Perceptions of Women Who Lift Weights

women who lift weights
Eric McGregor / Flickr

I had an interesting conversation at work today. Where the concept of women who lift weights must be bulky appeared!

The day job is in a shared office building, where the kitchen facilities are shared between all the companies on that floor, so you get chatting to all sorts of people. In this case the person in question had seen me the previous week reheating a Jalfrezi for lunch. Nothing unusual in that you might think… On the day in question I was reheating some Thai Curry. (OK, what can I say, I love spicy food! IIFYM!)

Them: No curry today?
Me: Well, sort of, a Thai one this time.
Them: Is this your dinner, or do you have an evening meal as well? (Tone of voice indicating surprise that I may eat two “meals” a day.)
Me: It depends really. I often eat a meal, but also I’m going training straight from work tonight so I’m ensuring I have enough energy.
Them: Oh right. What training is that?
Me: I do Kettlebells
[Some confusion with them mishearing Kettlebells several times… And I then provide a very brief explanation, weights, handles, …]
Them: You don’t look like you do heavy weights. You don’t look big enough. [Gestures hulking shoulders, rugby player physique sort of thing.]
Me: No…
[Pause. I had no idea what to say!]
Me: Well, there are different rules for men and women. They have to use two kettlebells… [No idea why I felt I had to explain this.]
Them: That sounds sensible.
[Saved by the *beep*; microwave finishes! Some goodbye niceties. I go to enjoy my food.]

I found this interesting on a couple of points. One was the very obvious perception that any woman who lifts must be bulky. I didn’t like to say I’d just planned out a bunch of squat and deadlift progressions and can already lift 1.5x my body weight… 😉 I’ve had this from well-meaning (I hope) friends and relatives and repeatedly had to explain the lack of testosterone etc. It is weird that it is so ingrained in society though. Men who lift heavy are buff, women who lift heavy are weird/bulky/… Anyone who has ever tried to build muscle will appreciate strength gains are hard-won. With added injuries when stepping up weights! Women who lift weights are not going to magically look like the hulk! Having a layer of fat over muscles can make people appear bulky, but that’s a different issue entirely. And don’t get me started on toning… Stupid word, other than in terms of colour!

The other one was on the food. Since I took the move to manage what macros I eat to help me achieve my goals, I often have what others would consider “dinner” for almost any meal. It’s the best way for me to get the levels of protein, fats, and carbs in that I need. What I also find interesting (amusing?) about this is that calorie wise, ignoring macros for a moment, the sandwich and crisps/biscuit that most people have for lunch in the UK will come in up to double the calories of my meals. And the level of carbs/fats in those meals is massively more. Yet people think I am eating more because I have a “dinner”. And I expect that if they were told they would be very shocked, if indeed they believed what their “small” meal actually was in terms of proportion of daily intake.

Thankfully my colleagues are a little more opened minded on all of this. A lot of them eat meals at lunchtime, even though they are not counting macros, and they are quite used to my silly lifting hobby 🙂


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