I can distinctly remember how the male figures in my life reacted to images of female bodybuilders.
Anytime an image of a woman who had really great muscle definition showed up in magazines or on TV, the visceral, physical reaction of my male role models made their feelings obvious.
Despite the clear body language, they would also make comments about how “She doesn’t even look female” or “I don’t mind some muscles, but that is too much.” Hearing comments like that from men (and honestly some women too) really affected how I pictured an ideal female body- and it didn’t include any muscles.
If you identify as female, then you are familiar with the societal pressure to measure up to a certain ideal. The image of rail-thin, wispy women dominates most magazines and catalogues that are marketed to women.
This is difficult to obtain (and honestly probably not healthy to attain) without any added pressure.
When you consider female athletes, everything becomes every more tricky to navigate.
Female athletes compete not only with the societal “ideal” female body type, but also with the ideal body type that is needed for them to perform at their highest level in their sport of choice.
For example, the ideal body type for a swimmer is broad shoulders, a muscular upper body, and a thin frame. Broad shoulders, however; are not what society considers to be beautiful for women.
Being muscular and being attractive are not mutually inclusive for women.
In his 2015 New York Times article, “Tennis’s Top Women Balance Body Image with Ambition,” Ben Rothenberg states, “...body image issues among female tennis players persist, compelling many players to avoid bulking up.”
These women don’t work to have the powerful arms that would make them dominate in their sport because they are worried it will make them unfeminine. WTF!
This pressure to remain feminine is perhaps the most difficult for female bodybuilders. Not only are they focused on becoming as muscular as possible, they are also participating in an activity many people still think about as being only “for men.”
In the world of competitive weight lifting, it is not attractive to be soft and rain thin. You want bulk, you want as much muscle as possible. It is impossible for women to straddle both ideals in this case.
Maintaining your own sense of empowerment, femininity, and beauty as a female athlete is a crash course in building self-confidence. You have to be comfortable in your own skin and know your own worth, despite what spectators or your family may say.
You have to know that you can be strong and beautiful, muscular and feminine.
Pam Shriver said it best when she said “...for some female athletes...their best body type, their best performance build, is one that is not thin; it’s one of power.”
So go out there and claim your power woman, we’ve got your back.