You and I have a friend in common. I’ll call her Bella.
Like she is with you, Bella is both my dear friend and my client. I help her with her health and fitness. You help her with her hair and clothing.
Bella and I have been working together for nearly 4 years. During that time I have seen her make tremendous progress in her physicality and her mindset. When we first started working together she struggled with regular bouts of severe pain, the remnants of old injuries and traumas. Bella and I have worked together with dedication and through many setbacks to strengthen her musculoskeletal system and balance her nervous system. I have spoken with her about the biopsychosocial model of pain and the ways in which stress, negative self-talk and poor nutrition affect her pain levels. She has taken it all to heart and made sincere efforts on several fronts toward greater wellness.
And she is succeeding! Over the past two years in particular she has spent far fewer days flattened by pain. I know this because it is my job as her coach to keep track of whether my programming is effective or not. Bella can now deadlift and squat like a champ, pushes hard during her workouts without having to stop due to pain, makes healthier food choices and talks way less shit about her own body in general. These are huge strides.
But, but, but…
Yesterday Bella told me that you, Dear Stylist, told her that she needs to stop lifting weights because she is getting “beefy” or “bulky” or…I can’t remember what inane word you used, but I know it was not kind. You were mean-spirited and shallow and short-sighted and selfish when you told our mutual friend that you are “having trouble fitting her into clothes” because her back is getting broader.
Need I remind you that our friend has used strength training as a tool to get herself out of PHYSICAL PAIN?! Those big, broad back muscles that you disdain are her Latissimi Dorsi and they are big part of the reason Bella does not hurt as much as she used to. Not to mention the fact that those muscles are sexy as hell. Slip Bella into a backless dress and see how many heads she turns!
When I try a movement with a client and it doesn’t work for her ~ maybe it causes pain or is uncoordinated and inefficient ~ it is my job to choose a new exercise that suits her. It’s the exercise that is wrong for her body, not her body that is wrong for the exercise.
The same holds true for your work. It is not the woman’s job to shape her body to fit a dress. It is your job to find a dress that makes her look and feel beautiful.
Besides, anybody who knows anything about fashion knows that ready-to-wear clothing doesn’t fit anybody perfectly. Tim Gunn speaks about this often, and I was 17 years old when I learned this priceless lesson from Vogue magazine: Having your clothes altered to fit you correctly is one of the secrets to looking like a million bucks. Yep that’s right, even Vogue 20 years ago was acknowledging that every woman’s body is uniquely shaped.
If a meathead gymrat like me knows this fashion secret, I am certain that a sophisticated stylist like you knows it too.
I could tell that your comment hurt Bella. I could see her doubting her hard work, wondering if her body is in fact unattractive, undesirable. I wonder how your comments might negatively impact her eating habits and her self-talk. I wonder if she is fact considering giving up strength training.
It will be a shame if she does stop lifting and opts instead for an exercise modality that makes her body smaller in the places that you want her body to be smaller such as lots of cardio or barre classes or hot yoga or whatever silly craze is currently being marketed to women with the help of internalized misogyny and the myth that a woman’s worth is based solely on how dainty, quiet and small she can be.
If Bella were to stop lifting, she would lose both muscle and bone. This is a serious issue, especially for women as we can easily lose 1 - 2 % of our bone mineral density as we age. In the 5 to 10 years after menopause, we can lose as much as 4% of our bone mineral density. This is the path to osteoporosis.
I know it can be hard for a woman obsessed with preserving the superficial and fleeting beauty of youth to imagine a vibrant, sexy and fulfilling life after menopause, but for women who keep their bodies strong, their minds engaged, their spirits curious and their hearts open, life only deepens and expands with age. As we age, the quality of our lives is directly related to the robusticity of our tissues ~ strong muscles and bones mean more activity and less reliance on others for the daily tasks of life.
And I’ll tell you this for certain: There is nothing sexy about falling and breaking your hip, even if you do it while fitting perfectly into a ready-to-wear size 2.
I could go on, write at length about the how strength training improves mental health, cognitive function, sex drive and sleep, regulates insulin, growth hormone and cortisol, keeps your metabolism stoked and so much more.
Instead I’ll finish with a reminder that is so obvious I feel trite writing it: Being a woman in this time and place, in this world that overlooks us, sees us as second-rate, as property, as aesthetic fluff, is really REALLY hard. Women need to be a source of comfort and strength to one another. We need to reflect and remind each other of our innate value, not cut each other down.
I’m implore you, Dear Stylist, please stop with the shallow, stop with the hurtful, stop trying to make women smaller.
And women everywhere, can we please once and for all stop listening to and stop retelling these demeaning narratives? Can we please stop obsessing about body size and instead focus on building authentic, meaningful, loving lives? Can we please get onto the work of living that actually matters?
Yours in bulkiness,