What is a beautiful female body?

As a follow-up to my recent post on Women's Biceps, I wanted to expand on this topic as it seems to be quite popular.

The simple question amongst all of the comments and thoughts is this:

"What do you consider a beautiful female body to look like?"

Now, we all have our own opinions on this and obviously, I've stated that I admire a more athletic, muscular female physique. One with somewhat defined bicep muscles, shapely hamstrings and calves and glutes with hard curves.

But, that's just me. From the time I was a young girl, this type of athletic female body has been a look I've always admired. When I was 11 years old, I'd stay up late at night on the weekends to watch American Gladiators because I thought the muscles on the men and women competitors were outstanding. Then, because I was a gymnast through much of my youth, seeing muscles on my fellow gym mates was a sign of success- those with more muscular development (to a point) were usually the best in competition. And, who doesn't want to be the best? So, for much of my life, I've wanted that defined, more muscular, female body and was not ever really attracted to the long and lean look.

Yet, I do realize that there are many (many) women that dislike muscles on women (Case in point, one of my female boot camp clients who was upset about her growing bicep muscles).

My friend Leigh Peele has also written in length about this topic in her blog posts entitled:

Physical Beauty - What does it mean to you?

Bulky Muscles and Women

Leigh interview 2000+ women and found that much of them thought that the more "athletic" female body type was too "bulky" and not as desirable as a leaner, less muscular body.

For me, that just doesn't make much sense. But, I guess I wouldn't have co-written the book, The New Rules of LIFTING for Women if I didn't have the opinion that muscles and women look good together.

And again, I'm not saying I think women should look like men or anything with very large muscles, but I do feel that seeing your bicep when you stretch your arm above your head is a GOOD thing and not one to be ashamed of.

Much of this is cultural and a product of our advertising environment. If women continue to see very thin and low-muscular women on the cover of popular print magazines, they'll feel that this look is one they should strive for. Or, if women are told by their mothers, aunts, sisters, or other women in their life that women should be soft and delicate and men should be the ones with muscle, then that's what they'll believe and try to achieve.

But in my world, I'd like women to be strong. To be able to open a jar of salsa, pickles or whatever, by their selves. To be able to lift themselves up if they fall and to be able to move their own furniture if they need to pack up and go. To be able to carry their own body weight and their own children through most years of their lives without injury (we all know those car seats plus kid can weigh up to 50 lbs... that's no joke people!). And strength requires muscle. And now that I'm a mom of a very cool 5 month old daughter, I also hope she comes to appreciate being strong. 

I'm glad my husband is one that likes a strong gal (if not, we wouldn't be together... that's for sure). In fact, he regularly asks me to help him move heavy items (for example, right now he's refinishing our deck and asked me to move the wooden picnic table and some of the floor boards). He also had me help a friend of his move their entire house - he and I alone carried a piano, couch, table and some humongous TV (I don't know the size exactly other than it was WAY too big IMHO) from the house to a moving truck, which was one serious workout.

However, I will not insult women who choose another path for their body - that's their choice. With my one boot camp member, I'm working on educating her of the importance of some muscle on her body, and learning to accept it as a positive benefit of working out. So far she's starting to see that it's not as 'unsightly' as she thought it was. And, she's starting to like the fact that she still fits in all of her clothes but can now do a full body pushup without any help. Not all women will see it that way, and I'll let those women continue to read Shape magazine so I can keep all the copies of Oxygen to myself :) 

What do you think? I'd love to hear more from all of you. Thanks for the comments! Keep 'em coming!

 

 

Posted Sep 09, 2010 by Cassandra Forsythe.
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Comments for This Entry

GravatarTara09:30AM on September 09, 2010

I totally agree. While I can appreciate some bodies that aren't muscular, I think those that are end up being the most interesting and inspirational to me. The challenge I'm finding at this point is trying to figure out how to make a workout challenging enough that I can build a lot of muscle while working out from home (I tried the gym thing and couldn't motivate myself to go regularly, but now that I work out from home right after rolling out of bed and having a snack, I'm working out 3-5x a week).

