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.