Lying on my back, legs spread, and arms bracing for the unknown, my teammate lifted the bench press bar into my hands. Originally, I had felt slightly underestimated when she recommended to start bench pressing without weights. And then, I felt the weight of the actual bar and almost could not push it off my chest. As I attempted to breathe deeply and focus on the task at hand, “I told you so” giggles must’ve filled her insides. Indeed, it was a challenge to lift that bar, but I wanted my deltoids sculpted like the rest of my new runner’s body. I refused to give up.

Every week, I worked my arms and chest with dumbbells, eventually building up enough strength to add weights to the bench press bar. After completing my first set with five-pound weights on each end, I couldn’t have been more ecstatic. And when five pounds became ten pounds on each side, I concluded that progress in weight training is like everything else. You’ll see gradual accomplishment if you’re steadily focused.

Noticing my newly cut arms, my boyfriend, also a runner, began teasing me about my arms getting big and my new obsession with bench pressing. “Don’t let your arms get bigger than mine,” he commented with a chuckle. I simply rolled my eyes and took it as a joke, but honestly, that gendered expectation was not just a gag shared between the two of us. I found that many of my teammates felt similarly and did not want muscular arms like Serena or Venus Williams. It was a threat to their beauty and femininity; it was socially unacceptable.

In particular, I’ve grown to admire women in popular culture that are challenging notions of feminine beauty and sporting sculpted arms. From Laila Ali to Michelle Obama, there are five women that I’d like to celebrate for not only redefining sexy, but also inspiring other women to do the same.

around the web


  1. My inspiration, Angela Bassett, especially in “What’s Love”… Her arms were simply breath-taking!

  2. Gabrielle Union and Buffy the Body are my inspirations. They have great bodies but still maintain a femine physique

  3. I’m not there yet, but I’m working on it.

    I have naturally broad shoulders and lean limbs so I’ve always shunned upper body workouts because I didn’t want to look too sculpted. But a very smart friend of mine convinced me that that was a ridiculous point of view and now I’m all about working my upper body because I want it to look strong.

    Strong is hawt.

  4. Definitely a good look! I love the photos chosen as well as the post. Great job Arielle!

  5. I love a woman with arms that don’t have that triceps fat! Sorry ladies, just my opinion…

  6. I have naturally sculpted arms that I do nothing with. I’ve been asked if I worked out by random people. I hate posting pictures of myself with tank tops on. I recently posted a picture of myself holding a surfboard in Costa Rica, and everyone commented on how big and sculpted my arms are. It’s nice to see other black women with sculpted arms, but it’s hard to accept your own.

  7. Just found your site through clutch and I dig it. I’ve been lifting for a little over a year, the arms, shoulders, and back are sculpted, finally starting to get some definition in the thighs. My inspiration is Rutina Wesley from ‘True Blood’, there’s a pic from a spread she did in King that slays.

  8. Michelle Obama! I relate to her easier than hoping to look like the others who I Know have daily personal trainers.

  9. A lot of us guys find women with toned/muscular arms and legs VERY sexy.

  10. I like Women with bigger than average ARMS and CHESTS that are Solidly Toned or Muscular.It just comes naturally and I guess thats because of my Hormones.

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