Strength, Fitness, and Stereotypes about Femininity

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Hi Everyone,

Yesterday was International Women’s Day. As someone who runs a blog about Health and Fitness I am often confronted with body image, stereotypes, and confidence issues. I have also had the pleasure of receiving messages from women about how much stronger and more capable they feel after doing my workouts. 

Inevitably (but is it really inevitable?), I have also had the whole spectrum of comments written about my body. These are some actual comments I have seen: No curves. Not lean enough. Surprised you don’t have abs. Ewww, manly arms. I could never be with a woman stronger than me. Looks like a man. Boobs are to big. Boobs are to small and you would get more viewers it they were bigger and you showed them off more. You were much leaner in this video, maybe you should go back to doing whatever you did then. 

I share this with you for two reasons. My first reason is to show that no one person has a “perfect” body that will appeal to everyone. Second, every time I see comments like these I realize that many people don’t understand what I am doing with my blog. It’s not all about how you look. My muscles are a result of the physical strength and endurance I have developed through my workouts. They are a result of the mental strength and consistency that are required to develop and stick to a workout plan. My confidence does not come from the comments people leave me (be they positive or negative). It comes from knowing that I am mentally, and physically prepared for any challenges life will throw my way. It comes from knowing I am capable. 

People, women in particular, have been trained to think of the mind and body as separate entities. You can have one at the exclusion of the other. Either you must not care about how you look, or you’re prideful/boastful if you do care. Smart and Pretty are not mutually exclusive. Your body, your mind, and your spirit are all a part of you. They are all important. You should not fixate on one at the cost of the others. 

My lifelong friend, n.e.cloud wrote this and I LOVE it: 

Because I was steered toward the arts and away from the sciences. 
Because the women in my classes are always the quietest. 
Because when I stand beside a male colleague he is addressed first. 
Because when someone sees me for the first time in a while, the first thing they comment on is how I look. [Because part of me appreciates that validation.]
Because when I get asked, “when are you getting married?,” and I reply with “I have no intention of doing so,” I’m so often met with incredulity or hostility and am asked to explain myself to someone who isn’t really listening.
Because if people thought I wanted to marry a woman, they probably wouldn’t ask me that question.
Because when I get asked, “when are you having children?,” and I say ” I do not want children,” I typically have to hear “you’ll change your mind.”
Because my mother still tells me I should find a man to take care of me. [Because part of me likes the idea of being taken care of, from time to time.]
Because if my body is subjected to unwanted attention, I probably invited it with what I was wearing, where I was, the way I moved, or anything I did or didn’t say or did or didn’t do.
Because my number of sexual partners somehow suggests something about my character.
Because I have been told to my face that I am too fat, too skinny, my boobs are too small, my thighs are too big, my legs would look okay if I didn’t have cankles, my nose is too big, my ass is too big, my hands are too big, I’d be prettier if I had clear skin, I shouldn’t wear makeup, I should wear heels, I should buy a gel bra, I should go to the gym, I’d be hot if I had green eyes, it’s a good thing I don’t have more freckles, I should eat less, and countless other things in a tone that suggested that I should care. [Because sometimes, in those moments and after, I did care.]

For these reasons, and so many more, I need feminism. What are your reasons? Celebrate International Women’s Day.

So, my question is how do you define being a woman? How has a stereotype affected your workouts or self image? You can respond in the comments section below or on my facebook page: www.facebook.com/MelissaBenderFitness

I love the messages on these shirts:
Strength is Feminine Tank Top from Nutrition Snob
I’m Not Strong for a Girl. I’m Just Strong Sweatshirt

Melissa

PS My thesis paper in undergrad was on “The Lived Female Gender Experience.” I studied the prevalence of traditional gender roles and how they affected the gender image of each individual in my study. I am really interested in hearing your opinions. 

12 thoughts on “Strength, Fitness, and Stereotypes about Femininity

  1. Anonymous

    I can’t believe people actually made such insulting comments to you. My jaw literally dropped when I read them myself! I personally think you are perfect, but I think it has a lot to do with your personality that comes through. You come across so humble and genuine in your videos. I can’t imagine the people who made those comments could have actually been looking at your body. Your physique is so balanced, your lean yet still look incredibly feminine. I am very grateful for all your workouts and hope you don’t take any of those rude comments to heart. Your amazing!!!!!

  2. You continue to inspire me, as a woman who is past 40 you have taught me that who I am inside and how I perceive myself is what truly matters. You have helped me to break out of the prison of how I felt about growing older, funny though since knowing you I have felt more youthful than I did in years.Many avenues have opened for me thanks to having you as an influence and best friend. Remember I was in such a rut when we met so many years ago. I am a changed human being knowing you, I am so very proud of my “soul sister.” Nicole’s piece is absolutely beautiful and true.I agree with the comment above, you are perfect. Beauty on the outside and radiant beauty on the inside. The person above perceives you as humble, and that is the complete truth. You really care about helping others, and you do it with such a nurturing nature. You are a true healer. Love you much.

