I admit: I’m guilty of this.
When I first started exercise I was a cardio bunny. I didn’t know how to do anything else. I took a weight training class in middle school but basically abandoned everything I learned there and replaced it with a few hours on the elliptical a week. Unlike most females, though, I didn’t avoid weight training because I feared I’d become bulky. To be completely honest, I avoided weight training because I had no idea what to do. Getting on a treadmill or stairmaster with all the other girls in the gym just made more sense to me. It actually wasn’t until I was a senior in undergrad when I overheard the following exchange…
Girl 1: “Oh my god, are those 15 pound weights?”
Girl 2, doing bicep curls: “Oh god no, I don’t want to get bulky!”
Me: What the hell is going on?
As I got more and more into fitness I realized that this thought is very common amongst men and women. As I started getting into powerlifting and other compound lifts considered “heavy” I felt personally offended by this. How DARE people accuse me of something so “un-feminine!”. I wrote articles about how women don’t have enough testosterone, how hard females in body building trained, how much you had to eat, I made graphics about strength training and its aesthetic benefits. And I parroted the same thing everyone else was: You won’t get bulky!
Now, though, I realize this is kind of in vain. If anything, I was perpetuating a lot of the myths involving weight training by being so “proactive”, and I was perpetuating a lot of internalized misogyny in the meantime.
I was acting like bulky was something to be avoided. I was acting like bulky was bad, or that everyone had the same idea of what it meant to be bulky. If you showed me a picture of a WBFF bikini model three years ago I would have said, “absolutely not!” Now? My opinion has changed.
So why do we have this knee-jerk reaction to correct people in an offended way? The more I thought about it, the more I realized it’s because bulky is something I wanted. When people acted like lifting a 15 pound dumbbell for 30 minutes twice a week was going to get them bulky I felt personally offended. If it were that easy, then why do I look like a wet noodle? Why can’t you see the separation between my muscles? WHERE IS MY GLUTE HAM SEPARATION?! I’ve been lifting for a year now, where’s my bulk? You never hear someone say, “Oh, I only play mini golf. If I played regular golf I’d become Tiger Woods – yeck!”
Putting aside the fact that “bulky” (god, this word is getting redundant) is highly subjective, by acting like it’s a horrible thing to be avoided for women we cause a problem. We’re perpetuating the “there is only one idea of beauty and fitness, and this is it!” crap. We might as well be those assholes who put “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” on the picture of a random girl we went to high school with. Who CARES if you can or cannot obtain a certain body type from a certain type of exercise? No one warns runners they’re going to increase their cardiovascular capacity. No one warns sprinters they’re going to get explosive power. We think of these as positive side effects, so there’s no need to mention them. But this bulky stuff? RED ALERT.
Whatever an individual person’s goals are, we should be supportive. My sister wants to lose 10 pounds and look like Jennifer Lawrence. My best friend wants to look like Giselle. Some of my internet friends want to look like Jamie Eason. When we encourage women like them to lift weights, we should do so by talking about the non-aesthetic benefits, like decreasing incidences of osteoarthritis, or the fact that you burn more calories throughout the day after a lifting session.
All in all, it’s great to encourage people – women especially – to incorporate weight training into their exercise regime. As we do this we’re going to encounter people who feel that it’s going to give them a body type they don’t particularly want. We absolutely should reassure them that their fears are unfounded, but we should do so in a way that doesn’t tear down other females with different goals. We should focus on the positive aspects of weight training and steer away from the same word vomit we all seem to spew: bulk bulk muscle muscle bad bad!