Some women think biceps are GROSS

I like my biceps

I like my biceps

I've been told my arms are too big (biceps above). 


And, not only are they too big, but they're too "muscle-y". And muscles on women, specifically biceps and triceps in this case, are gross.

That's not my opinion, but the opinion of some of the ladies out there.

In fact, just today, I received an email from one of my boot campers stating that she was concerned about her increased arm size. She said that since February when she started taking classes from me, that her arms have gotten bigger and other women have commented on it. They've said, "Your arms look stronger" ...and that bothered her.

She said that when she looks down at her arm when it's hanging by her side, that she can see a "bump" above the bend in her elbow (meaning she can see her bicep even when her arm is straight). And, in her opinion, that looks undesirable.

At first she told me she was upset that she put on weight since starting weight lifting in boot camp, but her clothes all still fit the same. Then, when I probbed into this comment, she admitted that her arms were too "muscle-y", and that was the real issue.

Now, let's get something straight. It's not like this woman's arms look like Madonna's or some other ultra-skinny celebrity out there (see example below... kinda gross there). Instead, they have a small amount (nice amount) of muscular development. Nothing outrageous - only athletic and healthy.

Now, I'm not sure why she thinks having some definition in her arms is a bad thing, but she got this idea from somewhere. And, this somewhere is bit out of tune with health and vitality.

Having some muscle on your body is actually a good thing: People that have more muscle mass (with enough healthy body fat that is), are those that suffer less injuries and live longer, richer lives.

Would you rather have some bicep muscles and not break your arm when you fell at an older age or have no biceps at all and crumble if you ever tripped over the edge of the carpet?

I'd like women to know that having muscle does not make you a man. Nor, does it make you look gross. But, not every woman feels this way and I do respect her opinion. But, I just don't get it and I hope one day they can understand that having muscle is a beneficial and healthy result of effective exercise. And, a little muscle rarely translates into a lot of muscle. Especially in women.

What are your thoughts?

Posted Sep 01, 2010 by Cassandra Forsythe.

Comments for This Entry

GravatarZach10:57PM on September 01, 2010

i think chicks with muscle are hot and really skinny girls are gross. obviously the females who compete professionally in bodybuilding are pretty disgusting, but i doubt its possible to get like that without steroids and decades of work. for the most part, girls tend to be way too skinny, and would benefit from some more muscle. i think tony gentilcore summarized the thoughts of every guy in this article when he said:

"At a time when women are constantly told by mainstream media and douchehole celebrity trainers that lifting anything heavier than three lbs will turn them into Chewbacca, and that eating celery sticks is a treat, this is definitely a breath of fresh air. I mean, I’m so sick and tired of seeing models with no ass, no muscle, and no shape being touted as the ideal “look” for women to aspire for. Why not just get a 2×4 and put a dress on it?"

GravatarMisty05:52AM on September 02, 2010

I am eagerly awaiting the day when I have visible bicep definition! A few weeks ago I realized I could see a shadow on my legs from some quad definition and I was very excited (still am!). Since the start of the year (when I started the Precision Nutrition program and really started paying attention to food and exercise), I've been looking at other women's muscles and coveting those that have definition. I think it's beautiful.

I can agree that I find 'too much' muscle on women distasteful, but my definition of 'too much' is probably a lot more than most. And even if I don't want to look like that, I still admire the work that went into it.

I'm starting with 'muscle acceptance' with myself and my daughters. When my 3 1/2 year old picks up and carries something heavy, I praise her strength. We eat sports candy to fuel her muscles. When I see someone with a body I'd like to emulate, I point it out to her and say how nice it is.

GravatarBethany06:29AM on September 02, 2010

I think having an athletic, muscular body is the PERFECT balance between being too skinny and being overweight. My biceps are pretty big when I flex (although, not as much as yours!!) but unflexed they look fabulous - not stick thin, but not flabby either.

I'm not a fan of the ripped bodybuilding competition look, but those girls look fabulous once they get up to a more normal body fat percentage when they're not prepping for competition.

GravatarTara06:41AM on September 02, 2010

I totally agree with you. I've been working my way through Rachel Cosgrove's Female Body Breakthrough, and the most exciting part has been seeing the definition I'm getting in my arms. They're not "gross" or too "muscley", they make me look strong and fit and that motivates me to keep pushing it week after week.

