Whether it’s cloudy or sunny, warm in January or cool in June–the beach is where you’ll find me.
I go to walk my dogs and I go to meditate and clear my head. Sunrise, sunset, and everything in between–the beach is my favorite place to be. Of course, warm, sunny, play in the ocean days are my favorite–not gonna lie. Luckily, we get plenty of those, too.
When it’s hot and the sun is plentiful, my son Isaac and I ride our bikes 1/2 a mile down to the beach for a day of fun in the sun. On a day such as this last Autumn, I engaged in one of the first of many conversations I’ve had about “manliness” in the past year, and it started with my 8-year-old son.
It was October, so the while the weather was unseasonably warm, the ocean did exactly as it was intended–stayed cold.
Anyone with kids knows that the temperature of the water doesn’t stop them…and as a result, mama has to brave the cold water too. Isaac laughed at me as I giggled and shrieked when the cold waves touched above my waist, but mostly we just laughed together, diving under and over the waves.
On this particular day, we were joined by one of my long time besties. She and I have been friends for over 12 years, and she’s often my beach bum buddy. We fill our mason jars with rosè and pump Marian Hill while talking about mindset and spiritual growth.
She doesn’t get in the water.
So as Isaac and I ventured further and further away from the shore, he turns to me and says, “why isn’t she coming?” I tell him that I think it’s because she doesn’t actually know how to swim, to which my then eight-year-old replies:
“Ohhhh. So you’re just a manly girl, and that’s why you’re tough enough to handle to the cold water?”
Cue my “wtf” face. For a second I was completely speechless.
Isaac is a smart, clever, insightful child. He has loads of empathy and is, at times, excessively sensitive. So needless to say, his type of comment (however well intended) took me completely by surprise. But, it also prompted a conversation-both with him and in a general sense-about this concept of “manliness.”
In fairness, he’s virtually grown up in the gym. From a very young age he’s accompanied me to numerous gyms while I trained clients and taught classes. He’s been raised by a strong, confident mom that lifts heavy weights, is her own boss, and never takes shit from anyone.
So, to some extent, I sort of understand his frame of reference. I sort of get why he thinks his mom is tougher than others. But to insinuate that that toughness is somehow comparable to manliness? Now that is a thought process that I simply cannot condone.
We had a little discussion, and have continued to touch on it since, to ensure that he understood one simple fact:
Some people are tenacious/strong/brave and others are less so. Some people. Not men, not women. People. And EVERYONE, regardless of gender, is capable of developing and cultivating strength, both inside and out.
Masculine or feminine really has nothing to do with it.
And as much as I like to think I’m teaching him well, what are the chances that I’ve said things-however offhandedly-to the contrary? I’m pretty aware of my words but I’m sure there are times I’ve mindlessly contributed to the stereotype–at least in the eyes of a child.
We throw around phrases in day-to-day life that we may deem perfectly harmless.
Be a man.
She looks manly.
He’s too feminine.
Even in the strength world, we often refer to women’s bodies in comparison to men, and with a level of judgment that we have no right to convey. We tell women not to get too muscular or they’ll look “manly.” We tell women they are “muscular for a girl” or “strong for a girl.” I’ve gotten comments that flat out say “Ew. Gross. Too muscular. Too manly.”
In fact, I recently received the following comment on an Instagram video in which I was demonstrating a pretty killer workout finisher in a short shorts and a sports bra.
“Why do women want to look like men? I’m sure you inspire all the chunkier girls to like their bodies and big legs which is nice and everything, but whatever happened to femininity? You’re as “big” as your husband. I don’t understand this woman-hulk movement.”
I didn’t engage with the commenter because, well, I just don’t want to spend my energy arguing with people. I have no interest in wasting my breathe trying to convince them that words like “feminine” and “manly” are completely subjective, and that each of us has a unique genetic makeup.
Instead, I choose to use my power for good–to incite positive change through my writing and my work, and to recruit women all over the world to have the courage to share their stories. (Obviously, that’s why I’m here!)
Initially when I read this comment, it made me sad for women as a whole.
It’s unfortunate that as women we can have this sort of viewpoint–that we can be unkind and judgmental towards other women who choose to embrace strength and power.
It does make me sad that we live in a society where our bodies are judged such as they are, and that we can’t possibly keep up with the ever changing standard that women’s bodies are supposed to live up to.
One day it’s “feminine” and “voluptuous” the next day it’s “skinny” and “slim.” Some say it’s better to be über lean, jacked, and shredded, others prefer thigh gaps and flat tummies without visible abs.
I mean, let’s be honest: this is total bullshit. Who makes these rules? Who gets to decide what is and isn’t feminine?
Who decides that manly=strong and womanly=soft? Who decides that women aren’t meant to be muscular and men aren’t meant to be sensitive?
I have a vagina. I think that’s pretty feminine.
Again, that’s just my opinion and part of how I define MY femininity. I’ve given birth to a child. Once a month I have my moon time and crave chocolate so badly I could cut someone for it. I own at least 25 different bottles of nail polish and I have an actual “caboodle” to house my makeup collection.
But I also like to smash weights, get dirty, and watch SciFi films. So somehow, because I’m muscular, I’m no longer “feminine?”
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t take any of this personally. I’m not concerned with what anyone thinks of my physique and whether or not some random person on the internet thinks I’m too muscular or a “woman hulk” (truth be told I think Woman Hulk sounds pretty fab, actually).
I post pictures and videos because it’s my intention to help women empower themselves through strength, take ownership of their lives, and embrace their bodies at all stages of life. What some anonymous human on the internet thinks about my body is not something I’m concerned with.
But what I am concerned with is the general climate regarding gender roles, and the rhetoric that surrounds women, our abilities, and our bodies. Because here’s the deal: My femininity is not defined by what other people think makes a woman feminine. My femininity is MINE to own and define, and mine alone.
So yes, comments like this make me sad and they cause me to reflect on the sad state of our culture–the judgments and stereotypes we often fall prey to.
I realize that these cultural norms are complex and deeply rooted. But I also realize that words are powerful and that we can choose them wisely. If we don’t, we can and will contribute to the idea that manliness equates to toughness. We can add to the stereotype that if women choose to be strong and fearless that they must also be manly.
We can even get pissed off and take comments like this personally, ranting and raving–or we can be a part of the solution.
We can use our words and our actions to reinforce the idea that anyone can be physically and/or mentally strong and tough. Anyone can be muscular. Anyone can be fearless. Each and every one of us can can define our own femininity in a way that is authentic to ourselves, our preferences, and our way of life.
So yes, comments such as these make me sad. Hearing words like “manly” thrown around so flippantly makes me frustrated. But then I take that sadness, that frustration, and I use it to fuel my message.
I use it to write, film, and create. I use it to relentlessly make positive headway on this movement. I give myself about a minute to be angry and fired up, really lean into in the emotions–and then I think, how can I take positive action? How can I be a part of the solution?
Ultimately, part of my deeper purpose as a writer and a coach is to dispel these myths, and empower women to define their own femininity–to believe that no one’s opinion of their body matters but their own.
This is about strength. It’s about love. It’s about living authentically, fully engaged in the life you have created for yourself on every level.
Manliness has nothing to do with it.