Lift Your Bad Self

I called the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service last week. Turns out that the weight lifter has been added to the endangered species list. Don't get too gleeful. Word is that the female of the species has become listless, virtually disappeared. The male is just sort of foraging around, searching for suitable habitat. Upstart, weaker creatures have overwhelmed the wild lifter through sheer force of numbers. Less intelligent

species like the bodybuilder, dieter and prettifier have taken over the weightlifter's former stomping grounds, the gym. Without intervention, wildlife professionals predict the weightlifter's numbers may dwindle down to a negligible size. Said one official, "The damn pastel walls did it. That and all that techno music. Weightlifters had too look for somewhere else to live and found nothing."

The gym changed. Society took gyms - you remember, the place where people went to get strong - and turned them into fitness centers - the place where people go to get ready for swimsuit season. The weightlifter once strutted through our society a glorious figure to behold. Either they lifted to build endurance, their muscles rippling with gorgeous definition, or they lifted for raw power, turning their bodies into solid, stony masses ready to move shocking weights in a single burst. Something happened and suddenly people's physical priorities turned from bodily strength to, oh, hell, I don't know, Leonardo DiCaprio and whatever he represents. Don't want to think about it.

Forget all the stereotypes about weightlifters. Forget the pictures of women in bikinis on gym walls. The roid rage. Forget the gym's stale smell. The lifters shouting curse words at the top of their lungs. Forget the greased up monkeys modeling in g-strings when ESPN runs out of motorcross races to air. Forget about the ass you knew in high school with the thick arms and the thin worldview. Forget all the crap and boil weightlifting down to its essence. The essence: achieving strength, one's physical potential. Women and men should both admire that ideal. No other virtue so indisputably resides beneath the skin's depth.

The advent of fitness centers mocks the old school gym. Fine, so now women can work out in less sexist spaces, but to what end? Who cares if women and men can sweat side by side, if all either cares about is a tighter butt? Seriously, let's cut through the crap here. I have lived in the thick of this culture for years now. We hear a lot of talk about holistic health, the spiritual power of yoga (please), endorphine highs and other garbage - all thinly veiled rationalizations for prioritizing the slimming, trimming and toning of an otherwise worthless body. 90% of the men and women I run across in my "fitness center" every day have t&a as priority one, and if they happen to tack on some health along the way then that is a lucky break. How often do you see some yutz step two feet from the gym and light up a cigarette?

Weightlifting transcends health. It may be the best exercise investment of all, no matter your goals, but pure weightlifting enables people to go beyond their body's "natural" capacity. As if physically meditating, the weightlifter systematically engages every piece of her body. Over time, she becomes stronger than she has to be, a triumph over expectations, better. Like a high school physics teacher with a good head for quantum mechanics or a classical ballerina with an extensive knowledge of African dance, the weightlifter can do more than she has to. What's offensive about saving some space (both physically and culturally) for getting folks there?

I know women with fantastic bodies, bodies that could be so strong. They are runners, dancers, athletes and others. I strip aside the myths about lifting for them: no, your muscles won't get huge (probably not even if you wanted them to); no, muscle won't slow you down; no, grunting out loud is optional, and still they refuse to try. I often see a small longing in their eyes, as if they know they could be stronger, but they refuse. Their muscles will get a little bigger, more pronounced, and they don't think it will look good.

Dammit.

In the first place, so what? In the second, why not? If you want to talk about underlying societal assumptions that hold women down, how about the idea that muscle isn't sexy? Don't you be lying to yourself. If muscle ain't sexy then weakness is and you know you don't want none of that. Don't fret though, gals. You are not alone. Apparently Calvin Klein's weaklings have replaced Ali and Stallone as the attractive ideals. As the weightlifter disappears into anthropology textbooks, as strength gets uglier and uglier every day, I wonder at the wastefulness of it all. I am looking into the face of a people taking its security for granted and the face is awfully... pretty? Yet, if it breeds out physical potential pursuing some ideal of beauty, how long can the species last?

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