Ok, stop me if you’ve heard this one before:
“Cello lessons? Forget about that, I don’t want to turn into Yo Yo Ma.”
No? Ok – here’s another:
“I’m afraid of going to spin class because I don’t want to compete in the Tour de France!”
Still nothing? What about now:
“I don’t want to learn how to sing because I’m afraid I’ll accidentally turn into an opera singer.”
If you think I’m totally nuts right about now, indulge me in just one more:
“I don’t want to lift weights; I don’t want to look like a bodybuilder!”
OOOHHH snap. I bet you’ve heard that one before.
I could go into the logical, rational arguments why that’s not the case. I can wax poetical about how women’s testosterone levels make it difficult for muscle growth, how it takes YEARS of 100% dedicated lifting AND dieting to get to that point, or how lifting generally makes you smaller, not larger (take me as a case study: Pre-lifting Genevieve was a size 10-12; lifting Genevieve is a size 4-6).
Picture time so I can prove it!
But I’m not going to do that.
I’m going to address what I hear when a woman looks me in the eyes with dread and utters those words.
I’m going to dive straight into the fear behind that statement.
Though the tide is (wonderfully!) turning, it’s not yet totally acceptable for women to lift weights. If you look at the popular magazines, the articles on “toning” and “shaping” tell you:
1. Run on the treadmill and lift 5 pound dumbbells for a fartbillion repetitions.
2. To be slim and pretty, you should run. Just run. Or elliptical, whatever, just as long as it's cardio.
3. Stay far, far away from lifting anything over 15 pounds because you’ll turn into the Incredible Hulk and no man will ever want to date you.
They play on the basic fears that all of us have: societal norms, physical attractiveness, social belonging, and feminine ideals of beauty.
The discomfort, in real life, sounds like this: “I don’t want to be bulkier than my boyfriend. He likes me small and soft and petite. What if he stops finding me attractive?" Or “I’m losing weight and one of my guy friends told me that he usually doesn’t find muscular girls attractive, but he likes the way I look. I know he meant it as a compliment, but it made me question the way I look. Am I getting too buff? Is that a thing?”
I have no problem admitting that I, too, was scared when I started lifting. It was embarrassing and I did a ton of things wrong.
But NOT taking the leap would have been worse.
Why is that?
Because I would have been trapped, like so many women are, in a spiral of self-loathing.
We’re taught to hate things about ourselves (like this clip from Mean Girls). Every magazine tells you how to “Lose Those Last 10 Pounds”, as if you’re not already good enough. And the kicker is that their advice SUCKS and WON’T MAKE YOU LOSE THAT WEIGHT!!
So you never lose the weight, you hate yourself more, you tell yourself you’re lazy and why bother, and you give up and eat ice cream in a corner while blasting Adele. (Not from personal experience.)
Lifting weights changed all that for me.
By lifting, I became confident. Yeah, starting out I probably looked like the weight room equivalent of Bambi on ice. But once I started to get stronger and increase my dumbbells from the 10s to the 15s to the 20s and even further, I started to see my body change. I started to have physical, concrete evidence that I was improving. I was reaching my goals by giving Shape Magazine the middle finger and doing everything it said I shouldn’t.
(Actually, I will give the magazines credit. They say to stay away from the 10s and 15s. They’re right. When I loaded up on 25s and 45s, I saw drastic changes.)
But the most drastic change was that I started believing in myself. I saw what happened when I followed conventional wisdom – crying at the thought of 30 more minutes on the treadmill for the umpteenth day in a row (this one IS from personal experience), and what happened when I took that leap of faith - walking tall with my head held high.
I get the fear behind “I don’t want to be bulky”. I really do.
But the REAL fear is the fear of change.
It’s the fear that we won’t be beautiful in the socially accepted sense.
It’s the fear of your friends making fun of you for eating “rabbit food” while they slam burgers like it’s their job.
It’s the fear of being given the side eye by those three guys piling the plates on the bench press while you’re trying to concentrate on not dropping the bar on your face.
Those fears are the silent fears that are publicly pronounced as “I don’t want to get bulky”.
If you’ve found yourself saying “I don’t want to get bulky”, here’s what I want you to do.
I want you to really think about what this means to you.
What are you actually scared of? Is it how you’ll look? Is it how your friends will react? Is it that your sister doesn’t understand what you’re doing? Is it that you’re realizing you don’t actually know how to lift?
Once you figure out the actual answer, that dragon will be easier to slay. We’ll go more in depth on each one of these topics because dealing with your thoughts is often harder than physically picking up those barbells. But that’s exactly why I’m here. I don’t want you to wallow in misery, chasing those last elusive 5 pounds. I want you to kick ass and take names.
For now, though, take a second and write in the comments below – have you ever said “I don’t want to be bulky”, or heard someone say that to you? What’s the fear behind those words for you? I’m going to base the next few posts on what comes out in the comments, so don’t be shy!