GravatarJessica10:21AM on September 09, 2010

Cassandra,

As a high school student I was always in shape and I was always competing. Like you, I wanted to be the best and I never for a second thought about the possibility of being too strong or too muscular. Neither did the women who competed around me. Once I left High school for college, however, I became much less competitive and gained quite a bit of weight as a result. Over the past six to eight months, however, I have started running and lifting, which is something I've never done before, and I have lost a tremendous amount of body fat and have gained more muscle than I ever had in high school. I have made exercise and nutrition an obsession. I've talked a lot about it, I have advocated for it, and I have even gotten people to buy the book you mentioned, New Rules, which is wonderful by the way. It is interesting how much backlash I have gotten from other women regarding my decision to lift and, well, exercise. Other women won't lift with me because they are afraid of becoming muscular. One friend even told me about how she quit an aerobics class because she thought "her legs were getting too big." I never realized that so many women thought this way about themselves. It speaks not only to what society tells us we should look like but also to a fundamental lack of understanding regarding health, weight, and nutrition. When I had been lifting for several months and I finally saw that bicep bump in my arm I was elated. Why on earth do women think they are going to suddenly and uncontrollably turn into Arnold Schwarzenegger if they lift a few weights? I really don't understand it. I feel kind of closed minded, but it really bothers me that there are so many women out there who are actually afraid of being strong. Anyways, thank you for bringing up the topic and I love both your blog and your book.

GravatarLT11:41AM on September 09, 2010

Great post. I recently added your site to my Google Reader, and it's been so informative. Like you, I prefer muscles. I think the sickly, thin look is very unattractive. My aim is to do one pull up, and shit, you can't do that without muscles, especially if you're a giantess like me (5'9") with arms that are longer than your height.

It's interesting to look at the image of the ideal female propagated by the media. In Western representations of women, females have been represented as the weaker of two sexes. This goes back to ancient times. Look at sculptures from antiquity and compare the depiction of goddesses vs. gods, for instance. This isn't coincidental, of course: a lean, thin woman is not as a threatening to men as a buff and strong chick. If women are seen by a society/culture as subordinate to men by virtue of lack of physical prowess, men have a "legitimate" argument, so to speak, to continue to rule the roost.

Of course, things are more progressive now, but not much so, in terms of the dissemination of the ideal female body. Fashion and faux-fitness magazines are the worst. I'm sure that the publishers/the people at the top of these magazines are mostly men.

I've noticed this underlying preference of a particular body type in blogs, as well. Take yours, for instance (and Stumptuous, Skwigg, etc.). You guys totally know what you're talking about. You promote strength and health and have research to back you up. There are others out there, however, that are total horseshit. (I will refrain to name them.) These are the same ones that aim for the body type pictured at the center of that triptych you have at top.

Anyway, this is totally rambling. My aim is to get as buff and strong as naturally possible/the limits of my body without making a career out of it. I'll go to the gym, I'll power lift with heavy weights, but I'm not going to trick my body by doing a carb-cleanse ketosis thing that many bodybuilders do around competitions.

Here here to buff women!

GravatarJaya03:11PM on September 09, 2010

Cass, I really like this post and I think it's an important question to ask ourselves, as ideal types of femininity evolve and change. I'm going to dodge the bullet, thought, and say one thing: I definitely admire/appreciate the look of an Oxygen cover model, but I don't think it's necessarily healthy for women to want to emulate extremely low BF/scarcely sustainable physique types. I don't think that many of the women who consume this stuff understand that cover model physique for more magazines with figure/fitness demographics are as airbrushed and manipulated as slimmer, less muscular physiques...not to mention, almost impossible to sustain! I've been an athlete for the better part of my life and a lot of the very elite athletes I know who eat really well and are incredibly athletic do not look like Oxygen cover girls (and in fact, could probably beat most of them at just about anything when these ladies are all dieted-down). I'm not saying that you're advocating for unrealistic or cover-model-esque ideals. I know and love that you are all for diverse corporeal expressions of athleticism and that's what I'm all about - emphasis more on means than ends. The less I train to look a certain way and the more I work to make every workout fun, the better I look and the more I love my body for the way it is today. I think maybe the question to ask women is not what they want to look like, but who they strive to be.
Great post, great topic, great comments. Thanks for facilitating a super interesting discussion!

GravatarLori05:02PM on September 09, 2010

I struggle with this issue. I think celebrities are too thin. I don't want my bones to be brittle when I get older and suffer multiple fractures and have the terribly scrawny look that older, very thin people have.

