On Lifting and Getting Big

I’m very tired of hearing this conversation between women:

Non-lifter: I’m interested in lifting weights, but I don’t want to get bulky

Lifter: Oh don’t worry, you won’t! Women can’t get bulky!

Andrea Ager is one who comes to mind as somebody who, in interviews, loves promising women that they won’t bulk up. Girl, I mean this as a complement, but you are jacked! I don’t know that you’re really the best spokeswoman for Team Women Can’t Get Big, you know?

Fit, Feminist, and (Almost) Fifty recently shared this article on their facebook page and it got me a bit riled. The part that was like, “you’re not actually bigger! It’s all in your head, you silly, silly woman!” was just insulting but the part about less than 1% of women being able to get big is just wrong.

There are some women who get smaller when they start Crossfit, but those are mostly bigger women who begin to lose some fat. Smaller and average-sized women get bigger. Like, all of them. Why are we trying to deny this? It’s happening to all of us! Somebody will post a facebook status update about how annoying it is to look for jeans that will fit their newly huge quads and bum and 50 people will like it. Very small women start buying large or extra-large shirts to stretch over their lats. I had to go up an underwear size! Like, leave a comment if you think I’m wrong here, but anecdotally I’m certainly right.

I have a photo of myself flexing while wearing a strapless dress and my traps are so big that my little sister just does not believe it isn’t photoshopped. Because I’m huge!

My point in all of this is not to say that when a nervous new lifter mentions their fear of becoming bulky that we should take their weights away and point them back to the elliptical. Rather, let’s get down to the real issue of why we’re afraid of getting bigger anyway. And why we’ve all accepted that to be feminine and to be pretty means being small and fragile.

Look, I think that most women, by the time they get big, are more interesting in their next PR than in having stick legs. So maybe let’s keep telling our friends that they won’t bulk up so that we can get them hooked on lifting before they know what hit them! Or maybe let’s just be like “you will, but you won’t care.”

3 thoughts on “On Lifting and Getting Big

  1. Hi Lisa,

    Thanks for your article and thanks for reading our 75toGo article on getting “big.”

    I agree that when women lift, their muscles will get bigger. There’s certainly no “1%” metric here: If women (or men) lift weights, the muscles will naturally swell, and in most, the effect will be permanent.

    I guess what we were trying to address in the article was this misconception that some women have that if they lift weights, they’ll end up looking like Arnold or she-hulk or something.

    Instead, we think that women will in fact grow muscles, but that that’s a healthy look and shouldn’t be viewed as “bulky.”

    It’s a tough subject, and Dana had originally included a section on why women fear bulkiness in the first place and why they shouldn’t, but I ended up cutting it because I wanted to save the topic for when we could do more thorough research/interviews specifically on that aspect of the topic.

    Hope that makes sense, and looking forward to keeping the conversation going! Please let me know if there’s any specific topic you’d like to see us dive into next 🙂

    • Hi Kevin, thanks for replying here!

      I really don’t think it’s common for women to truly believe they’ll accidentally turn into Arnold overnight. But sure, if somebody didn’t want to lift because they were afraid of turning into Arnold, then we can say, “you won’t, and most women won’t, and really most men won’t either, not without incredible, incredible, incredible amounts of hard work and dedication and a complete diet revamp. It would never happen accidentally.”

      But I actually think that when most women are talking about “bulky”, they mean any sort of size increase, or any muscle definition other than the very small amount of arm definition that seems to be cool right now. Giving an Arnold-refuting answer to women with these kinds of concerns isn’t very helpful or accurate.

      I’d love to see an article that’s about loving our bodies with giant quads! And I’d be happy to be interviewed if you’re looking for people!

      (Also, I know you’ll agree, but it’s worth saying that some women DO want to look like Arnold or a she-hulk, and hooray for them for that!)

  2. Lisa, I could not agree with this more, and you hit the issue on the head! We need to keep encouraging the women in our circles to focus on what they can accomplish physically and mentally, and not to be fixated on their outer aesthetic. Thanks for this!

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