ON PINK DUMBBELLS, WOMEN, WEIGHT TRAINING, AND MYTH


1. 
 

       “Slow down, my dear,” she said, “you’re going a mile a minute!” I knew she wouldn’t understand but I had to tell her anyways, “grandma! I squatted one and a half times my body weight!”


      Silence.


      I smiled to myself knowing what to expect: The Speech – a speech that, by then, had become a prevalent feature of our conversations. The Speech always begins with a few seconds of silence and then it goes something like this: “you’ll injure yourself, sweetie… women are not meant to lift heavy weights… think of your back when you reach my age… it’s not good for you… women were not built for that kind of thing…”

      Normally,  I quite dislike The Speech and attempt – uselessly, of course – to disarm it by mobilizing reason and a long list of scientific and anecdotal evidence to back my case. This time though, I just smiled and let The Speech follow its natural course until it was replaced with our mutually-favored topic of discussion: our respective menus du jour (because foodiness runs in the family).

     Truth is, I don’t always gear up to fight The Speech. I don’t do it because my grandma is in her 80s and her viewpoint, while one that I obviously don’t agree with, is one that I completely understand. I mean, up until quite recently, women and weight lifting were largely seen as mutually exclusive. Barring a few noteworthy cases (i.a. Ivy Russell), before the mid 20th century, weight rooms, as such, were relegated to the domains of men in much the same way as traditional Greek Kαφενεια were (and, to a large extent, still are) spaces inhabited exclusively by men. 


      But, while I may understand where my grandmother is coming from, The Speech has a way of silently rousing up a strong sense of ‘bloody hell!’ in me because the view that ‘women shouldn’t lift heavy weight’ is by no means confined to those beyond the age of 50. No, we see it reproduced daily in all sorts of banal forms and, those of us who lift, turn blind eye after blind eye, voicing our discontent with the baseless approaches legitimized by public media, sighing when catching sight of popular women’s magazines, and mobilizing sadface when we’re smacked with The Ridiculous:

      A set of pink ludicrously-light dumbbells – for women.
      A pink tub of (notably more expensive) protein powder designed exclusively for  women.
      A toning workout program for women promising sculpted and elongated muscles.
      Absurdly high reps and ridiculously low weight: for women.
      Women-only cardio-centered classes as the one and only way to get in shape.
 

Ahhhh, why don’t we bust out the Ab circle pro and the Hawaii chair while we’re at it?


2. 

       I loaded the dumbbells in the back of my friend’s car as she waited in the driver’s seat. “The trainer let me borrow a couple of weights for the weekend since the gym will be closed so thanks for the ride.” “No problem!” she said.

      When we got to my house she got out to help me take the weights inside and, right then and there, I knew what was coming. “Anna! What are you doing with… 15kg weights!? Are you mad!? You’re going to get huge and turn into a man with this!”

      She looked at me horrified with a look akin to that one would give a friend upon finding out that they wanted to start saving road kill. I smiled and nodded as we made our way inside while I thought about how best to verbalize an argument that would make it past the power of this all-pervasive myth.

     It’s funny, you see, because, within the world of female lifters, I’m actually rather weak! And yet, within the cardio-sphere that most people (like my friend) herald as the best way for women to get fit/ter, I’m suddenly en route to accidentally – or rather, willfully – altering the coordinates of my gender to those of The Hulk. It’s as if lifting anything over five kilos would automatically transform Woman into a Man, as if heavy weights were the ring looking to turn us into The Thing!

3. 
How to respond to all this?
 
       In the context of healthfitness, and nutrition, broscience (a term under which the whole idea that women magically turn into a relation of the Hulk by lifting heavy weight is subsumed) is increasingly being undressed to reveal the BS that has always lay beneath it. Slowly, the discourse on what exactly women can and cannot do (what they should and should not lift) is changing.  
 
The evidence is piling up.
 
      Opposition to arguments like those couched within The Speech (arguments claiming that women were not ‘designed’ to lift heavy weight) and those found within popular narratives of the ‘right’ exercise for women to perform (e.g. exercise involving lots of cardio, high reps, and low weight) is rising. 


       Lifting against mainstream currents, more and more women – like ErikaNia, Jen, JulietAnna, Kelsey, Marina, April, Marianne, SableChristina, and Kristen – are contributing to  changing the conversation by sharing their own experiences, showing the world why strong deserves to not just be ‘the new skinny, ‘the new sexy‘, or ‘the new black’ but the new normal in the realm of women’s fitness.

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