GravatarSarah08:17AM on September 02, 2010

I entertain myself by watching my bicep muscles jump around in the mirror sometimes.

I'm gonna guess your bootcamp lady doesn't have kids - nothing makes you appreciate biceps like lugging a toddler around!

GravatarJustina10:26AM on September 02, 2010

Hurray for strong, healthy arms (and legs and butts and backs and hamstrings and everything) on women! I just wish there were more clothes being sold that allows strong women to show off their stuff - seems everything out there is cut in a way to emphasize boobs and having everything else just serve as framing. Bug thumbs up to Michelle Obama, for figuring out how to dress in affordable clothes that make her fabulous arms look even more fabulous.

GravatarHari11:01AM on September 02, 2010

There was a time when it was considered unfeminine for a woman to be educated. We now know that the first women to become doctors, lawyers, and engineers were heros. In time, the same will be true of women who reject a lifetime of weakness.

GravatarHari11:01AM on September 02, 2010

There was a time when it was considered unfeminine for a woman to be educated. We now know that the first women to become doctors, lawyers, and engineers were heros. In time, the same will be true of women who reject a lifetime of weakness.

GravatarOpal11:06AM on September 02, 2010

I actually refused for months to give CrossFit a chance when I was first told about it because I didn't want to lift weights and "get big".
Most magazines portray women whom are thin, wafey, curvey, soft - telling us (society) that that look is what is desirable.
I think it's important that everyone is comfortable and happy with their body; for you, that line might be the "ultra skinny celebrities" that are "kinda gross". For your client, for me, for the girl at the office - that might be different.
Personally, I've found that I don't look as good in clothing when I am more built or cut. But it's a fine line to ride; some days I feel perfect, some days I feel too big, some days I feel like I look too skinny. But I think that's the fun of it; you never "get there" - it's a constant battle - changing, improving, adjusting...
A problem I find goes along with this is that - being as athletic as I am. It's hard to be feminine (look good in a dress) with all the bruises, scrapes, calluses from lifting, caving, hiking, martial arts, etc, etc.
And some might say, "that's awesome!" But I feel self conscious about it, because... well... again, you never see that in a magazine - they air brush that kind of stuff out for a reason, it's considered "unattractive" even if, the alternative would mean laying down and not doing anything fun/active to make sure your skin is smooth and perfect.
I guess, to each their own, as long as you're happy and healthy - it's hard to maintain that "perfect" image enough if you're constantly focused on it - much less when your focus is health/fitness and having fun!

GravatarPeter Fonzanoon06:17PM on September 02, 2010

The only time I have seen a women with any degree of added muscle who looked anything other than beautiful was when observing females on androgens. Mind you, I am not at all exclusively partial to women with muscle, so this should speak volumes about how added muscle does nothing to detract from a woman's overall look and femininity relative to her non-training or lightly-training counterparts. At "worst," it would have a neutral effect, and at best, it will add an extra dimension / "wow" factor to her look. Case in point, Cassandra, I often find myself rather jealous of your lucky husband. If we could clone women like you, it would make many males very happy.

So score another one for women embracing the strong and fit look.

Gravatarrhm10:33PM on September 02, 2010

Most of us live in a time and place where we don't have to worry about where our next meal is coming from. At different times, and in different places (right now) the struggle for survival means people have and are worrying about where their next meal will come from. With the riches we now have, the food choices, the fashion choices etc we are becoming exceptionally obsessed with body image. I think it just goes to show we have too much time on our hands. Even with an abundance of food available people choose to starve themselves and deny their bodies' nourishment - that takes a certain kind of crazy.

I say - lift to be strong and have fun and don't worry about all the people who have too much time on their hands and are spending it critiquing your appearance. In reality most (if not all) people who criticise you only do so because you have something they want.

GravatarLaurie09:16AM on September 04, 2010

I never really understood the whole thing with women not wanting muscle definition. I have a friend from Weight Watchers who won't do in weight lifting. My husband thinks she looks frail and unattractive. I like looking strong. Yes, Madonna looks freaky because, in my opinion, she went way too overboard on the fitness thing. I have to 100% agree with rhm that as Americans we have too much time on our hands to be obsessing over how one's body should look.
Cassandra I think you look awesome.

