12 Sep MASS HYSTERIA
This article is hard for me to write, I think in most part because I am a male, in a male-dominant industry. To consider my opinion in and of itself should be taken with a grain of salt, as I will never fully comprehend the situation. But this may be why I also think it’s important for an outsider to address the issue – if not just for the exercise in empathy and perspective. The subject of women being muscular might be a recent one, but the issue of women being strong is a deep rooted historical battle. I’m not convinced that my speaking out will change anything, especially in the outlet of a small time blog, and a few social media accounts, but doing so, along with others might help influence a shift in how we perceive females.
Women training, women in sport, women with muscle, specifically women who choose to stand and be strong, both emotionally and physically by determining their own physical outcome and their own identity are constantly berated – even in some instances by other females. I don’t expect the world to be a homogenized space for us to live out our time untouched by conflict, in fact, the fight might just be what gives a specific subject meaning, as metal untouched by fire will remain either too brittle or too soft, so do we humans. The internet can be a place for great ideas, but with it also comes the subconscious truth of personal opinion that gets spewed out in the haphazard comments of a social media post. The trickle down whispering and backhanded aggressions made in comments of photos and videos of some of the most muscularly impressive women on the planet, quickly habituates a perception, the idea that females can become “accidentally too bulky”, as if it is an easy look to attain or comes about by happenstance. It seems harmless enough, people should be able to choose what they want aesthetically but this nuance is pervasive, it polarizes what we have been forced to believe throughout history; that women must submit to the ideals of a more powerful dominant male, that they should be frail and controllable. It is a knee-jerk reaction to a constraint we may not acknowledge exists. With CrossFit emerging as a sport and drawing more and more female competitors, as well as increased participation in weightlifting, this notion gets challenged daily, as the requirement for success is inevitably more lean mass. With the “look” comes the accusation of exogenous performance enhancement, as if the visibility of abs is only available through injection. This perception is founded on limited education, and ignorance of the most basic dietary and physiological truths.
I find the first reaction from most people when shown an impressive feat from a female athlete that may be developed perfectly for their sport, is to comment on her appearance, to note the attractiveness first, and the ability second. It happened when my my step-daughter – at the time a 5-year old emphatic dancer – messed up during a recital, but was commended for her performance because she was still “cute”. It was an ignoring the opportunity to give feedback that could lead to improvement and instead pigeoned the idea of success on pleasing others visually first. It shouldn’t be beyond anyone why this practice should be looked down on, we are a society now heavily influenced on a meritocracy, yet there is nothing of merit to appreciate about looking like what society deems as “attractive”, there is no growth found in the idea that we can overwrite results with nicely inherited facial features. A few years ago I was watching a video of Olympic Weightlifter and gold medalist Lidia Valentin setting an event best Snatch, Clean & Jerk, as well as total. She moved beautifully, she was frighteningly strong; it was a heart-warming victory for one of the sport’s most adored athletes. I probably watched it a dozen times, struck in awe. I made the mistake of showing a friend; his response was a cringe, as I had forgotten his stance on women that are “bigger” (165lbs), as he referred to them as “monkeys in dresses”. It wasn’t the first time I had heard the term, and before the end of our friendship he would address my wife as a “borderline monkey in a dress”, after his opinion was unconstrained by the vigor of vodka. This was somewhat heart breaking for me, as my wife at the time was 132lbs. At 5’8” she had worked for years to put lean mass on, as a previously competitive runner she weighed a slight 122lbs in-season – “skinny” doesn’t begin to define what she looked like – but it was supportive of the effort, so the look or “attractiveness” of it came second. The difficulty wasn’t just the eating, and training, it was overcoming the perception that muscle on females is undesirable to males and other females. Although it takes years to add 8-10 pounds of muscle, it takes longer to view your reflection in the mirror without the weight of public opinion defining how you should see yourself. To her credit she brushed it off and continued to reach for her goals that to most ride against the societal designation of being “dainty”, the very next day out squatting the person in question by over 50lbs, my smile couldn’t possibly represent just how proud of her I was, and it had nothing to do with how “pretty” she looks doing it.
There are countless examples of women rising above the preconceived ideas of fitness, but there is most likely 10 times that amount of detractors, commenting, insulting, and badgering those that wish to rise above, those that want to be better than they are today. Those are the people I want to reach, the women that deserve encouragement for aspiration, I could care less about convincing the indoctrinated about the merits of physicality. This should serve as beacon not a complaint, or an entitlement for freedom from critical comments. The majority’s constriction on women makes it even greater of a process to endure, as attrition builds the most sought after diamonds, so should be the task of attaining mass. My previous career did not help women, as a freelance photographer, make-up artist, and hairstylist, most of my work was through agencies, some were great jobs with great people, I created things that at the time I truly loved; fashion and beauty. Unfortunately my drive and desire was already molded, my notion of what looked good on film was decided for me, as anything outside this perception will not be bought, or sold. One of the worst parts about my job was to explain to impressionable girls that their body type would not be successful in the industry they wanted so badly to be a part of. To be fair, rarely is it about being skinny enough (as is often addressed by accusations of ‘fat-shaming’), and more or less a genetic predisposition for ratios in limb length and facial features, knowledge of this didn’t make the task any easier. The further I get from that industry the more clear the destruction becomes to the women it is meant to empower. Between magazine covers pressuring the conformity of being visually pleasing first, to the very real back and forth in comment threads arguing whether an actress that was cast is either too skinny or too fat, we have a system that is totally influenced on aesthetics.
This idea of appearance being more important than ability, has not surprisingly wormed its way into how we raise our children, and is a debt that we haven’t quite realized the total cost of. Imagine raising a young girl, she most likely looks to you for how she feels about herself, some of this happens by what you tell her you think, but most of her idea is in observing the moments where you project what you think, like your backhanded remarks at the sight of a muscular female. We are not so clever that we can hide our real opinions from those we spend enough time with, eventually your reactions speak for you. Without directly saying so you are telling her just what you think about muscular women, about strong women, about how disgusted you are with women that decide to not fit into what you deem as “appropriate”. How we unknowingly address attractiveness first and foremost will undoubtedly poison future generations, and limit our female population from not just athletic prowess, but emotional empowerment as well. Maybe this sounds like a call to arms, like a clumsy revolution built on my boredom of reading: “you look like a man” on the timeline of some of the female athletes I look up to. It’s not, it’s more like a duty as a participant in an industry to address issues that I see those close to me deal with, it’s my promise to rectify myself first and influence those I care enough about to do the same. If I can’t help guide athletes physically, mentally, and emotionally then I can’t call my self a coach. If I can’t stand up for women and encourage them to be strong, then I can’t call myself a man, and if I can’t tell my daughter that her ability far outweighs the ideals of the dark ages then I shouldn’t be called human.