There are some topics that I consider writing about in my blog and then shudder. Imagining the backlash, imagining the logical loopholes I’d have to navigate trying to argue my way towards some sort of defense–this usually is enough for me to decide I’ll just write about some smaller aspect of my lifting experience and therefore not have to deal with the consequences of voicing an opinion on more charged matter.
Today, I choose to write about one of these topics. I choose to write a short word about images of “women in fitness” and how I have navigated them as a female lifter.
About a year ago, I became aware of how much of a reception there was online for collections of photos of women who appear to strength train/compete in physique competitions/participate in a strength sport. I ran across blog after blog that posted picture after picture of women with considerable amounts of musculature developed. Sometimes they were posing. Sometimes they were engaged in activity. Often, the pictures focused on one component of the subject’s physique, such as her abdomen. As a woman who was highly enthusiastic about these pursuits but not surrounded by many other women of a like mind, I was fascinated and, at least at first, somewhat inspired by these images.
For a year, I think I remained inspired by them. I continued to strength train and I continued to learn about how to do so correctly. It wasn’t until I started powerlifting–now roughly six months ago–that my body really started to shift and develop more in the direction of the women in some of the images I have come across. As an aside, I am proof that lifting heavy correctly is going to go a long way towards making significant changes in physique. That said, the more my body has made this shift, the less enamored I am with the idea of posting and re-posting the types of images of muscularly developed women in massive quantities as seems to be so popular in the blogging realm, on Facebook, etc.
Here’s a disclaimer I don’t really feel I should have to make, but I will anyway: I do not have an issue with taking pride in one’s body, in posting progress images–indeed, I do this periodically myself, because the way my obliques has developed is kind of nuts and I like to share things that happen to my body as a consequence of powerlifting that are nuts–or appreciating the physique of a woman who has strength-trained to a point at which the pursuit has left its signs on her body. I admit that I have less of an objection to images of women of this aesthetic being used in advertising than I do with those who look like many of their muscles go completely unused to the point of atrophy.
But I do have an issue with the sentiment that seems to lurk behind collections of images of women in whatever physical condition. It suggests an emphasis, a preoccupation with considering the woman in the photograph based on her looks. I don’t care if she’s lifting or running or jumping in said photographs. When collections of such images are posted, often accompanied by appreciative or wistful commentary, they signal a disconnect between appreciation of action and appreciation of aesthetic. If you have any concept of the history of the female body as a subject of art, advertising–visual expression of whatever kind–you know that this is a charged subject.
My relationship with my body as it relates to strength-training is almost completely empty of any concern for my physical appearance. I am not a physique competitor. When I compete, I perform certain actions for which I train. I care for and utilize my body in such a way that I will perform as well as I a capable of performing. I am so psychologically focused on this process and this experience of dealing with my body that other preoccupations with it seem frivolous, trivial. I am troubled that the idea of women and strength training as it is often represented on the internet is so strongly tied to appearance when appearance is one of the last, if not the last thing I am considering when I am physically engaged in the act of strength training. I feel as if I participate in a world in which my interests and ideas run counter to those of the majority.
Perhaps all of this means that I am not cut out for physique competition–indeed, it probably does. Perhaps the preceding paragraphs all amount to evidence that I should just “not look at” the types of images in question–I contest this. I am writing this in effort to ask that those who come across “fitspiration” photos to reconsider them.
Women in strength sports do something with their bodies. Ultimately, it is what they do that most concerns me, not how their performance changes their physique. In whatever arena, be it strength training or not, the more we are able to unplug a woman’s image from her actions, the more we will progress towards a culture in which fewer women suffer eating disorders and overwhelming preoccupation with their appearance.