  3. I started working out a year ago. I am thin but put on muscle easily. Since getting in pretty good shape I am often asked for workout advice etc. But ALWAYS with an aside about how they don’t want to get muscley or big arms or lose their curves. Essentially, “I don’t want to look like you even though you physique is exactly why I come to you for advice.”

    To be fair, it took me a while. I just wanted to be skinny and “toned”. When I started putting on muscle, I loved the definition and strength but started to hate my “manly” body. I still have a hard time and often feel unattractive. But, I often felt unattractive before working out BC I didn’t have ENOUGH muscle!! I finally let it all go. I WANT abs! I WANT to fling my case of water on the fridge like it weighs nothing. And, most of all, I WANT to feel amazing! My boyfriend always says he loves my body, and I finally decided to believe him. My goals are my goals and the physical results of achieving these goals are a BONUS!!

    (Sorry for the deleted post, had to fix a typo!)

    (Although I will always die a little whenever

  4. You are who you are and I think you are an amazing human being, sculpted artwork. Love your workouts and the time and dedication you put into it all. All those ugly comments are from haters, guaantee you 200%. All what you just said up there, I couldnt have agreed with you more. Cheers, till next time 🙂

  5. I have been doing your workouts for about a month now and I got my husband to Join me in your bender boot camp video and he was shocked that we were getting such a good workout, and he felt challenged through it all, as I. You look amazing! And to be honest I really liked the fact that you and your husband do this together . My husband is my best friend and I can definitely always count on his encouragement as you can too with Jesse. You are inspiring so many people. As a stay at home mom with 2 kids (2 and 4mo) it’s nice to know that I don’t NEED a gym membership to see results. I am a happier mom and wife and have more energy than I did before I had kids. I am 26 and feel great, thank you for what you provide on a daily basis and for displaying such inspiring dedication! All women can benefit from your site and I’m proud to be one of them!

  6. I also studied Gender Roles as an Undergrad and it made me more aware of how these stereotypes still shape society today. I am a 30 yr. old woman doing all of the traditional “male jobs” around the house; I take out the garbage, mow the lawn, learned how to change the oil in my car, and take care of any repairs around the house. I didn’t want to have to rely on a man to help me because often times they don’t even do these things when you ask! Also, it’s good to learn these things regardless of whether a man is around or not. Learning new things builds character and gives you confidence that you can manage on your own.
    I must say, the people who leave ignorant comments on your page often don’t even use correct grammar, which says enough. Also, it’s sad that girls still crave unhealthy body types, such as the model body. However, boney frail bodies with little to no muscle mass should not be ideal to anyone. Girls should aspire to emulate your body type, instead of bone racks.

  7. Holly Wilsmann

    I have been following your blog for about 2 months and doing your workouts. I am so grateful to have found this!! You are an amazing woman and thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to post these! I loved reading this post. You nailed so much on the head of how society views things. I have a 6 year old daughter and try to teacher her that everyone is beautiful no matter what. You are a beautiful person inside and out!!

  8. Anonymous

    As a 49 year old woman I struggle with who I am and who I want to be and who I am sometimes forced to be. Reading the comments above and your comments help to give me the confidence to be a stronger woman. Not one that has to rely on a man (that is unreliable) to do things for me. You are a lucky woman Melissa and I envy you on many levels. I strive to be a stronger more confident woman everyday but I’m sure I fail on many levels. Everyone has their own opinion about other people and perhaps they should keep their opinions to themselves and focus more on who they are. Wake up and really take a look in the mirror before judging someone else’s physique or accomplishments. I just try to focus on myself, not to be so hard on myself about how I look, except that at 49 years old I don’t look half bad. I also try to be a better person and friend. People in general, esp. Americans tend to be self-centered, myself included. Wouldn’t we all benefit if we looked at others as equals. All beautiful people with something to offer. It’s a scary world out there. And I fear for my daughters. I want them to be strong confident woman but our society makes it very difficult. I, may be signing up for an Outdoors Woman adventure in Lake George. Just to challenge myself and to help me to build confidence.

  9. Great blog post! First off, its inspiring that you put yourself out there. You do so to help other people, not to be judged. Of course, “haters gonna hate” & trolls will always be there talking about how YOU look when they are probably sitting in their basement stuffing their face with donuts. Keep doing what you are doing, other women are proud of it! 🙂

  10. Mark

    I agree who cares what people look like . You work out hard and you are helping so many people like me. Keep up the good work. I also know how hard women work out to keep there body looking good. So don’t worry there just jealous, don’t stop what your doing , I am able to to more of a workout thanks to you .

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