Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Weight Lifting as an Act of Rebellion

I lift weights at the gym.

Not just the feather-lite girly pink ones either. I'm not afraid to lift heavy.

In the beginning, weight training was just a way to round out my fitness regimen. I vaguely remember reading an article in a magazine about bone density, loss of muscle, women's health, blah, blah, blah. I don't remember the specifics. I know it was enough to make me pick up my first dumb bell even though I had no idea what to do with it. Plus, my husband was dragging me to the gym against my will (Not really. But he needed an accountability partner, and while I didn't need to lose weight, I wanted to be supportive and encouraging and all that stuff spouses are supposed to be).

But now for me, weight training is more. It has become an act of rebellion.

There aren't many women that hang out in the free weights section of the gym. Most of them are too busy with the cardio equipment or the Zumba classes. Their preoccupation with long sessions of calorie-burning cardio ties up most of their gym time. It's part of their endless pursuit of the holy grail otherwise known as the tiny waistline.  When couples enter the gym, they experience a type of divorce - the men head straight to the weights and the women to the treadmills.  It's a little sad to witness, actually.

Lifting weights builds muscle. Women want to be small. In fact the smaller the better. The message is screamed at us from every direction.

Weigh less. Eat less. Wear less. And, by inference, Be less.

The implied standards of beauty that parade across our television screens and grocery store magazine racks have resulted in an ideal body image so skewed and unattainable that women often fall victim to unhealthy fad diets and dangerous eating disorders in their pursuit of 'perfection'. Eat less. Weigh less at any cost. That is the pervading message for women.

And with those slender bodies comes the message to flaunt them. Higher hem lines, lower necklines, sheer see-through fabrics. Wear less. Flaunt your feminine sexuality because that's where your value lies. It's not in your brain or your ideas or your talents, but in your body and how much it arouses male desire.

Perhaps it's a remnant of old-fashioned thinking that women are delicate and fragile that shapes the images of beauty so prevalent in the media. Stick figure models with their Auschwitz-chic protruding collarbones and hipbones grace fashion runways and magazine covers. They look like they might blow away in a stiff breeze, like their limbs might snap at the slightest of touches. And when the models and celebrities don't look that way naturally, there's Photoshop to make sure that we still see them as ultra thin and frail.

Breakable and dainty. That seems to be the gold standard of feminine perfection. Tiny. Frail. Weak.

There is no muscle on the body of Society's approved version of womanhood. Just slender arms that need help opening jar lids and bodies that are so light they can be swooped up in masculine arms and carried away.  To them, vulnerability, not strength, is the true face of femininity.


I refuse to play this game. I won't follow Society's rules. I don't want to try to squeeze myself into the narrow and unhealthy definition of beauty that is more limiting and constricting than a Victorian corset.

To hell with less. I want to be more.

I want to think more. Feel more. Do more. Be more.

Yes, weight training builds muscle (although not the giant man muscles like so many women believe. That takes a certain cocktail of hormones, a cocktail most women can't achieve without injectable help), but I don't want to be a tiny delicate butterfly. I don't want to be seen as frail and fragile. I want to be strong. I want to be confident and capable. I don't ever want to fit the image of helpless and weak, of the damsel in distress who needs big strong muscles to save me. I want to be strong enough to save myself if I need saving.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote last week in his Time column, "Perhaps the muscular, athletic woman symbolizes physical and mental self-sufficiency, which threatens the cozy ideal of beauty as soft, fragile, and weak."

Yes. Perhaps it does. And that's why you'll find me pumping iron three times a week at my local gym. It's an act of rebellion against the limiting ideals that a consumer-driven society wants us pursuing.

Ladies, jump down off of that treadmill, throw down your salad fork and join me in a revolution. Smash down the snug and comfortable ideals of beauty.

Be strong. Be capable. Be more.

If you need me, I'll be over here in the free weights section. Because you can't bench press your body weight with Barbie doll arms.