I’ve always been fairly healthy, exercising at the gym and playing team sports. I started working out properly about 6 months ago; and by properly I mean strength training, with a trainer (thanks Ashley Woodward) at the gym, and eating right. My aim was to get healthier, stronger, and build more muscle (because guns, right?).
I started because I saw many of the women I admired lifting heavy shit, running marathons and kicking butt. And so I thought there must be something to this. Turns out there is!
When I started I was doing squats on a Smith Machine with nothing but the weight of the bar, and deadlifting with two 20 pound dumbbells. I now squat nearly 90% of my body weight, and can lift 180 pounds off the ground (last week I was even bench pressing more than the dude next to me. It felt awesome!). These weights are nothing on what some people lift, and it will always be a work in progress, but I am the strongest that I have ever been and it feels great!
But it feels great not just because of the physical strength (which really is terrific) or because how healthy and awake I feel, but also because of how empowering it is. For me, going to the gym is not political. It’s a reward and time out from thinking about philosophy and other things in my life. But hell, I am sick to death of people embracing and promoting the view of the ideal woman as soft, demure and weak. Comments like “yes, I admire her strong physique, but all that muscle really isn’t feminine.” Why is the feminine ideal weak? Why are people promoting the view that what it is to be a woman is incapable?
When I first started working out people said to me “be careful, you don’t want to get too muscly,” “you don’t want to get roped into that bodybuilding stuff”; as if I was some defenceless maiden threatened by the deceptive, predatory, throbbing bodybuilding association (I faced similar warnings about getting my PhD, “careful, you don’t want to live your life with your head in the books, hidden in the library,” “you don’t want to give up your chances of a family and a wedding”). These comments were said with love, but what is communicated is clear: we women are not the protectors but the protected.
Strength training is a great way to say F that, and to see just what you can do, rather than what you are told you can and should do.
Nanette Ryan is a PhD candidate in Philosophy at Georgetown University. She is primarily interested in moral and political philosophy, epistemology, and their intersection.