Lately, I’ve been thinking about the concept of strength; What does it mean to be strong? Who gets to be strong? What does strong look like?
The answers to these questions are often fraught with negativity and misinformation:
If you LOOK strong (have muscle tone), you are not feminine or womanly.
If you ACT strong–emotionally or intellectually–you are a bitch or a shrew.
If you ARE strong, then you are a spectacle, a freak.
It’s time to call bullshit on these myths and change the way we look at women and strength.
Every human physique is different. Our genes, hormones, nutrition, socio-economics, parental status, activity level and type, career, and many other factors contribute to how our bodies show up in the world.
Yet, our culture–especially fashion and entertainment –dictates to us what shape and size we should be.
Women often fear “getting bulky” from strength training.
The simple truth is that those born with XX chromosomes by-and-large do not have the bone structure or the testosterone levels to get “bulky” without outside “help” or extreme training.
The complicated truth is that lifting weights affects every body differently–because, as I said, every body is DIFFERENT.
If you start strength training, you may you look bulkier than you did before training because you’re building muscle mass–which takes up space. Or you may not.
If you have some body fat (which most of us do) and add muscle mass to that body, then you may look “bigger.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing because more muscle mass leads to an increased metabolism–which means you will likely lean out if you eat sanely and keep training.
More exciting, extra skeletal muscle will change the way you love and honor your body–no matter the size. So cool!
Dealing with the push-back that women get from being emotionally or intellectually strong is the subject for longer discussion. But I will say the following: I am an intellectually and emotionally strong woman. I have felt the push-back from both men and women about how I express that aspect of my strength.
While I am still seen by some as “too much” or “too big,” getting physically stronger has given me the confidence to express myself fully without fear or apology. I am strong, my brain and my heart are strong. Deal with it.
Which brings us to being physically strong.
Why is it freakish for a woman to lift heavy and move with aggression and power? At what point along the line did it become the norm to accept being weak?
And why is being able to handle your body in the world such an abnormal state?
Not everyone is going to become a competitive lifter. That’s not what I’m talking about.
What I’m suggesting is that it shouldn’t be freakish for you to carry two heavy bags of groceries down the street and into your apartment without worrying that you will pull a hammy.
It shouldn’t be freakish for you to be able to easily put your suitcase in the overhead bin without asking for help or holding up the line.
It shouldn’t be freakish for you to pick-up your kid/grandkid/the laundry/ a box of Goodwill donations off the floor without fear that your back will “go out.”
These are basic human movements. They are the keys to physical and mental freedom, and they are your right to have, train, and maintain.
I am aware that my emotional and intellectual strength may have just led you through a very provocative reality check. I know there may be push-back. OK. Whatevs.
Do me a favor and sit with whatever you are feeling about what I said. Did it make you angry, confused, intrigued? A little bit of all those things? Good.
It’s normal to be uncomfortable and uncertain. We can work with that.
Over the next few weeks, I will continue to unpack strength as a physical concept and give you some tools to start exploring safely and slowly.
I leave you with some homework:
Squatting is the most primal and fundamental of human movements. Toddlers squat to pick things up off the ground, and you do it every day when you sit down in a chair or get up off the toilet.
Squatting is also one of the most powerful and functional tools that you can use to make your body strong.
Next week, I will outline detailed instructions about how to squat.
For now, here’s a little taste of what’s coming.
- Find the nearest chair or solid surface. Sit down with your back straight.
- Plant your feet firmly on the floor about shoulder-width apart.
- With strong, active legs–without using your hands or momentum– stand up powerfully.
- Sit back down without falling or tumbling into the seat.
- Repeat 5X.
Practice this daily until we meet again next week.
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