Will Lifting Make Me bulky? And Other Questions That Shouldn’t Matter...
by Natalie Costa
If warning women that lifting will make them look bulky is meant to be a cautionary tale, then the question has to be asked, what are we supposed to look like?
The unfortunate connotation of the word “bulky” lends itself to images of overt masculinity and bulging veins.
In fact, a simple search of the hashtag #womenwholift will yield a myriad of results. Most of impressive women doing impressive things, but also chalked full of memes like this.
Here’s the thing about stereotypes, though. When you don't know any better, they serve as the truth. And, with the overwhelming presence for what qualifies as attractive on social media (as perpetuated by celebrities and reality stars, to name a few), it’s easy to fall in line with the general misconception: Lifting will make you bulky. Full stop.
To explore my personal experience with this requires two things. 1) The admission that I not only agreed, but promoted this mentality, and 2) The willingness to admit that I was wrong.
Six months after I had my son, I, like many moms, wanted to get “my body back”. To me, that looked like a 20-something version of myself. Just someone who weighed less, but not necessarily someone in "good shape".
At first, that meant going to cardio-based classes once per week, and then being outraged when I didn’t see results.
Every day on the way to work, I passed the same CrossFit gym. I just didn't have the nerve to go in.
When you sign up for any CrossFit membership, you are required to take Foundations classes, which are exactly what they sound like: Classes to teach you the foundations of the workouts.
On my second day of Foundations, the coach asked me to pick up the training barbell, which is 15 lbs.
Before he even placed it on the rack, I blurted out, “Wait, I don’t want to get bulky!”
Just the sight of a barbell conjured such negative connotations that I was afraid to touch it. That’s outrageous... but not surprising.
Thanks to articles mindlessly shared on social media that tout misconceptions and perpetuate harmful stereotypes about women and what they should look like, it’s easy to see where this barbell discrimination comes from.
As you might have guessed, since I am writing about this experience for Women's Strength Coalition, my personal, first-hand experience has taught me differently.
To be fair, for the first year of CrossFit, I stayed away from the barbell, only using it when the Workout of the Day (WOD) called for it, but never adding too much weight.
In terms of my original goal (weight loss), I achieved that pretty quickly. The old adage is true, in my case: “Fall in love with the process and the results will follow.”
The pounds fell off and I got my “body back” (whatever that means), but then, pretty quickly, that stopped being enough. I wanted to be strong.
What started as a casual interest has since evolved into a true passion built on the foundation of strength.
“I used to want to be skinny until, I felt what it was like to be strong.”
There’s something about adding weight to the bar and watching that number grow over time and knowing that the only reason for that growth is you getting stronger.
It was like all of the stereotypes I had previously held didn’t matter anymore, and as soon as I stopped believing them, they stopped being true.
It might make sense to include photos of myself here with filters and angles and all of the best social media manipulation has to offer to show superficial progress, but the way I look is no longer the metric I am using to monitor progress.
Instead, I focus on the fact that I am stronger today than I have probably ever been, and I know that because I am consistently tracking my progress. Every muscle on my body is bigger, firmer, more powerful.
I take up more space than I used to, and it’s the best feeling in the world.
I think as young girl many of us are told to take up as little room as possible, and maybe that's where the idea that women should not be “bulky” stems from. But then what should we look like? And why do other people, specifically men, think they're the authority on that?
If bulky means throwing your body weight overhead, I want to be bulky. If bulky means deadlifting 25 percent more than my body weight, I want to be bulky.
But mostly, I want to be strong. And if that makes me look bulky, I am totally fine with that.