Those of you who follow my @barbelldancer Instagram account will be familiar of the photo I posted on Wednesday night, as I flexed my #wintersoldierarms under the spotlights at EP. There's still three weeks left of the Winter Games, so plenty more time for me to see some more incredible gains, but I woke up on Thursday morning to a message that I found both confounding and interesting at the same.
Hey, nice guns! Just wondering though if you use steroids? Coz I've never seen a chick do that naturally.
After responding that my 'steroid' was simply consistent training, good eating and a structured program focusing on a goal, I didn't give it much thought until I mentioned it to my trainers at EP on Thursday night. We laughed about it and Pat told me it was, undoubtedly, a compliment, as it means I've put on more muscle than the person sending the message could ever imagine. We had another good laugh but his thoughts got me thinking and, when I went home and read the message with fresh eyes, two things jumped out at me:
1. This person doesn't know me, yet immediately assumes I am using performance enhancing drugs to get results.
2. This person is a complete stranger, yet thinks it's appropriate to indirectly call me 'a chick'.
To say I was offended would be an overstatement, but I do want to address a couple of things here.
For the record, I do not use performance enhancing drugs or supplements, and in no way is this a criticism of those athletes who do so under medical supervision and the guidance of a qualified fitness professional to improve private performance. The use of illicit substances in competitive sport is a whole other ball game which I will not be addressing here, save to say that I abhor cheating in all forms and fully support the harshest of penalties being imposed on those athletes who illegally give themselves an edge.
Those muscles you see in the photo are the result of hard work, focused training and a goal which I set myself at the beginning of the Winter Games, which was to gain muscle and definition in my arms. Lights and posing helped as well, I'm not gonna lie, but the lights and the pose don't help if there's no muscles to spotlight.
So, if this person wanted to compliment me, why not stop at 'nice guns'? Or, if they really were shocked by the amount of muscle and felt the need to comment further, how about 'That's some serious definition' or 'Your arms look incredible.' Somehow, asking a stranger if they are on steroids seems like an incredibly backhanded way to compliment their muscle gain.
I worked hard for those muscles, I focused on them, dreamed about them, and shed some serious sweat and tears for them, and the assumption attached to the question and it's following statement is simple: those aren't real and you didn't work for them.
And that is not a compliment, that is downright rude.
Now, onto point number two.
My Instagram page and the About Me page of this blog clearly gives my name as Jewels. Even if someone misses that, my Instagram handle or the blog title Barbell Dancer is a perfectly fine way to address me.
Believe it or not, I am actually a real live woman, not a tower of baby chickens hiding inside a prosthetic suit.
And, no, dropping the k and calling a woman chic doesn't make it better. It smacks of dismissal and sexism, and screams that you can't even be bothered to find out and/or use the name of the woman you're addressing.
But there's a deeper issue than that at play. The sentence in question was 'I've never seen that on a chick'. Quite literally, this person believes that women can't gain muscles naturally. Now, I'm not going to get into a testosterone vs. oestrogen argument, but I will state loud and clear the anyone, regardless of sex, can build and gain muscle. Focused resistance exercise and weight training is the key, and the guidance of an experienced fitness professional, particularly in the beginning, is essential.
Hormonal and subtle biological differences in men and women may affect how and where muscle gains are more noticeable, and your own genetics will play a massive role in this too, as will your diet. It is also perfectly possible to be a strong individual with minimal muscle definition, or to be a weaker and have excellent muscle definition. Strength and muscle definition are not the same thing, and despite having the most gorgeous biceps I've ever had in my life, I haven't been lifting as heavy this program (mostly due to injury) but my muscles have popped.
I would take a guess that the person behind this message has brought into the 'men can build muscle but women will only tone' myth that has been doing the rounds since time immemorial. Both men and woman have muscles and both men and women (and, I will add, those who identify outside the gender binary) can tone, build muscle, or work towards whatever fitness goals they happen to have. Success is not measured by your sex and muscle doesn't discriminate either, everybody either needs to use it or lose it, but building it is an individual's choice.
In closing, there is one final point I would like to make. I can't help but wonder, had I been a man posting that picture, if I would have still received a message asking if my achievements were artificial or questioning whether my sex made them impossible.
I would hazard a guess at no.
Sexism is subtle and it is perfectly possible to make a sexist comment without even realising you're doing it. So, next time you see a photo of a woman showing off her muscular arms on Instagram and want to tell her that they look great, just leave it at that and keep your questions about steroids and doubts about the reality of her success to yourself. If nothing else, she at least won't think you're a jerk.
You don't have to like me. I'm not a Facebook post.
Me With No Apologies.