GravatarGráinne09:51AM on September 04, 2010

Thanks for this. I've struggled with it for ages. I think I'm naturally prone to being muscular-as a kid doing Irish dancing I ended up with impressive calves and a bit of swimming as a teenager gave me a broad back in no time! I'm still kicking myself that I let people get to me years ago. I was at my leanest (under 15% by Dexa) and actually doing pretty well-food was a mix of mostly good stuff with a few treats thrown in, was enjoying my workouts and felt good in my clothes. One day I went out for a run with a friend of mine and he looked at my arms, made a face and said "eeew! You'd want to cut back in the gym". I was so upset. I've never really managed to get back into the swing of things since. Have yo-yoed but it's always at the back of my mind. In retrospect, I wasn't huge....I was lean in my upper body so things were defined. Not sure how to get my mojo back and find a happy place!
Great to see you write this...and the comments above are really helpful.
I do want to know what the guys think too!

GravatarAnn Walsh11:31AM on September 06, 2010

Skinny chics need to eat a hamburger and stop worrying about how others look. Muscles on women are sexy, strong and intimidating! No ones gonn f*** with you if they see muscles on you. Anyway, to each his or her own!! People need to sttop judging others!! And for the comments about muscles from all the haters... jealousy is a green eyed monster that will come up and bite you on the backside.

GravatarJessica12:57PM on September 06, 2010

You know I love muscle! To be strong is so empowering for a female.

GravatarMargy06:57PM on September 06, 2010

My body type is very slender and it has been hard for me to put on muscle. After three years of CrossFit, my arms are finally strong. I can do pull ups, push ups and hold my own against most women my size. I am forty years old and often get told my arms looks like Madonna's.

I'm well aware that many people think this look is "kinda gross." I just didn't expect to hear this comment on a site that espouses strength for women. I would have hoped women would recogonize that "stronger" looks different on everyone.

GravatarAJ @ atothejay.wordpress11:52AM on September 07, 2010

To me, this is like a skinny woman complaining that she feels fat. Come on!! She probably looks great. I long for the day when I have visible muscle development in my arms!! And to have it be noticable enough for some one else to actually point it out?!?!!! Bring it on. The closest I've gotten is that a woman told me I was looking really "beefy" the other day....not exactly what I was looking for, but I'll take it ; )

GravatarLaurie05:35AM on September 08, 2010

I think Madonna doesn't look good anymore mainly because she is emaciated more than her muscles. Her skinniness makes her muscles look stringy. Madonna used to have Tracey Anderson as a trainer and Anderson had said women shouldn't lift weights heavier than 3 lbs. Anderson also thinks women should work out in hot rooms for at least 2 hours a day, 6 days a week and live on watermelon. I think Madonna started looking bad when she started using Tracey Anderson as a trainer, not when she was weightlifting.
The woman in Cassandra's essay here is too skinny too, which is why her arms look so developed.
Jennifer Garner has Valerie Waters as a trainer and she believes in weight training and Garner looks healthy and fantastic.

GravatarIlyse Kramer06:13AM on September 09, 2010

I love the look of biceps on myself--I often flex in front of the mirror, and I'm glad no one's caught me doing that at work! My muscles speak to the hard progressive workouts that I do as well as my commitment to a healthy diet and lifestyle. Also, to tap into what Leigh Peele has said in her "Even More Bulky Truth" Podcast, I love developing muscles and increasing my strength because I feel strong mentally as well as physically--I feel confident I can hold my own in challenging situations.

I do think though that we're a self-selecting group, that the people reading your blog and that of Leigh Peele's tend to be women who are already engaged in fitness and lifting, and when you are already have an interest or a passion, it can be difficult to see it from the outside. Leigh Peele's post "Defining Bulky" discusses this issue, and she cites a survey she did where she asked women about their opinions on lifting and developing muscles, and the majority prefered to be "soft and trim" over lean and muscular.

It sounds like a daunting task , but I think if we, as fitness enthusiasts and professionals want to challenge the belief that "biceps are GROSS" we need to tap into that strength and resolve that guides us in the weight room and educate the people around us. It's a challenging task because we're essentially challenging the dominant culture and status quo, but then again, if we wanted to do what was easy, we wouldn't be lifting!

