athletes · body image · weight lifting

Big, bigger, and biggest: Three thoughts on living large

close up shot of weights on a barbell

Thought 1: Heavy lifting won’t make women big

See Can lifting heavy weights make you bulky? Not if you’re a woman

“We combine personal experience, three expert opinions, and a healthy dose of scientific research to explain why most women simply won’t get bulky from lifting weights.”

Thought 2: What’s wrong with being big anyway?

From Fit Villains, (I’ve excerpted a bit below but worth going and reading the whole thing.)

“No, you won’t get big!” (Because big is bad, right?)

“It won’t make you bulky!” (Because to be bulky is to break the rules of femininity, didn’t ya know)

“You won’t look like this (insert image of female body builder). You’ll look like this (insert image of crazy toned fitness model)” (because there are only good and bad bodies. Anything that doesn’t look like the model is bad, ya heard.)

“You’ll get lean, sexy muscle!” (because all other muscle is unsexy, and you only want the sexy. It’s all about being fuckable )

“You won’t look like a man” (because the WORST thing you can do as a woman is potentially confuse 2-3 stupid people about your gender. Peeps need their boxes & labels, or else…uh, chaos?).

Heard any of these phrases before?If not, you may have been living in a bubble, lol. At least, in fitness. But while they are common (and kinda true, at least in terms of women not being equipped for fast, large amounts of muscle gain), I’d argue that they do little to actually address the major concern of women who are scared about weight lifting. Because it isn’t actually about the muscle.”

See also Do girls get a bulking season? Silly question and Big women and strength.

Thought 3: They’re talking about muscles, any muscles, not “big at all.”

From a frequent commentator on our blog and Facebook page, Kimberly Van Orman,

The problem with articles like this, is there is a failure of definition. People talking about this don’t have a shared understanding of ‘bulky.’

For those of us who don’t believe in women can easily get bulky, we are referring to hypertrophy or something like gaining a significant amount of body weight in muscle (gaining muscle mass). We’re talking physiology.

But in the people who don’t like “bulk,” or who fear it, they tend to mean any visible signs of it. Any amount of recomposition or change of body shape at all is unacceptable to them. They’re talking aesthetics.

This is less a failure of women (and men) to understand physiology and more of social pressure. Many women have internalized the social pressure that the right kind of woman is petite. She doesn’t take up space because that’s masculine. To be feminine is to be small, and any threat to one’s size is a threat to one’s femininity.

I’ve been around online fitness communities for a few decades now. Discussions of “women don’t bulk” are great for those of us who get the science and value strength over a particular aesthetic view, but I’ve found that they do little to change anyone’s position, because we’re having different discussions.”

She might be right. See See How My Jacket Convinced Women to Try Weight Lifting by

“My co-worker Michael came into my office and said, “You’re going to want to put on your jacket for this one.” It was a sunny afternoon in Los Angeles, and as one of the head coaches at CrossFit LA, it was part of my job to meet with prospective students and conduct an introductory session. Despite the fact that it was warm out, Michael felt I ought to wear my jacket. Michael suggested my jacket because he figured I would scare off the prospect otherwise. You see, as it turns out, the state of your womanhood is directly related to the size of your biceps. At least that’s what I’ve discovered. Or rather, I’ve discovered that’s what other people decide when they meet me. And I know I’m not the only one dealing with this issue. In fact, it’s only called an “issue” because women at all locations on the masculine-feminine spectrum are struggling to identify themselves and muscle size seems to be one criterion.”


One thought on “Big, bigger, and biggest: Three thoughts on living large

  1. Similar discussion happened this weekend at a Personal Trainer Training I was teaching. The discussion was more about Crossfit than anything. The participant I was discussing with had been to Crossfit and didn’t like it. I told her that that type of training was not my style either, but that it had merits. Later that same day I was on a shuttle bus at the airport next to a beautiful and very fit woman dressed in a Crossfit tshirt. Oh how I wish I could have her arms! I have been resistance training in various forms for almost 20 years now and never have I achieved the very toned and defined muscle look in my arms that I crave. What is wrong with muscle?

    I tell all of my PT students to throw the “1lb of muscle weighs more than 1lb of fat” theory out the window. One pound is one pound, but density matters. I’d rather have an extra few pounds of ground beef on my arms than jello any day! BEEF ME UP! 🙂

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