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  • 11 min read

by Christian Duque

Muscle Shaming seems to be alive and well in mainstream life, the workplace, and especially on social media. Unlike other forms of discrimination, those who engage in this type of insensitive behavior can do so in many different ways. For example, a common way is to speak with the eyes only. A disapproving look can say everything words can. If a dirty look is accompanied with other non-verbal body language (e.g. nods of the heads or shrugging of the shoulders) it can compound the offensiveness. Some people can also look away from someone, which is a pretty rude thing to do to a totally random stranger.

Other people feel compelled to say something; they might make a comment about the amount of muscle, the size of the muscle, or simply try to preach what the ideal look is and how your look doesn’t fit that mold. The sense of entitlement some people have is jaw dropping.

That being said, how the person receiving these comments responds, also varies. I’ve noticed that very few people are so hateful that they’ll actually say something to someone in person, but when it happens, it’s usually some blockhead guy trying to shame a muscular woman. Little do most people know, you only attack that which you fear, don’t understand, or are attracted to. A huge number of some of the most homophobic people, for example, are acually closeted/bitter homosexuals. The same goes for guys who like to emotionally bully women with muscle.

Unfortunately, it’s not just block-headed guys who bully fit women; there are also women who subscribe to pretty conservative gender roles, that do so, as well. Some women strive for the 1950’s way of life, but that also includes a time when men, largely, looked to women as little more than property. These women, like their equally backward male counterparts, will also try to shove their definition of gender roles and what’s proper as the orders of the day. Anyone who disagrees publicly, falls into the trap, especially online. That would be the internet equivalent of feeding the trolls, in real life. Just by responding, you enable them. Perhaps the most offensive bullying of all, takes place online.

The internet brings the best and worst out in people. Whereas some people feel the need to share their opinions in person, many more seem to do it online. This usually happens on message boards, groups, and/or chat rooms. If and when it happens among people you actually know (e.g. actual friends, family, or co-workers) it can be extremely awkward. And while I’ve never seen significant others do it outright, I have seen where couples do so subtly.

You might have a couple where one person is not fit and their mate is a competitor. Sometimes, you might see little digs here or there, but as I previously stated, the net is more about random strangers looking to pass judgment on others. In the end, it’s all about them. If someone wants to build a great physique, eat well, stay hydrated and healthy, that’s what they do. People with muscle are generally happy, they’re on their journey, and sometimes it’s the journey, the discipline, and/or the consistency that rubs certain people the wrong way. Think about it, most trolls are essentially failures with an internet connection. The last thing they want to see is, are driven people, who are constantly improving themselves and inspiring others.

In the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, muscular guys were, largely, thought to be gay by (ignorant) mainstream society. Bodybuilding was totally novel, there were very few magazines and these had very limited circulation. Youngsters didn’t aspire to be huge, folks didn’t talk all year about who would be on the Olympia stage, and I doubt there was much along the lines of a fitness industry.

As bodybuilding grew, particularly with the film Pumping Iron, and with gyms opening up throughout the country, so too did the perception of muscle. Not that there’s anything wrong with being gay, but to think all bodybuilders were gay, was pretty narrow-minded. Also, to think there isn’t a gay population in bodybuilding – then or today – would be equally absurd. That being said, the trolls of yesteryear used assumptions about sexual orientation as a way to offend those whose attention they sought.

Trolling is as much about attention, as it is about creating havoc. If you took the attention out of it, many of these bums would never try to cause turmoil. As many trolls moved away from those attacks, they opted to accuse every bodybuilder of gear use; a tactic which remains alive and well today. As of the early 1980’s, particularly with the film Pumping Iron 2: The Women, many trolls began to set their sights on the ladies, too. Now mind you, trolling in person is a lot different than doing so online. It takes a certain level of guts to do that, and most trolls (as we know them) are spineless turds who hide behind their computers and phones. This is why online trolling is such a problem.

Trolls who muscle shame women can be the most cruel and hurtful of all. They like to question women’s gender, they use sexual orientation as a means to attack, and they also employ the drug angle. They will question their beauty, they will gauge their femininity, and they will do their best to humiliate them, any and all chances they get. From “innocent, harmless jokes” to subtle digs to downright negativity.

In fact, there was a time when shunning muscular women was the cool thing to do, for some. Most of these mormons’ lives could be boiled down to monkey see, monkey do. Remember, people who participate in bigotry – of any sort – are usually among the most uneducated, simple-minded, and frustrated humans on this rock called Earth. As opposed to exercising tolerance and wanting to learn about different walks of life, they go out of their way to humiliate people who they deem to be wrong. Anything foreign, anything novel, is also usually wrong to them.

