Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Body Image is Not Enough

This post is modified from a post of mine in a bodybuilding forum, in which the topic of discussion was guys having negative attitudes towards muscular women. As tends to happen in such discussions, the members quickly divulged into issues of:

- What kind of body is culturally beneficial to have
- Men not liking muscular women because we're insecure

With a couple modifications, here's what I had to say.


A thin girl doesn't open up a magazine and find edification, she opens up a magazine and is told that she's not pretty enough, she's not thin enough, she's not fancy enough, she's not sexy enough...and if she just makes herself a little bit more [insert adjective here], then she can enjoy being confident and socially acceptable, yet somehow that little bit more is never enough, and there's always one little bit more to go: there's an infinite distance between 99 and 100. The promise of a prize is presented just outside of arm's reach, and yet no matter how much she grasps at it and clings to it, no matter what she does to grab hold of it, no matter how many steps she takes to get close enough, it's unobtainable. Of course, we all buy into the belief that it is obtainable and that thin girls everywhere have obtained it, which I think is why we typically think (wrongly) that's okay to shame these girls.

The first slide has often been used to shame skinny girls.
I like what they did with the following three slides
to shame said shaming.

What is the marketing strategy for 90% of the fitness industry? Is it that fitness will make you strong and physically functional? Is it that fitness will enhance your abilities for sport? Is it that fitness will make you live longer and reduce the risk of chronic, terminal illness? Is it that fitness will give you more freedom and independence? Is it that achieving PB's will give you a sense of accomplishment, and that the endorphins released while training will make you feel good? Is it that fitness will help you sleep and give you more vitality? Or is it that you should go to the gym and drink protein shakes in order to look sexy and attract as many potential spouses as possible? I think 90% of fitness industry marketing is that last part. And how many people actually go to the gym for primarily aesthetic/cosmetic reasons? If your hair still has natural colour in it, there's a very high chance that that's all you're there for. So, if most people assume that training is for aesthetics, and if most people assume that everyone has the same aesthetic goals as each other (which is generally true, although there are a large minority of exceptions), then from their generalised POV, if you're more muscular than is conventionally desired in a woman, you're doing it wrong. "Silly bodybuilders, don't you know that you're giving me a DErection? I know your goal is for me to fall in love with you upon first glance, so why are you making yourself not fit my standards of beauty?" Seriously, most people think that working out is all about making other people want to have secks with you. The fact that most discussions and articles about women lifting pander to the imagined target audience's fear of not being conventionally attractive anymore (by becoming "bulky") demonstrates that at some level even we think like this, and if we think like this, how can we expect others to think differently?

See what I mean?

To those who are saying that because it's often guys who don't lift who find female lifters unattractive, these guys must be insecure... Insecurity may be a factor, but I think it's more a matter of conditioning. Sexual attraction is very socially conditioned. When I was 17, I thought Adriana Lima and Miranda Kerr were the sexiest, most beautiful women on the planet, and I thought Jamie Eason was huge, buff and looked like a man with make-up and tissues in his bra. I don't think that was me being insecure and intimidated by Jamie Eason, it's just that I wasn't used to seeing many guys more muscular than her, and I was used to seeing girls less muscular than her, and these Victoria's Secret models were always presented as the standard of beauty. That's not to say that my standards of beauty were ever perfectly aligned with the standards of beauty of the guy sitting next to me -- there's always some nuance. Now I find Adriana Lima and Miranda Kerr attractive mostly just from the boobs up. Significant upper body muscle mass on a woman doesn't do much for me, and past a certain point (a point which can be achieved quite naturally) it becomes more of a visual deterrent than lure, but a woman would certainly have to try if she wanted more lower body muscle mass than I find attractive. This, too, is conditioning, from years of engagement in strength communities. I don't think I'm intimidated by more muscular females (although I'm yet to meet any females who are more muscular than I currently am), however there is definitely a grey area in which more muscle stops being more attractive, and a point at which more muscle rapidly becomes less attractive to me. Then again, I don't hate on muscular women (beyond the level of muscularity that I like), I just don't say anything (this wasn't always the case). If I find you attractive and want you to know that I find you attractive, I'll let you know. If I don't find you attractive...well, I don't go out of my way to inform guys that I'm not attracted to them, so why go out of my way to inform women that I'm not attracted to them? I can think of very few circumstances in which that would be a beneficial, productive use of my vocabulary. If I were in a relationship, there's only one person who I'd care about being attractive to, and if someone who I'm not in a relationship with is not going out of her way to personally be as attractive as possible to me, then obviously me finding her attractive is not high on her agenda, so what reason do I have to waste time and energy thinking about how much I don't find her attractive, letting her know that I'm not attracted to her, or judging her for not being attractive to me?


