Everyone has an opinion when it comes to what a woman should look like. And why shouldn't they; we're free game! Everyone has an opinion on what women should wear, what they should do with their hair, when they can have sex. They even have opinions when it comes to the size of their waists, backs and arms. The smaller the better, of course! That's the rule for most body parts, in fact.
So when I say I want bigger muscles, I'm not surprised by the response I get. And most of the time I let it go, because that's life. Life is full of people telling me what they'd rather I looked like and how they'd rather I behaved. This is just normal everyday stuff that comes at me (from both men and women); and I'd bet my bottom dollar it was a normal everyday for the majority of women. Because society tells us it's normal to speak to women in this way. It creates this sense of entitlement around women's bodies.
I tend to get one of two responses when I mention wanting bigger muscles: a) 'I don't like girls with muscles' or b) 'but you'll look like a man'.
The first comment suggests that my body exists solely for the viewing pleasure of that person, the second: that women are supposed to conform to certain socially constructed ideals and anything outside of that is deemed manly and must therefore be squashed before it gets out of hand. Women can't go around thinking they're people now, after all.
One such comment came to me most recently from a guy at kickboxing. This took me by surprise: it seems so obvious to me that wanting big strong arms in a place where we punch things fast and hard is an ideal goal. A goal I assume is shared by everyone I train with. Yet, somehow there it was. This comment from a fellow kickboxer about what he prefers women look like. Was I asking his opinion on women? No. I was discussing my progress with a classmate.
People sprout these ideas even when they're not trying to be rude or unkind. More often than not they don't realise what they're saying; won't even notice the extent that the patriarchy we live in has structured their views. It's all so ingrained in all of us that everybody does it. Everyone thinks of women in terms of body parts. But don't take my word for it. Let's take a quick look at a couple of examples, like this creep, who highlights exactly what he thinks a woman needs to look like - and even suggests the way a woman chooses to wear her pubic hair determines whether she's a keeper or a 'party girl'; or in this reddit thread, where men discuss whether women with muscles are attractive or not. Or just look at any number of tales from the everyday sexism project. There are countless examples of this plaguing every aspect of our lives, from newspapers to music videos to dad's wearing those tshirts that lay down those ridiculous ground rules for dating their daughters.
The thing is, this stuff isn't new. Society has been policing women for years. But it does seem to be getting more aggressive (unless I'm just becoming more attuned to it). Five minutes on Twitter will bring up a whole trove of rapey trolls aggressively trying to assert themselves by shouting down any woman who is deemed to be stepping out of line.
But you know what, there are tonnes of strong, powerful women out there - and some of them even have the muscle to back that up. So I'm not going to end on a negative note. Instead, I'm going to celebrate some women who like training hard and have wicked muscles. So go check out the #girlswholift hashtag on Twitter. If you're a person who likes lifting, seeing such determined people work hard towards their goals will be great inspiration for you. If lifting isn't your thing, that's fine. Go take a look at A Mighty Girl, a wonderful collection of stories, real and fantasy, of strong girls and women throughout history. I follow the Mighty Girl page on Facebook and can assure you it's quite a treat!
I'm a big believer in people being allowed to do whatever the hell they want with their bodies so long as they're not doing anyone any harm. Want a tattoo? Go get one. What to eat a tub of ice cream? Crack on. Nobody has the right to tell someone to do something else with their body, because they'd like them better that way. It's creepy.
Ultimately, people need to stop assuming everything a woman does with her body is to please them. Maybe, just maybe, she's doing it to please herself.