I lost over 100 pounds and credit a lot of that to lifting. I struggle with what is the final number for me. I want to see a scale number that is 10 pounds lower than what it is, and yet I can wear a size 8 pants and feel happy about that (really happy!).

My arms are bigger than a lot of women's. I get the most comments from women on my arms, usually along the lines of "Wow - your biceps". I don't know as they mean that in a way of liking it and I sometimes end up a little self conscious because of that, which annoys me.

GravatarMichael04:25AM on September 10, 2010

You look smokin' hot :)

GravatarJennifer12:20PM on September 10, 2010

I think muscles are beautiful on women and I feel best about myself when I'm packing some lean muscle! I don't believe in the weak female persona and relying on other people to do something that you can do for yourself. Lifting makes me both physically and mentally tough. My husband, like yours, asks me to help him lift things regularly. I helped him dig holes when we installed a fence last year. He loves having a wife that is independent and doesn't whine about having to do "man" things. It's great to see my hard work in the gym pay off in everyday life!

GravatarCassandra10:56PM on September 10, 2010

Cass, great article. I moved from cardio to strength training about three years ago, and coupled with proper nutrition, my body has never looked better and I have never treated it better. Over these past three years I have increased my knowledge and understanding of strength training and nutrition, and have a toned and muscular body that I am proud of. It is sad to see, however, that in the gym I train in I am the only female lifting weights while the same girls flog themselves in the same aerobics classes/on the same cardio equipment every week, yet their body shape has not changed.

I am proud to be a strong woman with muscles and calluses!

GravatarTom08:02AM on September 11, 2010

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I think a fit and athletic look is very attractive. I am certainly not a fan of the "skinny" model look even though many of these women may be beautiful. I think developed muscles on women look greatl as long as the women don't make Jay Cutler or Arnold look wimpy.

GravatarLarissa in San Antonio06:55PM on September 11, 2010

I always have a day in my Women's Studies class where we discuss women's body building. I never cease to be amazed at how disgusted some of the young women are when I show clips of women bodybuilders. They consider them "excessive" and "manly" and perceive them as spectacles rather than athletes. Although I can understand the spectacle part when it comes to the competitions that promote pageantry more than athleticism, I still am disturbed by how young women have come to internalize body norms that promote underweight bodies as both normal and desirable.

It seems that, from what I've heard, one of the greatest barriers for women is the lack of knowledge about weightlifting. Many of my students and friends have told me that they were afraid and intimidated of the free weights. We need to have more of a presence in the weight room and need to do more to educate women and girls about weightlifting. Let's take back the weight room! :D

GravatarKrista Scott-Dixon03:06AM on September 12, 2010

I feel like this discussion about "what is beauty" has gone on as long as humans had eyes. The rather tragic thing is that straight women's obsession with their bodies -- which mostly presumes that attracting straight men is the goal of "beauty"* -- is so irrelevant to actual straight men.

Women are consumed with self loathing, usually regardless of what their bodies look like -- yet the majority of straight men love the majority of straight women's bodies in all their diverse glory. I get so much email from dudes who are sad that their female partners hate themselves so much, or email from women saying "my husband loves my body but I think I'm gross." It's a rare hetero man who doesn't love an athletic woman's butt, even though she probably thinks it's "too big".

It's like ships passing in the night... a completely wasted obsession. (Chick-loving chicks seem to be much more forgiving in this regard.) And it's an obsession based on tremendous fear. It's like we live in fear, constantly. What the hell are we so damn scared of?

I also can't help but notice how incredibly narcissistic and self-focused the body loathing is, even if it seems "virtuous" to self-criticize. Seriously, who the hell even notices most of the things women hate about themselves? Me me me: A First World problem if ever there was one.

Finally, I'd say about 0% of this "what should fit women look like?" discussion has anything to do with ACTUAL health and wellness. Somehow along the way we forgot that our bodies are supposed to, y'know, DO things or operate well. It's going to be a pretty shitty wakeup call in a few decades when everyone's bones crumble. Then sexual attractiveness will be pretty much irrelevant because women will be trying to figure out how to get down the stairs with legs made of Jello.

What should women look like? We should look like our real, diverse, most fully actualized, most fully engaged with life and the world around us, physically and psychologically strongest, selves... whatever that is.



*Yes, this is a flawed paradigm; let's just work with it for a moment.

