Earlier today I had plans to go to the gym to lift weights, but when the time came, I kicked the ground a bit and “meh”ed and thought maybe I’d just go home.
But then I watched this clip of University of Georgia cheerleader Anna Watson on Good Morning America and all that reluctance vaporized. After all, there’s no way I’ll ever be able to develop biceps that look even half that awesome just by sitting on my ass, right? So I got my butt to the gym and hit the free weights super-hard and felt fantastic when I was done (which I always do).
Watson, who studies exercise and sport science (holla!), has been the focus of a lot of news coverage in recent days due to her impressive build and her strength. She can bench press 155 pounds, squat 255 pounds and deadlift 230 pounds. Last year she turned down a fitness-modeling contract after she was advised to use a legal steroid to help her gain an additional fifty pounds. Her move was motivated by her religious faith (which you can hear all about in the GMA clip), as she said she believes in treating her body like a temple.
Like a lot of women, Watson started out as a cardio junkie, but she soon realized that wasn’t working out for her:
On a visit home during Christmas break, her family noticed that she seemed stressed. She had actually lost about 35 pounds. She said she was in the gym six days a week, but she only did cardio. When she realized that she couldn’t perform her cheer skills anymore, because she had burned off her muscle, she knew it was time to change. Her family suggested that she try weightlifting. She began to soak up all the knowledge she could about how to properly lift weights. She started to feel strong again, look better and feel more confident.
The media frenzy over Watson is interesting because she, as a pretty girl with long blonde hair and the kind of muscle definition that is normally considered “masculine,” occupies a space that is pretty far outside the constraints of conventional femininity. When you throw in the fact that she’s a cheerleader, which is considered the girliest of sports (and yes, I continue to maintain that cheerleading IS a sport), well, you can see how producers and editors all over the Western world practically broke their own backs trying to get interviews with this lady. She screws with gender in ways that many people find baffling, and she’s not even trying. She’s just doing what she does! It’s just who she is!
I mean, there are a lot of women out there who lift like bosses – take Nia Shanks, who once deadlifted 300 pounds – but they don’t get as much attention because they are not wrapped up in a traditionally feminine milieu. My point isn’t that women like Shanks or CrossFit champion Annie Thorisdottir aren’t feminine – I don’t want to presume to dictate another’s gender expression but both ladies strike me as pretty feminine – but rather that by being a cheerleader who likes to lift heavy, she’s sticking her finger in the eye of everyone who says women compromise their femininity by pursuing physical strength and muscles.
Sadly, the reaction to Watson hasn’t been entirely favorable. I’ve seen my share of jokes about her non-existent Adam’s apple and how she’s probably really a dude and blah blah blah. You can use your imagination. Clearly she has struck a nerve among people who are obsessed with policing the line between “male” and “female.” Maybe one day those people will learn that the line between “male” and “female” is so porous as to be actually non-existent, that we can’t all be easily categorized, that there are as many ways to be a human being as there are stars in the sky.
Until then I say, shine on, Anna Watson. You make me and all of the other ladies who lift proud.