Lookin’ like a man (heavens no)

Taken during the Cap City Quarter Marathon. This is the only flattering race picture of me to exist.

I wasn’t supposed to watch it then, but during the middle school years, staying up late on Saturday night to catch MadTV was the highlight of my life.

One of my favorite characters from the show – if I can even pick one – is Ms. Bunny Swan. Played by Alex Bornstein, Ms. Swan is an adorable little woman who is often clueless to what’s going on around her, much to the frustration of those who are trying to get help or something from her. She spoke with an accent that nobody could pinpoint and whenever she was asked to describe a suspect or another character, her go to was: “He look-a like-a man.”

Ms. Swan lives in my head rent-free, especially when I’m at the gym during my lifting days. I hear her little voice, spoken along with a mischievous glimmer in her eye: “She look-a like-a man.”

I love that little voice. It’s a rallying cry, a bragging right and finally, at the ripe old age of 31, a source of pride. I have visible muscles, just like the men I used to envy who could build muscle oh-so-easily.

I’ve written about lifting before on here a few years back, about dumb things women who lift are told by either other women who have never lifted, or by men who have never lifted and have no idea how a woman’s body actually works. Part of why I’m passionate about resistance training is because of the benefits I’ve gained and wanting to spread the gospel about endorphins. The other reason is because along the way of making those leaps and bounds, I’ve been enjoying proving myself wrong about what I can do.

I started weight lifting at 19, when I was newly a college freshman. Back then I had pageant aspirations (I will tell this story one day, but in the meantime: it’s as embarrassing as you’d imagine), and I was trying to manage all my anxieties, so going to the gym and lifting high-rep low-weight was my go-to. It was always high -rep low-weight because I wanted to be toned and to not look too “masculine.”

Allison at 31 hates the word “toned” with a burning passion now, but back then toned was the way to go. Frankly, I was only working out to stay as slim and pretty as possible, with a dash of spite thrown in there to some of the folks I met my freshman year who swore up and down a significant weight gain was inevitable.

Over the course of my 20s my motivation for lifting has evolved. My reasons have been all over the place from spite, to stress relief to wanting to get my butt as big as possible. Eventually I settled on overall health and longevity as my lifelong reasons to stick with it, as well as the benefits of cross-training once I started running in 2016. Studies have confirmed that regular strength training can help runners build endurance, reduce the risk of injuries, gain speed and improve running form and economy. I’m convinced the only reason I’ve not had a running injury is because of having a baseline strength from lifting first. If that doesn’t make the case for lifting, I don’t know what could.

So those are the practical, scientific reasons why I lift. But I can’t forget about Ms. Swan from earlier, and so I need to go back to my spite-battle-cry motivation.

Up until my mid-20s, I struggled with anxiety and likely a case of body dysmorphia. I hate self-diagnoses, but looking back at the time I was coming of age (early to mid-00s), the standard of beauty being “super thin or else you’re hideous” and having the voices of abusive actors living in my head rent-free who were always telling me I was ugly and doomed to be miserable, I think my anxieties triggered a deep fear of looking anything other than perfect, of not fitting the societal mold of beauty.

Actually, I know they did. I was so unhappy in my skin between the ages of 10 to 18 that once I got to college, I thought I had the clean break to reinvent myself (which I did.) But my reasons for the reinvention were so jacked up that it really didn’t help anything. I had a good body, got plenty of compliments and attention from guys, but deep down I was still a hot mess. There was always something to feel insecure over and pick apart. I needed a brain reprogramming more than I ever needed visible abs.

One of the dumb things I had to unlearn was this idea that I could lift but “not too much” or else I’d start to look like a man. Since I was insecure in my femininity way back then, a stupid guy or gal making a comment about not liking women who look “manly” was taken to heart. Look at me, all healthy and lifting, but not too much to be manly. Which was honestly a stupid thing to think because:

1.) I’m a woman. Point blank. I’m feminine and will always be feminine because -surprise surprise – I am a woman. My soul, my intuition, definitely my hormones and the way my body operates from birth is the same as every other woman’s. So therefore, having visible muscles will never de-feminize me.

2.) If it were that easy to build muscle, do you all realize how many men would be walking around here looking like The Rock?

So I decided to start adding a little more weight. Then with a little more weight I started doing more reps, until it felt easy and I knew it was time to add more weight. I decided after turning 31 back in December and with the arrival of a new year it was time to see what this body can do. Three days a week it’s been upper body, with at least one day of lower body work to keep the glutes activated.

Now it’s the beginning of May. Reader-friends, you have no idea the elation it brought me when my mother showed one of my post-race pictures to a coworker who remarked that my thighs and arms are “big.” Allison at any other life stage would have fretted, but Allison at 31 loves those big defined arms and those big legs that can carry her over hills and through the woods.

To hell with looking just toned. To hell with listening to stupid cultural norms of what femininity and women should look like. She look-a like-a man, and she is proud of herself and her body.

And she can’t wait to see how her body continues to evolve and grow. Maybe next year she will look-a so much like-a man she can give Schwarzenegger a run for his money.

I hope you all enjoyed your stop by my corner of the internet.

Yours in life and running,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s