscle because I cut off the fat that was previously holding its spot!
If you don’t believe me because you know I’m biased, take a look at this Women’s Health Magazine article! Mainstream media even agrees that lifting heavy is good for you! (Of course as I go to post this and click on their link from Facebook it says “Page not found”….Maybe I shouldn’t yet think so highly of mainstream media!)
BUT here is a quote from what was up there.
Lift Heavier Weights! A recent study showed that women who lifted a challenging weight for eight reps burned nearly twice as many calories as women who knocked out 15 reps with lighter dumbbells.
See burn more fat and look LESS bulky by lifting heavy weights!
I submitted my Primal powerlifting success story to Mark’s Daily Apple because of Ryan’s encouragement. And yesterday the story was posted on Mark’s site.
I honestly wasn’t sure how people would respond and was a bit nervous to have my story somewhere other than Man Bicep. I thought people would think it was cool or a bit different from the usual success story, but I never thought people would assume I was a man.
Actually I am very amused by how many people first assumed it was a man’s story until they saw the pictures.
It made me think about how conditioned we are to believe that men lift heavy weights, but women don’t.
I mean people even just assumed I spelled “fiance” wrong instead of thinking that I was a woman…and honestly I can’t blame them.
We all view life through a lens – a lens which is developed based on our own experiences and the influence of mainstream media.
And let’s face it, most women don’t lift heavy. And most mainstream media tells us that women shouldn’t even want to lift heavy unless they want to bulk up.
Most media sources tell women to avoid super low reps so that they aren’t training for hypertrophy (to make their muscles bigger). Instead they are supposed to stick with higher reps and use “challenging” weights.
While yes, there are some outlets out there that are trying to change this female phobia of heavy weights, things are changing slowly…very slowly.
I still train women who don’t want to lift too heavy because they don’t want to get bulky. Of course I slowly trick them into lifting heavy, but at first they really refuse.
I even had one client tell me she was getting bulky from doing too many push ups…from her knees!!! WHAT!?!
I try telling them that there is no way that they will bulk up. I even tell them that I’ve tried and it just isn’t possible, but they don’t believe me. Too many mainstream media sources telling them something different.
I’m just hoping more women who lift heavy come forward and share their stories and pictures so that people stop assuming that any story about a heavy lifter is about a man!
Join the Man Bicep movement ladies! Flex those biceps. Invade the weight room floor. And look sexy while doing it!