For some reason, I find that I still have to justify my training. I love training, and I even love the results that I have achieved including the muscular physique that comes with it. But people still seem to question it. To them, they see a muscular woman and ask why? As much as I love it all, the comments I get from others has me questioning if I am feminine? Should I change or slow down my training to look like society’s definition of feminine? Can I not just be strong and feminine?
Finding your place in this world as an individual can be challenging. Society evolved so fast and set up standards so inadequate that it can be hard to find a purpose, what defines us, and a place among others. So if you are lucky enough to find that one thing that makes you feel worth it, that gives your life a structure, a goal or a comfort zone, you should never have to apologize for that. Others should never make you feel that you are less than something because of your passion.
In a society that advocates individualism and originality, it feels like everything is actually made for people to think and live like on masse. Art, creation, passion, even ideals have to be something that will seduce and arouse the crowds so we can be tamed and dissolve into one big human wave without a real individual identity.
Beauty standards have been dictated by the fashion industry for many years. Womanhood is characterized by slim and vulnerable or curvy and voluptuous bodies in magazines, TV, and on social media. Anything that deviates from that is considered wrong. Growing up, I believed in these standards. I was 50 kg for 170 cm, eating as little as I could because I wanted to look like these magazines covers… But I started working out, my body started to change and suddenly I was not this tiny French girl anymore.
As a woman in the gym, sadly, you will often find yourself justifying your passion in order to find your way through the preconceived ideas. If you are too buff, too muscular, or dare to lift heavy weights you are stepping out of the box, and people begin to judge you. Consequently, you will hear comments such as you look too manly, you are too big, or you are damaging your body.
Here I had a passion, something I was really good at and that gave me comfort because I had a routine to follow in a life full of ups and downs. I would leave the gym and feeling like I achieved something good during my day, ensuring I was better than yesterday. But all I keep hearing is: “you look like a guy”; “what have you done to your body?!”; “don’t you think that you should not lift as heavy?” I even remember a few years back in my old gym in the US, one of the employees thinking it was appropriate to be familiar with clients and would punch them on the shoulder. One day he hit me harder than usual. I told him that he hurt me and should stop. His answer was “if you can lift like a man, I can hit you like a man”. I was shocked and didn’t even know how to respond to that.
I tried not to pay attention to these comments at first, but the more I heard them, the more I started to look in the mirror and wonder “should I wear this?”; “are my arms too big?”; “do I really look like a guy?”
People’s comments were not the only thing that made me lose confidence, I also had stereotypes engraved in my brain and when my body stopped looking like my idea of femininity I didn’t know how to behave and couldn’t see myself like something more than this thing I had become and disliked. So I went with it.
I put on an act. I prefer to play it tough rather than expose my weaknesses and flaws, so to protect myself from feeling vulnerable, I put on the act of a tomboy and I played it damn well! I shaved half of my head and I started walking around like a dude thinking that this way nothing could hurt me. I was the one who had decided to leave my femininity behind so people would not be able deprive me of it. This time was also the time where I stopped doing cardio (see my previous post) so my body became really buff and muscular, and the gym was the only place I would feel confident.
I have a tendency to put on muscle and weight easily and… to start with, I am not really the self-loving type. So after a year plus into my fitness journey, and I could see my muscles growing, it was not easy for me to feel feminine, especially when I was used to being so skinny. The better I would get at the gym, the less of a woman I felt. It came to the point where I would not wear dresses or cute clothes anymore; I would barely use make-up and would constantly wear sportswear, even for work.
At the same time, a lot of people back then saw my hard work in the gym and supported me, trained with me and applauded my efforts. I had made a lot of friends with which I had some of the most amazing workouts of my life. I still remember how I would get excited any time I would do a PR and how proud I would feel. Eventually I learned to focus more on the positives people brought me and less on the negatives, and slowly I learned how to live with this new body.
I started to pay more attention to the details and started to understand my body a little bit better. I found out what was working and not working for me and used it in order to sculpt my silhouette into something that would look a little bit more like me. Today, even though I am still considered muscular for a woman, I am trying to constantly work on my strength and my physique in order to be in peace and to learn how to love myself.
I am not going to lie, still as of today I do not always feel confident outside the gym, when my muscles are not pumped by my workouts I feel like my arms are too big and I have a hard time feeling girly. Some of my friends still tell me that they do not like muscular woman and even though they do not mean any harm, it still hurts. It is hard to feel beautiful and confident when you feel like most of the people disapprove of your physique. But I love the gym, I love the feeling that I get when I lift heavy weights, when I see how strong I have become. I lift weights because it makes me happy, disciplined and strong and because it is a part of who I am today.
Self-love is hard to achieve. It’s fragile and can easily be blown away like a house of cards. It’s challenging enough without the comments I get and the standards set. I want to keep training because I love it. I also want to embrace rather than hide my feministic self, feel feminine, and not have to justify my physique to fit in to the stereotype.
All we should be looking for is to be the best version we can be of ourselves and not the version people expect us to be.
Originally written by Roxane LY for LIFE ON FITNESS and published on December 5th, 2019.
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