If you follow elite female powerlifters on Instagram, you’re probably familiar with the bizarre comments they get on an everyday basis. There are plenty of positive, supportive comments, too — women lifting heavy weight is becoming more and more common and celebrated in our culture. But the sight of a woman squatting hundreds of pounds still tends to prompt ignorant comments, even if they’re sometimes well-meaning.
We spoke to 10 elite female powerlifters and asked for some examples of the most, shall we say, problematic comments they’ve heard from the men in their gyms and on social media. And even we were surprised by what they told us.
“Do you think you can squat me?”
“Do you lift more than your boyfriend?”
“I prefer a girl with boobs.”
“Do you eat anything, but clean food?”
“Don’t arch, you won’t be able to have babies.” (Mahoe says this is her absolute favorite.)
“If you lifted in a powerlifting competition, then that wouldn’t count.” (Meanwhile, she’s a 6x IPL World Champion.)
“Real powerlifters would see this and laugh.”
“If you keep lifting heavy like that your uterus is going to fall out.”
“You should use the smith machine with light weight, so you can have lean legs instead of thunder thighs.”
“Your back is going to break in half if you keep benching like that. You’re going to herniate a disc. Do people even know what this means?!?”
“You shouldn’t do chest exercises because your boobs are going to disappear.”
“Only women pull sumo because it’s easier. Such a short cut.”
“I would never date a girl who does that stuff. Aren’t you worried you’ll never find a man and get married?”
“You shouldn’t deadlift over 135 because it’ll make your torso thick and you won’t have an hourglass figure.”
Amber Rayne Abweh
“Dang, you’re kind of strong….for a girl.”
“Wow, you have a nice physics.”
“How much should I be lifting? I’m a 5′ 6″ male and weigh 150 lbs.”
“Nice chest, but you might get more gains if you did pushups, instead of arching your back like that.”
“She should be doing cardio.”
“Squats her body weight. Not impressive.”
“She’s strong for a girl.”
“That girl will break your d*ck off in one tug.”
“That’s a big b*tch.” (or big girl, both are said often).
“Fake weights. No way she can squat that.”
From Brenner: I also get the general man-splaining about form/rep schemes. The general, “Look I found your girl” comments to friends. Men are also quick to compare, even if they think they’re giving a compliment (“I can’t even do that!”)
“Wow, I’m impressed with a girl squatting that much weight and breaking parallel.”
“How many reps did you just do? I don’t know you, but congratulations, that’s amazing. Also, what days you workout, so I don’t come into the gym.”
“Why do you squat more than once a week?”
“No way a girl can out squat me!”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a girl life that much weight before.”
“When I was in football I used to squat five plates on each side.”
“Let me know if you ever want to workout sometime. I can spot you on squats or something.”
“Are you using that bar? No, actually are you?”
“Wow, you squat more than me.”
“Why do you deadlift one-handed. Why don’t you try…?”
From Beth: I think this article is essential, not only for proper gym etiquette, but also for general respect purposes, especially for disabled women, who continue to underrepresented, objectified, and not taken seriously. It’s often seen as needing a man’s help, regardless of our strength or capabilities.
“So you lift heavy weights, huh? How come you don’t look like a butch, bulky man? “ *rolls eyes hard*
“So are you training for a bikini competition? This is such an assumption that all girls lift weights for aesthetics rather than to just be strong!”
“Just to let you know that the bar weighs 20kg, so it’s heavy, are you sure you want to put that extra weight on?!“
“Having boobs must decrease your range of motion on the bench, you’re lucky “
“Why are you even lifting? Guys will always be stronger.”
“I want your quads.”
From Melo: The comments I get range from really positive and really negative, but both motivate me to stronger and better at the sport.
The quotes above varied slightly, but there were some consistencies to them. One thing’s for sure: as strength sports grow it would benefit all of the sports to stop comparing female athletes to male athletes.
It may not seem offensive in the moment, but in reality, it’s assuming a feat of strength could have never been accomplished in the first place. At the end of day, we’re all athletes just tying to get stronger.
Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
Feature image from @swoleesi Instagram page.