  1. The mirror and mind never lie. If you use the mirror to find faults they will be there. If you look in the mirror and like what you see, there will be a confidence and cheerful air that appeals to others.
    When climbing I had a pathetic physique and was far from good looking. My confidence and reputation meant getting my hands on women well out of my league.
    Years later I was better built without patches of initial facial hair, but struggled. I looked better but doubted myself more, looked less confident so less appealing.

    If you look good people expect your priorities to be fashion, personal grooming or celeb gossip, not astro-physics etc. didn’t help me much. Geeks are becoming cool, but this is new and they’re still not supposed to look like hairy bikers.

    Tastes in women vary but as you said a lot of it comes down to dictated fashion. When I was younger body hair on men was good now it isn't. There was even an advert showing a beauty parlour pulling a triangular patch of hair from a woman when distracted as a joke, today it’s as serious bikini wax.
    What you see around you affects your decision making too. If you are used to seeing fit and therefore often muscular women they will become objects of desire, if not they can be scary.

    Initial lust is good, anyone declaring otherwise is either lying or a bit strange. There is something primeval about looking at someone, thinking 'want some of that' and seeing it reciprocated. As starts to a relationship go there are few better, if nothing else develops it won't go far, that's life. When it does, both of you feel you’ve done well.

    Barbie and He-man were toys, deal with it. Barbie wouldn't be able to stand upright if she was real and I don't see how He-man would build a back like that without a bigger core either.
    Magazines have shown how blemishes are removed, cleavages enhanced, and waistlines trimmed to impossible levels, yet people still try to attain these images. Guys I knew wanted to look like the competition standard body builders all year, and a few collapsed trying, both genders are equally as dumb.

    I watched a show once of the Oprah type, under much duress, where a female body builder was defending her appearance. A woman in her mid 40s who looked like a real world aero body, declared her ugly, saying she must train for hours every day, obviously no clue. Another woman in the audience declared herself a bikini model who used muscle building training to give her competition tone. The show continued with arguments until the model got fed up again removed her t-shirt to show her tone and declared that with her training she could take her bra off without her breasts dropping, no demonstration was forthcoming.
    When a roughly spherical guy stood up and pointed out that all had done well training for aesthetics in their chosen directions, so should be congratulating each other not arguing, he was ignored. I wasn't popular for declaring him the smartest person there.

    I give anorexics grief as a group, which is unfair as many of them have serious issues to contend with. They never appealed to me, but some like it so there will be women and men doing this to please.
    Part of my ridicule stems from my distance running days when female distance runners accepted their lack of figure or femininity as the cost of better times. This becoming the sign of female perfection seemed absurd, especially when starved so even the slight curves from muscle tone were absent.
    I was with a woman once who measured me up for a bra after I had done so for her, and laughed after finding I was a larger cup size than her then suggesting I shave to make me prettier so she could declare me her girlfriend.
    I have known women bigger built than I am some have looked good on it, others not so much, proving there is no one size fits all perfection template.

    Not so much a comment as random blathering but hey!

    1. Too right about the mirror and mind never lying.

      I'm kind of impressed by some airbrushing (even though I have some serious moral issues with it -- not with the skill or technology itself, but with how it's used), mostly because when I've attempted it, the result has simply been a smudgy picture that's blatantly fake. Then again, a lot of airbrushing isn't much better than that, but some of it doesn't look edited to the untrained eye, and I am impressed by that skill.

      Spherical guy sounds like he's got his noggin in check. I like.

