“No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training.
It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which the body is capable.”
– Socrates (probably referring to Miley Cyrus)
Lately I’ve been noticing, firsthand, a surprising amount of disdain from friends/acquaintances regarding CF, weightlifting, and ‘working out’ in general. If I face palmed every time somebody asked me if they’ll ‘get bulky’ working out, I’d be in reconstructive surgery six months of the year. This question is usually asked by somebody who’s already ‘bulky’, just not in the way they imagine. A brief discussion inevitably reveals that they know approximately jackshit about how the body works anyway, and that they are not so much interested in learning about exercise physiology as they are in complaining about what they see as a growing affront to their aesthetic ideals – muscles.
It is a curious phenomenon to me, because I’ve historically been an active person, but nobody ever complained about these issues when I was running, biking, or doing whatever – however as I’ve gained noticeable size (when you start out small the changes seem bigger) the topic continues to rear it’s head. “How big are you trying to get?” has become a common refrain, and it’s not that this is offensive but that it misses the point of what I do so fucking hard it makes my head spin. I didn’t get to choose my genetics, so when I stop growing I’ll let you know. But then a couple things happened this week that just set me over.
First, my friend was told by her boss that her shirts were too “muscle shirt looking”. These were normal cut tops for a casual work environment. First off, can you imagine the shitstorm if your boss told a fat person their shirt showed too many rolls? Or revealed too much cellulite? How is this okay? Second…who the actual fuck cares? You’ve got deltoids in the workplace! Holy shit! So we commiserated over texts but then this festering pile of dogshit showed up in my feed…
If you want a headache without eating ice cream too fast, go ahead and read through this mind-numbing attempt at feel good, rambling garbage. If you want to spare yourself some pain, let me go over some highlights for you.
In the phrase, “skinny” is something to be sought after. Something that’s good. And now, in order to be accepted and seen as beautiful by society, you need to be strong — with visible muscles and the ability to do lots of push-ups and dead lifts and pull-ups.
Where in the fuck are you getting your information? When did the ‘Body Image Society’ convene and publish these universal standards? Am I to believe that because you saw a few badly made images on Pinterest, this notion has become an absolute truth? You must be a marketers wet dream. Who in your life is pressuring you to start bodybuilding? My guess – nobody. This kind of ‘me vs. the world’ bullshit is the hallmark of those who lack critical thinking and coping skills when an opinion that doesn’t fit their delicate worldview is presented. I am left to infer that your self-image is so unstable that the latest fitness marketing is viewed as a crippling assault on your physical identity. And what better way to deal with that than trying to present an imaginary problem as black & white so you can be seen as the ‘voice of reason’?
Everyone is different, and some of us put on muscle more easily than others, just like some of us are naturally more slender. Does this mean then that non-muscular people are now not as attractive? That they need to change, even if they are living a healthy lifestyle? Are they no longer beautiful because when they flex there’s not much there or their abs don’t resemble a six-pack? Now they get to the feel the pressure that “non-skinny” folks have felt for years, chasing after what could possibly be an unrealistic appearance?
I’m going to ignore that you are still making up statements so we begin to have clarity. I know you just got to the page with Channing Tatum in board shorts, but put away your dog-eared copy of US Weekly for a minute and let me lay some knowledge on you. As simply as I can put it, SIZE ≠ STRENGTH. It is a true mark of a fool to equate strength with ‘having lots of big muscles’. So here we have two problems. Number one, again, not a fucking clue about how the body works. Know who was strong? Mary Lou Retton. Just look at this 4 foot 9 inch monster.
Do you have any idea how much raw strength it takes to be even a mediocre gymnast? Of course you do – you’re an expert. After all, you took a BodyPump class last week and did some deadlifts for the first time. You are basically a world-class trainer at this point, except you can’t explain to me the difference between Neuromuscular Adapation vs. Myofibrillar Hypertrophy in regards to strength gains and if you saw a 300 pound man you’d assume he lifts ‘like, one billion pounds’. I wonder how fast your head would explode if I showed you a 125-pound woman putting 300# over her head? According to you, the only way to get strong is to “GET HA-UGE”, slowly working towards the cover of Muscle & Fitness magazine.
While we’re at it, can we go over that ‘strong’ is not an analogous term with ‘skinny’? Skinny is a visual appraisal of something. Anybody can set limits on it, but in the end, it comes down to appearance and it doesn’t help you accomplish much of anything. It is not a single measure of good or bad health. Here are some things ‘being skinny’ can help with:
- Sitting comfortably in airplanes
- Buying clothes with small size numbers
- Fitting through crevices
Strength, on the other hand, is a description of potential capability – what helps you actually do something. “The productive application of force” has tangible, real world benefits to every person on earth in navigating a physical environment. How much strength you want is up to you, but if getting off the shitter at age 80 is a priority, ‘strength’ is gonna get you there.
My parents have recently began legitimate strength training. They have been committed and after 8 months, my mom is nearing a bodyweight deadlift while my dad approaches a bodyweight squat. The result? The following has improved for them:
- Able to carry backpacks without neck/back pain
- Not exhausted after a round of golf
- Able to walk up stairs without legs burning
- Comfortable carrying groceries
- Greater ability to do yardwork
You’re right, this idea that being strong is for everyone is dangerous. Who wants improvements in their basic quality of life?
Which leads to our second point – who cares if someone has muscles or not? What the fuck is wrong with muscles? Moreover, what is so very wrong in your own head that the sight of muscles is intimidating, viewed as some sort of passive coercion targeted to you? Do you feel pressured to gain weight if you walk around fat people? Would you leave a lumberjack convention with a jar of rogaine and a flannel shirt because you were so scared of not blending in?
Maybe not in your world, but in mine, this sort of aesthetic discrimination is rearing it’s head more and more. Women get the brunt of it, but I hear it every week – “those girls/guys are just too damn built, it’s gross”, as if
a) they are there for your judging and approval
b) they would give a shit what you think anyway
c) there is some aesthetic ideal that only you are privy to, while loudly exclaiming ‘there should be no aesthetic ideal!’
It’s predictable, because with the rise in popularity of anything new, so rise the haters. But it is still unfortunate, and more often than not founded in illogical, irrational projected fears. The amount of cognitive dissonance in this article is worth a book, and I could go on, but even I tire of this shit. How about this – I’ll go and lift in peace, and you don’t blame me for every piece of marketing horseshit that makes you feel insecure. Deal? Of course not.