I decided to take my workouts more seriously five years ago. Instead of messing around during weekly “dance” classes that did little for my stamina (or even sense of coordination), I opted for a combination of cardio in the form of spinning on the exercise bike, and strengthtraining routines with weights. It was a lot tougher than bouncing along to the latest Top 40 hit, but effects were swift. For the first time in my life, I didn’t become winded after climbing a long flight of stairs. I also stopped falling sick every other month from some office virus or another. Naturally, I was psyched about my physical improvements. What I wasn’t psyched about were the sudden deluge of comments from a few “concerned friends”. “Weights? Aren’t you afraid of bulking up?” asked one. “Don’t use heavy weights. You don’t want to end up looking muscle-y,” supplied another.
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Jennifer Lawrence Workout, Diet Plan and Weight Loss
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My response should have been a simple MYOB but, as always, hindsight is 20/20. Obviously, all this happened before the #fitspo craze and #bodylove movements swept the globe, before people started sprouting phrases like “strong is the new sexy”, and before women’s fitness rags advocated incorporating weights into exercise regimes. These days, we wouldn’t bat an eyelid at a bunch of women headed to BodyPump classes after work and stacking 10kg weights onto their barbells. It’s tempting to pat ourselves on our backs for what seems like a more enlightened view of what fitness means to women – fitness movements have led to greater acceptance of different body types. But let’s be honest, little has been done to quell the notion that there should still be an ideal body type for women to adhere to. Sure, we no longer shy away from the weight rack, and we all want toned arms and abs. But this is so we might one day look like fitness influencer Kayla Itsines, not tennis champ and recent mum Serena Williams. (The latter’s comeback to being body-shamed is on elle.sg.) And while your fitness goal(s) should remain personal, it’s the desire to relate femininity to body image that’s troubling. Surely, you have heard or even partaken in pantry talk about how Williams looks like “like a man”.
Or, stated derisively that “I want to have toned arms, but not too big”, as if you’re customising the latest runway confection. Blame it on cultural norms: Women need to be of a certain size and frame to be considered feminine, no matter the number of Olympic gold medals or Grand Slam trophies you’ve won. Such societal pressure has led many female athletes to engage in behaviour known as “female apologetic”. In other words, they become overtly feminine to “negate or negotiate the negative stereotypes associated with their involvement in sport”. This usually includes putting on makeup before a competition, or wearing their hair long. For professional athletes whose focus should be achieving physical peak performance, being shamed (subconsciously or not) into behaving or looking a specific way is ridiculous to say the least. In a perfect world, we would have true acceptance of all body types. While we’re probably still some way from that, the growing popularity among regular women of traditionally male-dominated activities such as combat sports and CrossFit, where we are challenged to break away from the fragile ladylike archetype, heralds a new (and ideal) future. So let the haters continue hating; I’ll be sticking to my dumbbells and kettlebells.