GravatarCassandra04:52AM on September 13, 2010

Krista - you're completely right. Our bodies have become "objects" of sorts (whether that be sexual or not), rather than the machines they're really meant to be. Our bodies were meant to move and create, rather than sit and turn into mush. But... that's just my opinion and unfortunately the world doesn't see it that way.

Larissa - I'm all about getting more women in the weight room :) But, it's going to take lots (and lots) of education and time for them to realize that they can't ever look like a female body builder sans drug use.

Tara - there are LOTS of awesome exercises you can do at home with some easy to use equipment. Have you ever tried a slosh-pipe? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0sGMGby7Nw
It's awesome!

GravatarAJ @ atothejay.wordpress02:16PM on September 13, 2010

After my first power lifting competition, I talked with a female friend of mine. She inquired about the competition, and I told her that I was pretty excited to have bench pressed 143 pounds. To which she replied, "oh, I could totally do that if I wanted to....but I don't because I get HUGE when I lift." I agree with Cassandra, no woman can get huge and manly without the help of drugs. I suspect her definition of huge was simply having visible muscle which she clearly thought was unacceptable. It's amazing how different peoples' perceptions can be!

GravatarJoyti Bharaj12:41AM on September 14, 2010

Great article! I think women tend to identify with body preferences of how society classifies their sexuality, "the sporty one" (muscular); "the motherly one" (soft, curvy); "the pretty one" (slimmer) etc.. This is definitely not the rule, just something I have noticed!

GravatarBuild Bigger Muscles06:17AM on September 14, 2010

That's a good observation actually. At least I think so. I see the same type outlook in the way people seem to view women. I wanted also to say that even though women should learn to accept themselves as they are, they can also do everything within their power to create the body that they truly want. They should not do this for others, rather, they should do it for themselves. If a women wants a more muscular physique, she can lift weights and train for it. If she wants to lose some weight, she can do cardio and train for that...etc. As long as she is doing it for herself, and not for other people. And there are products that can actually help gals who want to gain some more muscle, lose weight or get into shape. You can click my avatar picture to be sent to a website for any of those. And there are tons of methods to train to get into the shape you want to be in too. And I wanted to include a url to a great FREE website where you can get help with any kind of fitness training, and diet and any issue surrounding getting and staying fit at any level... it is:

www.MuscleFitnessNutrition.com/forum

It is a great forum that is bot FREE and very helpful to any person, male or female, who wants to get fit, look or feel great and live a longer and healthier life. I include this only because I know just how helpful these people are. I think most any of the readers of this site would benefit from this forum.

Moving on... I only hope that all women will lose the psychological need to please other people. They should try to please themselves first, before thinking about or worrying about what other people think they should be. To be truly happy in life, you need to take care of your own needs first.

GravatarSue11:00PM on September 15, 2010

I like the long, lean look. I do like to see some definition, particularly in my arms but not too much. I like the body shape pic on the far right.

GravatarMichelle08:28PM on September 17, 2010

As always Cass you always have the best inspirational comments for women struggling on weight issues, common issues in women's health, and positive aspirations for women aging and learning more about our bodies (machines). Show the muscle guns!!

GravatarMichelle08:28PM on September 17, 2010

As always Cass you always have the best inspirational comments for women struggling on weight issues, common issues in women's health, and positive aspirations for women aging and learning more about our bodies (machines). Show the muscle guns!!

Gravatarvarsha12:35AM on September 25, 2010

dear Cassie

This is a great discussion and even Krista is participating.
I think that the world is divided into women who have *THE KNOWLEDGE* abt how Strength is the highest expression of Beauty-whatever be your physical form;and the mindless matrons who obsess about neurotic shapes and curves without uplifting their capability to lift.
I thank you and Krista who is my Web Guru for steering me on the right Path and join the Strength band.

Gravatardarc02:43PM on September 26, 2010

Great discussion! I found "New Rules" 18 months ago and fell in love with it. It was the first time I'd heard of women really lifting (other than bodybuilders). Soon after that I was introduced to Crossfit and with the constant coaching and correction I get there I have discovered a passion for weightlifting, though I have not been consistent so I have not acheived my original goals yet (but I will!). I love women who admit that they like a more muscular look and I am saddened by women who think it is not feminine or is too manly.

