The Stereotyping of Athletic Women

A few weeks ago, I was hanging out with some friends and some new acquaintances I had met that day.  We were watching movies and eating junk food and pizza.  Some time into the night I began to feel lethargic and stiff, and my legs were getting restless — I had been sitting in one position for too long, and I wanted to move.  So I went into the side area of the darkened room, out of the way, to do some push-ups and get my blood moving again.  After I finished my first few, a couple people in the room exclaimed at me, “why are you doing that?”  I replied, “because I want to move, I want to get my blood flowing.”  They said back to me many different forms of the phrases “yeah right”, “you just don’t want to feel fat”, and “push-ups are so manly“.  This appalled me.  These women were staring at me in shock — like they had never seen a person exercise simply because they actually liked exercising.

This made me stop and think.  How often do I meet women who exercise out of a love for exercising?  Not very many.  My close friends exercise because they like it, but outside of those few people, I meet women who view exercise as something to be done simply to look good in a bathing suit.  Maybe they don’t like exercising because they haven’t found the right workout yet, maybe they just never will like exercising.  And that’s okay.  However, the idea that a woman can only exercise to look good is completely offending.  Not only does it perpetuate gender stereotyping, but it also perpetuates the idea that you can only like exercise if you’re on an athletics team, or if you compete individually.  Yet many people who like exercise have joined a team, and many people who play are on a team may not like individual workouts, or working out at all (outside of their team activity).

To insinuate that men are the only people who can enjoy working out without having any obligation to exercise, is to imply that women exercise only to maintain a “pleasing” physical appearance for the pure enjoyment of men, or to make other women jealous.  Doing so only helps to maintain the sexist stereotyping that continues to plague our society.  Interestingly enough, I have never met a man who condemns me for enjoying exercise.  On the contrary, most men I meet applaud me for being able to squat 100 pounds.  It is the women I meet who somehow feel obligated to berate me for enjoying exercise, as though me enjoying my life is impacting theirs in a negative way.

Furthermore, the growing influx of “healthy body image” sales pitches on the internet and put out by companies seems to lack a good balance between body types.  Many places will feature either athletic bodies (with miraculous Victoria’s Secret breasts, which are not as common as you’d think on athletes, but do exist), or the average body, with less muscle tone and more fat (which is NOT a bad thing!).  I have yet to find many instances where all bodies, athletic, average, and every other type, is celebrated.

I am an athletic person, however, it is only the “ideal” athletic body that is marketed: women with A/B-cup breasts, proportional waist-hip-shoulder ratio, and lean leg muscles.  I have hips that are several inches wider than my shoulders and bust, 11 inches wider than my waist, and leg muscles that have a hard time fitting into any pants without a lot of spandex in them.  My thighs are always touching due to how big my quad muscles are (thanks for making touching thighs a bad thing, society).  My hips are the largest part of my body — I can only fit them into a pair of pants that are consequently an entire size too large at the waist — something that seems to be a common problem among many women I know due to the fact that we have hips that evolved to accommodate childbirth.  Yet clothing companies continue to make pants suited for the “ideal” waist-hip ratio.

It also is only the “ideal” average body that is marketed.  The woman who has a curvy waist and stomach, and supple, smooth breasts and thighs.  Where is the cellulite?  Where are the stretch marks?  Photoshopped away.  Heck, even athletes have stretch marks!  How would our muscles have gotten so big without the skin having to stretch to accommodate their massive size?  I have stretch marks on my thighs, on my hips, and on my butt.  Like most human beings I know (men included).  Even a lot of female athletes continue to have cellulite.  Do you know how hard it is to get rid of it?  It comes with the territory of being female and having more fat on our bodies (fat to protect our enormous reproductive system).

I do not exercise to “fix” my body.  I do not exercise to make other women feel poorly about themselves.  I do not exercise to look better in a bathing suit.  I exercise because I genuinely enjoy it — I enjoy the adrenaline rush I get from doing 100m sprints.  I enjoy the numb feeling I get in my muscles from pushing myself hard (granted I’m sore the next day).  I enjoy lifting weights and boxing.  I also enjoy yoga and stretching.

I don’t care if you don’t like exercising.  You don’t have to.  But don’t lynch the women who actually enjoy it.  Be yourself, but let others be themselves as well, no matter how much they like or hate exercising.  Then we can all get along, and I won’t clock you in the nose for continuing to insult me.

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