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Gym life: Do you even lift sis?

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Thinking of getting fit and joining a gym? Read Arthi Nachiappan’s views on women’s fitness…

When I started working out at the gym a year ago, a male friend of mine taught me how to train the same way he does.

By the time I got to looking for a gym in Leamington, I was getting used to using gym equipment and free weights to train my entire body. So when I was met with Bizz Gym’s women section, offering of only two or three pieces of arms and chest equipment in a sea of stuff designed to train legs, bums and cardio, I was unimpressed. My
needs weren’t met in a section that’s aimed at me.

Bizz are likely catering to the demand they receive from women, or at least what they perceive that to be – and they’re probably right. You could argue just as rightly that the women’s only section is only a supplement to the main gym which offers all sorts of upper body equipment, so I should just shut up and use that. But it’s too simplistic to overlook it in this way; this is another instance where we hear the message that girls should focus their efforts on looking pretty rather than getting strong or fit.

Scanning through the websites of some of the most popular women’s magazines (like Cosmo, Elle and Health) I found that the buzzwords for selling fitness to women were promises to make us “taut”, “toned” and “lean”, with a noticeable avoidance of words like “strength” and “muscle”. The one site I found with a page dedicated to helping women “get stronger” told us that adding strength routines to our workouts would help us get “lean, fit and toned all over”.

Even speaking to other girls who work out, I’ve noticed that comparatively few focus their efforts on weight training, getting higher levels of protein in their diets to build muscle, or working on their upper bodies. Men can derive their worth from their ability while a young woman’s worth comes from her sexual appeal over all else…

Women’s bodies are often judged on the basis of their sexual appeal to men, and being strong means falling outside of the narrow boundaries of what makes a woman attractive.

Pursuing a beautiful body and pursuing a strong, fit body are often made to seem mutually exclusive for women, whereas for men those two goals can coincide. What is healthy for a man’s body aligns much more closely with what is perceived as fitting into the male beauty ideal. When the average male athlete trains the muscles in his body for the purpose of boxing or weight lifting, but faces none of the negative media shitstorm that Ronda Rousey or tennis queen Serena Williams do for their purpose-built figures, it shows this double standard. These athletic women are constantly labelled as “too masculine”. I think Rousey nailed it whenshe said: “Just because my body was developed for a purpose other than fucking millionaires doesn’t mean it’s masculine […] There’s not a single muscle on my body that isn’t for a purpose.”

Women’s bodies are often judged on the basis of their sexual appeal to men, and being strong means falling outside of the narrow boundaries of what makes a woman attractive. Amid a backdrop of societal stereotypes where masculinity is defined by strength and femininity by weakness; where men can derive their worth from their ability while a young woman’s worth comes largely from her sexual appeal over all else, it makes sense that more of our physical goals would be geared towards looking attractive to men, or living up to those ideals even in the eyes of other women.

It creeps me out that actively avoiding healthy fitness goals is necessary to fit into society’s narrow definition of female sexiness.It seems to suggest that women not only have to work disproportionately hard to fit a beauty ideal, but that it’s actually supposed to be more important for us to be pretty than to be healthy and able to do stuff with our bodies other than turn guys on. While boys can be strong, fit, healthy and attractive all at the same time, it’s a shame that we should feel like we need to choose one over the other.

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