If you are someone who regularly partakes in strength training, you will have likely dealt with some kind of negative comment at one time or another. For men, this may mean being told that you are too self-obsessed, you spend too much time in the gym, or accusations that you must be taking steroids (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
For women, negative comments may take the same form but often also focus on the (horribly uninformed and incorrect) opinion that women will lose their femininity if they lift, or that they will hurt themselves being more fragile and dainty than men (sarcasm). Sadly, women lifting weights is not the norm in our society, so these types of negative reactions are still commonplace.
While you may be able to brush off comments from strangers or colleagues, it can really sting when they come from our closest friends and family and even our partners.
I have been lifting for almost six years and have certainly faced my share of criticism during that time. People who should have supported me have talked behind my back in the past, saying I was obsessed with lifting and starting to look too manly.
Lulz. While I do love lifting, my life does not revolve around it. And I’m pretty sure I’m still a way off looking manly.
In my experience, it is easier to shut down a friend or family member than a partner. In fact, my lifting did play a role in the breakdown of one of my serious relationships. My partner lifted recreationally, but he did not understand the huge commitment involved in competing. While I had to spend four hours doing an events session, he just wanted to watch TV, drink beer and eat potato chips. A couple of years ago, I dated someone else (who didn’t lift at all) who literally had a panic attack over the fact that I had to go to the gym for an hour without them.
While I do not necessarily need to have a partner who lifts, it’s often easier to find one that does – especially in competitive environments. Even bodybuilding competitors are easier to date than “regular” people as they understand the associated lifestyle. You never have to explain to someone who is equally into the gym why you can’t just blow off your workout to get wasted in the pub for the fourth time that week.
And I am not alone. I’ve had a number of female clients who have told me that, although they love lifting themselves, they were thinking of giving it up because of their unsupportive partners. Horrifically, these women were told they were too obsessed with a “man’s sport”, or told that they were getting too bulky when they should have been focused on “getting skinny”.
Other women have told me that they were terrified to go home for Christmas, for example, because of the comments they would receive from their parents about their changing bodies.
This is incredibly sad. As much as I wish I could simply tell these women to tell their toxic mother/father/SO to F off, I know it’s not always that simple.
How to cope with unsupportive friends and family
So, what should you do if you find yourself facing negative criticism from the people who should love and support you no matter what?
- Be straight with them and explain that their remarks are upsetting. These conversations are never easy to have, but they are necessary to avoid resentment building up. Explain why lifting is beneficial to both your mental and physical wellbeing. Also point out that, for some people, being in the gym is not about wanting to get smaller. Some of us actually enjoy taking up space and pursuing non-physique related goals.
- Reassure them that it’s okay to have separate interests. What my aforementioned partner could not understand was that I didn’t need him to be with me at the gym. It was perfectly fine for him to chill out at home, doing his own thing. I don’t need my partner to be at every single training session to show their support. Men can sometimes feel threatened if their girlfriend/wife lifts (and, you know, doesn’t just stay inside to make sandwiches) – especially if they don’t lift themselves – but they should never make you feel bad about it. What someone wants to do with their free time is their business – whether that is playing World of Warcraft, having a Netflix marathon or harnessing themselves up to pull a minivan.
- Consider cutting the person out of your life. Do you really need someone negative and unsupportive around you? The majority of my friends do not lift, yet they are incredibly proud of me and support my lifting achievements. These days, if someone is going to be a bitch about it, I find it easier to simply cut them out of my life. I personally could not be romantically involved with someone who did not support my lifting. Talk about a quick way to drop 200+ pounds. In my opinion, your partner should love and support you, no matter what your goals and what shape your body takes.
- Do not tolerate any kind of negative criticism about your body. Shut it down immediately. Usually, if someone makes a negative remark about your body, it comes from their own place of insecurity. Remind them that you have not asked for their opinion and that you would not be so rude as to give your own unsolicited opinion of their body.
- Surround yourself with people who are positive. Make friends in the gym. Go to competitions and witness the amazing camaraderie between lifters for yourself. Train alongside your new friends and compliment each other on your lifting achievements. Be friends with people who make you feel as though strong women doing badass things is the norm, not the exception.
- Ask yourself what you want. Were you happy with your body before someone came along and made a negative comment about it? Does lifting make you feel strong and confident? Are you proud of how hard you have worked to shape your body and gain strength? If the answer to these questions is yes, don’t let someone take that away from you.
Always remember that you should lift (or do any other activity you want!) for yourself.
Have you ever had to deal with negative comments?