Why Are We So Afraid of Strength?


Here is a rarely seen image of Marilyn Monroe. She is doing something that we seldom associate with 1950s pinup gals: she is lifting weights.

A growing amount of research in exercise physiology is beginning to show that no exercise gives you the best bang for your buck when it comes to both preventing disease, injury, and staying lean (if that’s what you’re into) more than strength training. It’s the best, bar none. Body builders and those who play sports (especially those with the word “Extreme” in front of the title) have known this for years. The average gym goer, however, is still figuring it out. There is a very pervasive myth among women that lifting weights will make you look bulky and unfeminine. This myth exists even among the so-called fitness “experts”, who really should know better. If you just open your eyes and look at women who lift weights, this could not be further from the truth. This is dumb enough, as refusing to train with weights, particularly heavy weights that challenge you keeps many of us weak, prone to injury and keeps our bones brittle. I have only recently let go of this myth. In 2012, two of my female relatives (who are skinnier and therefore assumed to be healthier than me) seriously injured themselves doing basic household tasks and had to go under the knife in order to repair their injuries. I have never had a serious injury. I was, however, recently diagnosed with plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the tendons in my foot. This was caused by my brief relationship with Cross Fit…which I did in the fall of 2012 because I had heard that it would result in massive fat loss. Sigh. When will I learn? Thanks to orthopedic shoe inserts, stretching, good nutrition and supplementation, that injury is almost completely healed. I believe that my ability to avoid injury (particularly back injuries) is due to the fact that I do some sort of resistance training twice a week. Also, because resistance training is a no-impact workout, minor injuries like my foot injury do not prevent me from continuing it, unlike other forms of exercise where your entire fitness regimen has to be put on hold even for a minor injury.

You’d think the situation was bad enough, but there is an even more bizarre trend that I have been noticing: Men who are either afraid to lift weights or just have zero interest in it. Some of them (even the heterosexual ones!) have no interest in building mass or strength. They, too, fear getting “bulky”. Whaaatt? Two men that I spoke to last year do cardio up the wazoo (In all fairness, one was training for a distance run, but even when he wasn’t he never lifted weights). However, studies of distance running performance now show that shorter but more intense sprints and weight training also help your distance performance, but there’s no convincing these dudes. This is the way marathoners train in Kenya, where leaving people in the dust in marathons is a national industry. But they want to be skinny, these men. But roll up to a dude and call him a p*ssy and the threat of being accused of weakness will drive him to fight. It seems these days that people not only have no interest in being strong, they don’t even want to look strong. But they get upset when they are perceived as being weak. Huh?

I happen to think muscle is unisex; it looks great on everyone. I associate muscles with strength, which I then associate with masculity (and femininity as well). I may be reaching here, but I think these anti-dumbell attitudes are indicative on a larger cultural problem.

This used to be associated primarily with women. We are socialized to think that strength is not feminine and so we temper ourselves in order to make sure that we don’t look too strong and powerful in a way that we think will threaten a man (especially if we are trying to have a romantic relationship with him). Women who have any physical trait associated with being male, or at least associated with being un-feminine, will always be judged. This is true whether you look like this:

monica brandt

Or whether you look like this:



In all fairness, the second example is judged the most harshly. I had a discussion over at Shakesville about this last year. But even men seem to fear strength these days. And the ones who don’t seem to be only body builders, Cross Fit types and these corporate war criminal oligarchs who want to bomb Iran just so that we don’t “look weak”. But is “being strong” the same thing as “not looking weak?” I don’t think so.

I think we need a cultural shift here. We need to focus on both looking strong and being strong, rather than only having the fear of looking weak. A strong person doesn’t have to consistently posture or pull a bunch of bullsh*t dangerous stunts to prove their strength. If you are truly strong, you won’t have to do that. It’s like the writer Elbert Hubbard said:

Strong men can always afford to be gentle. Only the weak are intent on giving as good as they get.

My advice? Look strong. Be strong. That way, you’ll rarely have to do much to prove it.