On Women’s Bodies and Mansplaining

[Ed. Note: I asked my friend Lana to write a guest post for me because she’s an awesome writer with awesome ideas. She delivered BIG TIME. I know this is long, but do yourself a favor and read the whole thing.]

Your dutiful blogger Leah and I are gym buddies during the week – we head down the street to the local gym together over lunch, and it works well, because we both have a passion for resistance training and getting sweaty.

Sometimes we split up, put our headphones in, do our own thing.

And twice in the last week, Leah’s mentioned that men have come by to interrupt her workout and give her pointers.

Let’s stop right there. Your Nutritionista is no newbie to the gym. She can show you variations upon variations of exercises; so many you wonder how people could be so inventive. And trust me on this – her form is top notch. Near perfection.

So why do men feel like they have the right to interrupt her workout to offer unsolicited advice? (Note: this doesn’t tend happen to me as often because I’m a huge believer in wearing my bitch-face when I work out. I am just not an extrovert.)

There is a phenomenon my girlfriends and I refer to as “mansplaining,” which refers to any time a man feels he needs to over-explain an issue to a woman who generally already knows what he’s talking about. Often this happens spontaneously, and to qualify as mansplaining, there must be a heavy dose of condescension.

In the gym, it sounds like this:

(Man approaches woman who is working out.)

Man: “What are you doing? Did you get that workout in the back of a magazine or something? Because you’re using a really heavy weight for that move.”

Woman: “Actually, I designed this workout myself, from the many years of knowledge and experience I have lifting weights, and I’m lifting a weight this heavy because that’s what I find challenging.”

Now, gentlemen reading this, we know you are not all like this. And even if you are, we know you’re just trying to help – or you think you’re trying to help – and we forgive you.

But it’s got to stop.

Have you ever seen a man pause his own workout to criticize another man’s workout? I never have, though I’ve seen and heard of men offering criticism to women more times than I can count.


It’s not really that one man’s fault when he deigns to bestow his Thor-like wisdom of physical perfection upon a woman he determines is in desperate need of his guidance.

It’s that we live in a society where every day we hear the message that women’s bodies are up for discussion. Judging the figures of female celebrities is practically a national pastime, men on the street feel comfortable leering and catcalling as girls walk by, and even harmless looking old men will often ask for a smile if you’re not wearing one all the time. (I guess these old men have never had a bad day.)

Women get in on the action, too. We hold ourselves to very high, sometimes unrealistic standards. One of my favorite fitness bloggers, Leigh Peele, took an informal survey asking women which celebrities’ figures they most admired.

  • Thirty-five percent of respondents most admired Jessica Alba’s figure.
  • Seventy-one percent of respondents would rather be “too thin” than “too muscular” or “too fat.”
  • Forty-three percent of respondents felt that Hilary Swank’s figure from Million Dollar Baby was “too muscular.”

Have you SEEN Million Dollar Baby? Hilary Swank was in spectacular shape – and if you saw her in real life, I guarantee she’d still be in a smaller pant size than most average women. But we don’t see that – we zone in on her muscles and criticize them instead.

We freely give our opinions about these women and how they look – and we internalize those opinions. We all want to look like Jessica Alba, but how many of us will actually achieve a body that tiny?

And how many of us will back off of working hard in the gym for fear of looking “too muscular,” even if that keeps us in a trap of doing too much cardio, not enough weight lifting, and never really looking as lean as we’d like to?

So when a man tries to tell you all the things you’re doing wrong in the gym, it’s not just he thinks he knows more than you (although that’s part of it, since weight lifting has traditionally been a masculine domain) – it’s that he also thinks he gets to have an opinion on what you look like.

He doesn’t.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look like Jessica Alba. But there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look like Linda Hamilton in Terminator, or Kate Winslet in Titanic, or Dara Torres, the 43-year-old swimming champion who holds 12 Olympic medals. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be soft and curvy, small and straight, or buff and lean.

The bottom line is that it’s your body. You decide what you want to look like. You decide when you’re confident and when you want to change. You decide what exercises you’ll do to reach your goals. You decide how much weight to lift, how far to run, how long to stretch. You decide what to eat and what to wear, and no one else’s opinion counts.

Especially not that guy in the gym – because be real, ten seconds earlier you saw him practically kissing his guns in the mirror.

Are you really going to listen to what that guy has to say?

Wouldn’t you rather listen to yourself?

  1. psychotik reblogged this from yourhealthista
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  4. etceterawhatever reblogged this from yourhealthista and added:
    FWIW, this is posting mid-half marathon … Great piece. I don’t get this so much now that I mostly exercise outdoors, but...
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    Good read
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