The other day I was reading this post about competitive powerlifting over at xoJane – and by the way, I loved the author’s enthusiasm for lifting, but was not so enamored of her insistence that it is the key to weight loss – and I decided to delve into the comments, because I am a masochist and this is what I do.
Predictably, I was horrified within two mouse scrolls by the sheer number of women who said they don’t want to lift weights because they bulk up too quickly. If the commenters are to be believed, the lady half of the population is filled with latent she-hulks who need to do nothing more than walk into the free weights section of a given gym before their muscles pop out like a pair of cartoon eyeballs.
But as I read through the comments, my normal disbelief and, okay, I’ll admit it, my slight derision gave way to a sensation that was a lot more uncomfortable than the warm comfort of smug superiority, an emotion I later identified as “envy.” I read comment after comment about concerns over “bulking up” and by the time I’d read the 50th comment to that effect, I found myself wanting nothing more than to take those women by the shoulders and shake them while screaming, “DO YOU KNOW HOW LUCKY YOU ARE? DO YOU KNOW WHAT KINDS OF BODILY GIFTS THE MULTIVERSE HAS RAINED DOWN UPON YOUR HEAD? STOP COMPLAINING! BE GRATEFUL!”
See, I lift about three or four times a week. I don’t lift as heavy as I could because I don’t want to interfere with my marathon training, but I do not shy away from barbells and 25 lb. dumbbells. I embrace “man exercises” like push-ups and bench presses. I drink protein shakes after I lift. I carry hard-boiled eggs and protein powder in my purse. I read books about lifting. I develop programs and I change them regularly so I can challenge my body. I have deposited small oceans of sweat on weight benches. I have callouses on my hands from gripping metal bars.
And yet, my muscles are not that big. I’m strong but I am not built. I wish this were not the case. I want arms that can be called “guns” and thighs like striated tree trunks. For whatever reason, though, this has not yet happened. Maybe it’s because I run so much? Maybe it’s because the hormonal soup that flows through my body isn’t right for big muscles? Maybe it’s because my long limbs stretch out any muscles I do develop? Maybe I’m not doing something right? Who knows. All I know is that it’s not easy for me to “bulk up.” But man, how I wish it was.
When I hear women bemoan the way their bodies pack on muscle, I can’t help but feel a bit envious. To me, it’s like hearing someone say they hate running because they are just so fast, or they don’t like to write because they might accidentally win a Pulitzer Prize and wouldn’t that be awful. Their worst fear is one of my most fervent desires.
Listen, ladies who bulk up – your bodies are telling you something. Your bodies are saying, We want to be strong, we want to be muscular, we want to be ripped! If your body puts on muscle this easily, it’s because your body wants to be muscular. If your body thought muscle was a bad thing, it wouldn’t build it so easily.
But you know what does think a woman with muscle is a bad thing? Our culture. Our culture has a big, big problem with women who are physically strong. Our culture says women who are physically strong are manly and unattractive and ugly. Our culture says women ought to be in need of protection from husbands, fathers, boyfriends. Our culture says women ought to be vulnerable to harm at all times, because if we were not, why would we need male protection?
Remember this next time you hate on your body’s innate ability to easily pack on muscle. Your capability for physical strength is immense. Do not take it lightly. Do not dismiss it. Please recognize it for the gift that it is.