      I remember when I used to agree wholehearted with the first slide of the 4-slide pic up the top, and then someone came up with the other 3 slides and put me in my place. I do genuinely worry about anyone who's anorexic or on the way there, for much the same reasons I worry about anyone who's overweight or on their way there.

  2. I worry more about anorexics than overweight in a lot of ways. Predominantly because people usually choose to become anorexic, but rarely do so when becoming overweight. I know choose could be a bad word to use there because many anorexics feel there is no choice but that is another of the concerns.
    Drastic difference between what is in the mirror and in the mind is a huge issue. Anorexics will look in the mirror and see a whale, every time without fail, there are others into body building with what is known as reverse anorexia, where the mirror shows a 200kg giant and they see a 50kg weed. The health issues on both sides are drastic, especially as many use drugs to assist them.
    This doesn't mean those gaining weight too fast for health isn't a concern, especially as for many it means they have given up on themselves, which is another major physcological issue. When I first knew my wife, her and her sister were similar weight, my wife slightly more due to muscle weight. Now it looks as though her sister has eaten my wife for a mid day snack and a couple of rhinos for lunch. This is a concern because she is literaly gaining one or two pounds of weight a month consistantly which is a big issue that is only getting bigger.

    I find it ironic that my self-image has been at it's highest when I wasn't looking my best. I was a scrawny weed and am now hairy, balding who's far less lean than at my most aesthetic, yet at both ends of the scale I had confidence in my abilities which made this irrelevant. For me then the mirror is not a good measure to give confidence, what I can do is.

    I have successfully used photoshop to generate a photo for my mother's business card. Due to a horse riding accident her smile is one side only so I copied, flipped and blended in the working side to make her look less scary. Someone made me less scary in a photo without any of that, they simply missed off my head.

    Find a look you like or do what you enjoy and accept the look it gives you, as long as this is not dangerous as corpse is generally not a good look.

    1. I agree with the whole of what you had to say on anorexia, body dysmorphia/reverse anorexia and obesity.

      I've been somewhat similar with body image and self image (although I look pretty good now, so I get to look good AND feel good about myself). I used to be <10% bodyfat (I repeatedly measured in around 7%), and even though I wasn't big, my body was the envy of a lot of people, and I recall several girls getting rather drooly in my general direction. It was also the time when I was most severely insecure about my appearance, for much the same reason as in the first paragraph of my original post: the distance between 99 and 100 is infinity. Once I started focusing on strength and actually let myself get fat for the sake of getting stronger (I don't know how fat I actually got, but after leaning out a bit afterwards I measured in at about 20%, so I'm guessing 25-30% -- I was SOOO sexy), I pretty much got over my body image hang-ups, and can now cut or bulk without going insane at the same time. I definitely like looking good, but it's more a convenient benefit of trying to be both strong and healthy, rather than the primary goal.

    2. All of us like to look good. The trick is deciding what good is. When going for aesthetics 100% I had around 27 waist with negligible bodyfat making everything look very lean and meaning that from a semi distance I looked far better built than I was, basic proportion. This took me around 4 years to get from starting weight training and I loved summer because armed with shorts and shoes I knew I looked at my most impressive. I got the bodyweight I wanted, proportion was good and I hit the point where many decide to maintain then gradually drop out or new targets are created. At this time I was trying to please everyone, and not as comfortable with myself.

      My targets became far more functional, but there was still an eye in the mirror, for a few reasons. The tiny waist expanded, proportion became less ideal but bodyfat still stayed low. The biggest change was in my opinion of myself, I knew I was more impressive, not just looking the part and that made me dangerously popular for a while. There was a definate air of 'I can do anything' about me that drew women wanting to find out what I could do for them and men wanting to show I could be beaten up, I did on occasion demonstrate both. By this time I started to view myself as more of a niche market by finding what I liked and working to appeal to them, more contended.

      Now it's easy. I ask my wife what she like's or check with her if what is happening is OK and as long as she is happy I am. If others like the way I look, nice for them, but irrelevant to me. Now totally happy with my look as only someone happily married can be.


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