The idea that a woman is more feminine if she has less muscle, is as male chauvinistic as you can get. Muscle knows no gender. And what the hell is femininity anyways? What’s masculinity? These are concepts that are wholly learned behaviors. A lot of it is based on television, radio, movies and books. How people are thinking, over time, is what creates culture and gender roles are born from this.

Look at the 1950’s life so many people in America wish they could have. Men worked and women ran homes and raised kids. In this construct, if a woman wanted to be a doctor, a lawyer, or run for public office, she simply couldn’t. If she didn’t want to cook and clean and the money was there, she could hire a housekeeper (like on The Brady Bunch), but that still didn’t mean she could enroll in college, have a career, or ever dream of making more money than her husband. As backward as that may sound, there are men and women who wish those days could be their days. And that’s fine; to each their own.

So what’s the main culprit behind muscle shaming?

Intolerance is the root evil of all of the muscle shaming we see online. Whether it’s because of insecurities or disapproval, social media affords hateful people with the ability to attack countless people. I’d say the best way to address these losers is ignoring them, but I’ve seen some muscular women take them to task, flip the script in the conversations, and even turn their followers on the haters, as well. These can all be effective measures. Like I told IFBB Pro Gina Cavaliero on a recent IG LIVE on @StrengthAddicts, at least a few of the people who attacked female bodybuilding just five or six years ago, are among the division’s most vocal supporters of it, today.

Did they realize they were wrong, did they evolve as humans, or could it be the fact that Jake Wood breathed new life into the division, created the ultra successful Wings of Strength empire, and in 2020, bought the Olympia and all Weider publications? Many of the guys who made off-color jokes, rolled their eyes, and talked about how no one wanted to see women that muscular, are now kissing major ass and cheerleading like their lives depended on it. Maybe their lives don’t, but their paychecks certainly do!!
Today, muscular women are once again getting the respect they always deserved. Maybe the increased trolling comes as a result of the division’s staying power and refusal to go out without a fight. Even though women’s bodybuilding was removed from the Arnold and Olympia stages for a half a decade, ladies kept knocking on the door at the amateur national level. You had ladies all around the world working towards earning pro status, even during days when there were less and less stages for them to compete on. Did that stop them? No way! Will trolls stop them? Hell No!! Trolls will never win, but then again, their presence and/or input matters not. Still, it’s not for a lack of trying.

Many of these characters study their victims; they pick the happiest and saddest of times to strike. I don’t know if it’s a game to them, a thrill, or what. All I can say is, the negativity they harbor will eventually consume them. These aren’t happy people; they contribute absolutely nothing to society. If they can attack people they don’t know, for simply chasing their dreams, imagine how delightful they must be to know in regular life. Could you imagine being married to someone like this, having had to grow up with someone like this? I sure can’t. Trolls don’t just wake up and decide to torment people; they’ve probably led tormented existences for as far back as they can remember. F*ck em!!

If you want to get jacked, do it! If you want to be a cardio bunny, do that! At the end of the day, we all have a look we’d like to achieve. Some of us get there and others simply won’t give up trying. If you’re going to say anything, let it be supportive. If you have nothing positive to say, maybe sit down and collect your thoughts. Why is it that someone else’s physique bothers you? What’s the root cause of that, especially if it’s a person you don’t know?

I think if people really explored their outlooks more, then perhaps they’d evolve that much sooner as human beings. No one who trolls can be happy with themselves. Anyone who laughs off of someone else’s misery is one sick SOB. Get help. Change how you think, by breaking down the stereotypes and intolerance. And if you want credentials that back up my advice, I have none, except for having lived as long as I have. I’ve seen and heard a lot of muscle shaming. Muscle shaming, of men or women, is not funny and it’s not innocent. Whether it’s suggesting muscular people are less smart, have to be hitting the sauce hard, or questioning their morals, gender, orientation or success in life, simply because of the size of their muscles – is deplorable. If you laugh – or even stay silent – you’re empowering them.

If you see it or hear it in your immediate presence, you can totally condemn it, while being cool, calm, and collected. Next time someone who you consider a friend does this, stop them dead in their tracks – online, in person, wherever.

I hope you enjoyed reading my article, here, at Iron Magazine. What are your thoughts on people that engage in muscle shaming, particularly those who like to shun muscular women? Why do you think they go out of their way to spread negativity?