Body Image: The Danger Of A Single Body Ideal

Recently, I came across a blog post by a personal trainer in which she explored one of my least favorite terms as applied to women’s bodies — the word “bulky.” Any weight-training woman is familiar with this term, as it is often the first thing other women will say as their reason for refusing to lift weights. The idea is that lifting weights will lead to the development of big muscles, and the development of big muscles means a woman will no longer be beautiful and will instead be manly, unattractive, scary and doomed to a sex-free, love-free life.

The comments on the blog post illustrated this line of thought clearly, as woman after woman expressed dismay that she had taken up heavy lifting and was horrified to see that her body had developed muscles. Some even clearly articulated their belief that in doing so, they had crossed a very bright line in which women were meant to be weaker and protected by the men they loved.

The women had set out in pursuit of the slender, compact body most often displayed by female celebrities, and instead they found themselves becoming muscular. It didn’t matter that they were also stronger and that they were most likely healthier, with tougher bones and a stronger heart. What mattered was that they were bigger.

As I read through those comments, I reflected on a TED talk given by writer Chimamanda Adichie(watch below) in which she spoke about the “danger of the single story.” She described growing up in Nigeria and yet writing stories in which her blonde-haired, blue-eyed characters ate apples and played in snow. Every book she had read was written by British authors about British life, and as a result she hadn’t realized it was possible to write books about her own life. She thought the only way to be worthy of literature was to be a foreigner.