My introduction to weight training came when I was 14.
I was a clumsy girl who came to school wearing make up every day, and so my gym teacher and I didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye. If she was going to hate me, I decided I was going to hate her and everything that she stood for. As a result, the charms of weight training week were mostly lost on me. The only thing I really remember about it was being nervous about setting the weight too high, because I didn’t want to risk bulking up.
Fast forward a few years, and the same vanity that made me want to wear make-up to school every day had convinced me to start working out on a regular basis. I started where many girls start—with cardio—but I eventually gave weight training a try.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with weight training, there are two different kinds: toning, which involves doing higher reps with lighter weights in order to build long, lean muscles, and mass building, which involves doing lower reps with heavier weights in order to build larger muscles.
You couldn’t pry me away from toning if my life depended on it.
You see, in the beginning, I had the same misconception that I think a lot of girls have about mass building—that it is grossly and obscenely unfeminine. I believed, like many, that if a woman were to pick up a thirty pound weight, she’d suddenly puff out and turn dramatically into Arnold Schwarzenegger, complete with a deep voice and a hairy chest. So I did my toning exercises and maintained my image of the long, lean ballerina woman I wanted to be.
And before long, I got bored.
Not only that, but when I finally did achieve my ballerina body, I wasn’t personally satisfied with it. That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with having a slight figure—there isn’t. But I was coming from being 170 pounds of curves to being 120 pounds of bone, and I found that it didn’t suit me. I longed for shape. I longed for something different.
Accordingly, I decided to try out mass building, and soon discovered that a lot of my previous conceptions about it were entirely false.
Women have absolutely nothing to fear from mass building, even if they don’t want large muscles. Simply put, it is nearly impossible for a woman’s body to build muscle in the same way as a man’s. When men become large through mass building, it is an entirely different shape than women who become large through mass building. For several months now, I have been focused primarily on it, and as much as I’ve built muscle, I’m still lean, simply because my body is not built to gain substantial size.
However, turning my attention toward mass building has also taught me a lot about the way society views women who do make effort to bulk up. When I would tell people that I was looking to gain some muscle, I heard the same comments made over and over again.
“Oh, you shouldn’t do that. You don’t want to look like a man, do you?”
“Aren’t you worried that you’ll look too masculine?”
“Men don’t like muscular women, you know.”
Let’s momentarily forget about the fact that mass building will not turn me overnight into a bodybuilder. Let’s pretend that the thing that all of these people are concerned about actually happened—I chest press with fifty pounds and—poof!— immediately turned into a female bodybuilder.
What would be so wrong with that? Why are so many people opposed to the idea of women with muscles and, even more strangely, why do these people seem to think that a woman with muscles automatically equates a man?
Because, here’s the thing: women with muscles are beautiful, and they are beautiful for so many reasons. Here are just a few:
1. Women with muscles are just as diverse as any other group of women.
Some women with muscles are as masculine as the stereotype claims, speaking gruffly and connecting mostly with men. But some women with muscles are incredibly feminine, showing up at the gym every day in full make-up and then changing from their yoga pants to a short, pink dress afterwards.
Some women with muscles are mothers, some have husbands, some are lesbians, some go to school, some work full-time, some are bodybuilding competitors, and some just like the way they look with a body strong enough to deadlift me. And every single one of these women is totally justified in their decision to be muscular.
2. Women with muscles have worked hard to look the way they do—it’s a choice, and they’re happy with it.
Muscles don’t just happen. I mean, I wish they would (that would make life so much easier), but no—you have to work for them. You have to put in hours of weight training, and usually you have to restrict your diet pretty heavily as well. And if a woman is putting in that much effort into altering her body, then I would assume that she’s doing it because that makes her happy and she likes the way she looks with muscles. And that’s awesome.
Too few women are satisfied with their bodies in our society, and they should be. There is no one right way to have a body, and every body is beautiful, but if there’s something you can do to feel satisfied with it (and it isn’t harmful to your health in the long run), then do it!
Go out there and find your confidence, whatever that might mean. That’s what many muscular women have done, and while that clearly isn’t the only way to make yourself look in the mirror and see a body you’re proud of, it is an effective one for some.
My point here is just this: muscular women are beautiful because they worked hard to achieve a body that they themselves could look at and see as beautiful.
3. Men shouldn’t be the only ones who assume more space in the world through muscles.
This goes back to the whole idea that a muscular woman is somehow more masculine than her non-muscular counterparts. As much as I disagree with that, I think that a lot of it comes from the opinion that women are stepping into “male territory” when they gain muscle. We equate being muscular with possessing strength, and there are still some people who find themselves intimidated by a strong woman.
But why should we be? In this day and age, why should men be the only ones permitted to possess strength? A strong woman should be celebrated, for all her beauty and achievements, and physical strength should be counted among these. It is something that a woman must work hard for, something that forces her to set a goal and practice the discipline necessary to achieve that. And that is a beautiful thing. It is something to be respected and cherished, not looked down upon or left to just men.
At the end of the day, women with muscles are simply awesome. They are diverse, dedicated, confident, and most certainly beautiful. Too seldom do people seem to recognize this, and that’s a shame. Let’s start seeing beauty in more than one form.
Author: Ciara Hall
Image: Flickr/Rikard Elofsson
Editor: Callie Rushton