I am in my 50s and I fear for my female friends who will not consider lifting because they think they can't do it or it will be of no benefit to them. I explain that osteoperosis (sp?) can not live in a body that consistantly lifts heavy weight, because the bones have to respond by getting denser and stronger. They either do not believe me or do not want to work that hard. How sad. One thing I always point out is that what I do is weightlifting, not bodybuilding, which I understand to be two different sports (please correct me if I'm wrong).

Anyway, glad to see all of you strong women on here, keep at it...there's a movement on Facebook called "Strong is the New Skinny", and they talk s about this too. Lift Heavy!

GravatarNick Horton11:10AM on October 01, 2010

I'm in total agreement with Krista.

Women in America are just batty when in comes to their fear of exercising with weights and what they think it will do to them. This is made ironic by the fact the most women who are worried about such things are overweight - farther from the magazine-model look than they'd be if they leaned up and put on muscle!!

It's a rare straight man who cares about a womans bi's being "too big". Guys just like women. They cast a wide net. And any girl that they find remotely attractive who laughs at their jokes and makes them feel good about themselves is going to be received favorably.

Nothing is more ridiculous (and more disingenuous) than a woman who claims to be a "strong and independent" woman, but can't even open a peanut butter jar!

There is a high correlation between a person with a weak body and a person with a weak emotional-self. The connection between your mind and body is not just a spiritual one, it's a biological one. A weak body will eventually result in a weak mind.

My fiancé is a competitive Olympic weightlifter, she has muscular arms and is smoking hot. She often gets the "arms" comment, too. Never, ever, from men. Only from Women. Men just hit on her.

Like Krista said, some point, women need to get over themselves and stop being so "me" centric. Nobody cares about YOUR body. Meditate and learn to relax, learn how to control your emotions, don't let your obsession with physical minutia become a crippling force in your life.

That is not impossible, it is quite doable. My fiance used to be like that. She had a mother who constantly nagged her about being "fat", would pinch her thighs and make comments about how she could "use to lose some more weight", etc. It affected her greatly - as it would any 10 year old!

She got over it. It took work, but she did it.

Sure there will be residual effects of that kind of verbal abuse, but she likes her body now, she does't flip out simply because the scale says she weighs more than most girls her height (her BMI makes her "overweight"), she isn't obsessed with body image. She's lean, she's muscular (and proud of it!), and she is very very strong. In other words, she's a complete woman - the whole package.

Sad so many woman are too stubborn and full of too much self-loathing to take care of themselves.

(By the way, a very similar post could be written about men and their own issues. Women aren't the only ones.)

GravatarSandyNeedsAbWorkouts12:39PM on December 06, 2010

I agree Val; beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Also, its confidence and attitude that makes a person beautiful not muscle tone. I’m new to strength training and when I hit the gym I strive for a healthier me, but I must admit I experienced a surge of confidence the first time I was able to see a change in my muscle definition.

GravatarTara H09:44AM on June 14, 2011

"Nothing is more ridiculous (and more disingenuous) than a woman who claims to be a "strong and independent" woman, but can't even open a peanut butter jar!"

Thanks Nick, that's a really funny quote - just tweeted it. I am guilty of asking guys to open jars and water bottles for me from time to time despite being very into fitness and strength training!

Personally, I think that visible muscle tone is very desirable on women; though when I train, I'm training for performance, health benefits and quality of life - not to build visible muscle.

There is actually a reason that men *should* find muscle tone attractive in women - I've written about it in my article on the ideal female body: http://www.glamourunderground.com/389/ideal-female-body-measurements/

Thanks for writing on this topic Cassandra.

Tara

GravatarWilliam Burke03:34PM on June 15, 2011

As a man, the first thing I notice about any girl or woman is her face. If a woman has a pretty face (large eyes, high cheek bones, high forehead, long neck, pretty mouth, straight but not too long a nose), everything else comes next.
I think the current trend in modeling and Hollywood to put so much importance on thinness and large breasts (the Barbie Doll look) is not sexy at all. I think a woman of average weight with plenty of curves in the obvious places (breasts, derriere, thighs and calves) is a lot prettier than the straight, boyish figure that is so admired these days.
Marilyn Monroe, who I think was gorgeous, today would be considered much too fat!
A woman who is a little overweight, like Kirstie Allie, with a pretty face, is still very
sexy.

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