On Saturday, I posted a link to this article — Tennis’s Top Women Balance Body Image With Ambition — to Facebook, with the following comment:
I read this article last night, and it made me want to cry. I like what many of these women have to say, but it’s just horrible that professional freaking athletes feel such ambivalence about putting on muscle just because they’re women. And dammit, they look amazing.
A friend asked me why I was horrified, and I wrote the following comment. It’s a bit rough, but I thought it worth reposting here:
Ah, now that’s a bit difficult to articulate, but let me try.
Overall, I’d say that conventional body standards for women in our culture are pretty irrational. As far as they concern what women can control, they’re almost exclusively about being more slender. That’s the top priority — to be pursued and/or achieved at the price of health (short-term and long-term), capacities (not just athletic pursuits but daily life tasks), etc.
That’s seen in the supermarket “fitness” magazines (which always showcase slender, non-muscular women on their covers) … in the focus on “losing weight” (rather than losing fat and certainly not gaining muscle) … in the ridiculous belief / fear that lifting any kind of weights will cause women to quickly resemble bodybuilders (as if!!) … the quick and near universal compliments obtained from slimming down (whatever the price) … and so on.
So the fact that the standards are irrational and damaging to women’s health and performance is part of the problem here. That’s the easy part, I think.
The more difficult part, I think, is perhaps seeing that greater physical strength and capacity in a woman need not undermine her sense of her own femininity, nor a man’s appreciation / enjoyment of that.
Yes, greater physical strength and capacity in a woman might present a greater challenge to a man in a sexual relationship — not just physically, but because of the greater self-confidence that comes with that. And some men might not be willing or able to live up to that challenge. But many can (or could) — and that meeting of strength with strength can be something special in a sexual relationship. Moreover, the feeling of being deeply embedded in the body that can come with intense physical training… well, again, something special.
I’ve got quite a bit of raw strength relative to the other women in krav, but I’ve now sparred with enough good men to know, in a deep-down way, the overwhelming power of masculine strength, when cultivated. (It’s pretty freaking awesome to experience that, in fact.)
Even apart from these more physical dimensions, I think that our culture has the view that vulnerability cannot come from a position of strength. That’s why men aren’t supposed to be vulnerable (or terribly emotional) and women are supposed to vulnerable due to weakness.
I suppose that’s one way to do it, but I’m opting for a “vulnerability through strength” and “strength through vulnerability” route — both psychologically and physically. And so far, difficult tho it might be, it feels freaking amazing and so right. And in the process, far more dresses and other girly things are being worn, and that feels really right to me too. Fancy that. :-)