Should girls have muscles?

Wednesday, September 30, 2020 Stef dela Cruz, MD 0 Comments

My fingers felt the knurling of the bar in front of me, familiar with where my grip should be. I walked under the barbell, feeling the cold, hard steel touch my traps. I heaved up to raise and balance all 130 pounds of it on my back.

Stef dela Cruz vegan lifter
Thankfully, more women want to play with the heavy toys at the gym. However, we need more vegan women lifters!

It wasn't supposed to be hard; 130 pounds wasn't a heavy squat load for me. I've lifted way more in the past. However, this day seemed different.

On just the third of four sets of barbell back squats, I could feel my legs shaking. I held my breath to brace my core, got down to my haunches, and promptly stood back up. That was one rep, and I had five more to go. Phew. I shivered with effort as I sat back down and pushed up again. Two reps. Three. Four. On the fifth, I was gritting my teeth, noticing how much slower I was on the ascent.

I all but screwed my feet straight through the floor to squat the sixth and last repetition with all I've got. I probably broke form a bit with the bar path not as straight as I wanted it, but at least I didn't fail the rep. With a big exhale, I stepped forward until I hit metal with a reassuringly loud ping, then bent my knees to rack the barbell.

Stef dela Cruz barbell squat

Relief swept over me. One more set, and I was done.

But why was it particularly hard this time around? I found it odd. Did I sleep well that night? Did I eat enough for breakfast?

Then, it dawned on me: I was on the second day of my period.

Of course. How could that have slipped my mind? I was literally bleeding for two days and counting. Blood loss aside, there was also the issue of menstrual cramps -- bearable but constant, enough to lower my blood pressure the way it always did for the past 20 years or so.

I felt slightly vindicated. The weakness I felt wasn't as inexplicable as I had thought. It was just part and parcel of being a girl.

Girl power (and boy envy)

I can't begin to explain how empowering it is to heft metal just like boys do. Breaking stereotypes because it feels good is, well, liberating.

However, it is not without challenges. It's hard enough to lift weights; even harder to do so as a girl. I get a lot of comments that guys don't. I get a lot of flak for the way my body has changed. I receive a lot of unsolicited advice from people who know less about pumping iron than me.

But I like being a girl. Generally, most guys leave me alone when they see me lifting the end of the bar with one arm as I add another 15-kilogram plate. Being left alone and ignored always feels like a badge of honor, as if I'm being given the implicit permission to do what I want because the big, muscled men around me know that I know what I'm doing.

So yes, generally, guys are nice to girls who lift. Generally.

Sometimes, there's the guy who won't leave me alone, thinking I need help even if I don't. There's the guy who takes videos secretly -- for whatever reason, I can only guess. There's the guy who hisses whenever my barbell slams down after a really heavy lift, as if there's a way a 200-pound barbell won't attract attention when gravity finally pulls it back to the ground.

And then there are the comments about the muscles on my body.

"You don't look like a girl anymore"

How I look now compared to when I didn't have lumpy arms just might narrow down my dating pool. Rare is the guy who wants to date a girl with arms about as big as his. But I like what I see when I look in the mirror, so it should be a non-issue.


Of course, I still feel disappointed when I get unsolicited comments about my body. I can only imagine how they would feel if I were to return the favor, but I'd rather not stoop to their level. Besides, way before I started deadlifting and squatting my stress away, I had already learned to love my body unconditionally -- and perhaps even more so afterwards.

One thing's for sure: I won't stop lifting that stacked bar on my back just because I'm a girl. I love it too much to even consider quitting. And maybe, while I'm too busy counting reps and completing sets, a guy just might see my muscles and take them for what they are: proof that a girl can have just as much fun at the gym as he can.

Speaking of girl power, check out how veganism aligns with feminism by joining Manila Vegans on Facebook and following me on Instagram where I post about the food I eat (and the ethics-based sentiments I share) as a vegan. You might as well join Vegan Strong Philippines while you're at it!

Stef dela CruzAbout the blogger
Stef dela Cruz is a vegan doctor and writer. She received the 2013 Award for Health Media from the Department of Health. She is the editor of The Manila Bulletin's Animal Scene Magazine. Get in touch if you want to invite her as a speaker!