This post has become a bit of a manifesto, so I thought I'd also include something I had originally wrote to send to the FitCast about "why I train"/"what keeps me accountable" when they were doing that contest back in July because my response answers that question as well as why I think biceps are FAR from gross.

Why I train:

To build a strong mind in a strong body

My gravitation to physical fitness was gradual. I was the clumsy fat girl who dreaded gym class and just wanted to sit in the corner and read. Then, I went to college, and sitting and reading all the time, I found myself craving physical activity. I began going to the gym, soon, training became a part of my routine, an escape from the sedentary and stressful world of academics. I discovered training was what I needed to recharge and perform my best--mentally as well as phyically. Still clumsy, I now delight in the challenge and thrill of training my body to learn new skills and become faster, stronger, and more agile.

Why I train:
To push back harder against limits and labels

Last year, I began "The New Rules of Lifting for Women" program and strength training in earnest. I began thinking about how, to quote Erica Jong, "Women have been idealized into powerlessness." Until puberty, males and females are more or less on par as far as strength is concerned, yet girls are taught to do "girl push ups" on their knees and discouraged from pushing themselves too hard in sports lest they get labeled unfeminine. I'm reminded of a classmate of mine who was a fierce and talented lacrosse player. She once said that whenever she was really going for it in the middle of a game, there was a voice in the back of her mind rehashing all the words for females who are too competitive and too aggressive, and because of that voice, no matter how hard she pushed herself on the field, she always knew she could go further.

Once girls become women, those labels about what an attractive female looks, lifts, and acts like, further dog us and limit what we deem ourselves capable of acheiving. I want to go far and I want to go hard, so when I pick up a barbell, I train to rebel against the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Gravatarjanelle07:47PM on September 19, 2010

As an athlete, I think that it's perfectly fine to have toned muscles..In fact, I would go so far as to say that it's sexy. However, I have to agree that having too much muscle definition or rather- bulk- doesn't look so great....just an opinion;)

Gravatarjeff07:55AM on June 02, 2011

I really believe muscle on woman is attractive,and healthy.It really falls on your personal preferance.I really like the feel of a womans arm,its very sexy,and I appriciate the work that she had to put into getting her arms that way.I believe its simple,some are intimadated by a muscular woman,afraid of the fact that she could be strong or even stronger than some of the men that dont like it,im a guy that is strong,and confidant,and ive taken some humble defeats in some armwresling matches with muscular woman.Woman if you are building muscle,love it.keep building it.You might need it someday.Its ok to be a female,and have muscular arms,and I will never change my oppinion of that,go for it

GravatarLucy08:41AM on June 09, 2011

Thank you! This blog really hit home! My arms are big. They had always been big but when my weight was 104lbs you can hardly notice them. Now that I have gained weight and started working out I am developing muscle and they seem much bigger. It is a terrible feeling to get every part of your body in shape and then have your arms bigger than some guys at the gym. I'm saying it is a terrible feeling because it is not seen as the norm. Lately, I've been buying tops and dresses with sleeves that go down to my elbows to hide my arms. Thank you for giving me the comfort of knowing that you are out there and that I am not alone! My arms are big and what I'm going to do about it? I have to deal with it! Lucy

GravatarAJ the Muay Thai Gear Girl07:15AM on July 01, 2011

When did a healthy BMI and muscles become unattractive? I enjoy flexing my biceps especially when I know I have some of the fellas beat! I think it is important for women to feel strong and powerful. Good work to all of you bulging bicep beauties. I will see you at the gym.

Gravatarjeff08:50AM on July 01, 2011

love the last coment from the woman that sayed she loves to flex esspecailly when theres people watchin,if she can out flex a guy thats cool to,if she has won armwresling matches thats cool to.woman should be who they are with biceps,or without biceps.personally as a guy I love a woman with muscle,it means they are healthy,and strong.If a woman approached me anywhere with muscle or no muscle and asked me to arm wresle I would do it,and if she won I would be ok with it.Todays woman is stronger than woman in the past.I see more biceps on woman now than ever before,do they look like men no,but they sexy ellagent,and most of all totally a woman.all the woman out there keep flexing your biceps,keep working out,be who you want to be,and if you do win an armwresling match feel proud,and post a video lol.

GravatarMazz05:10AM on July 16, 2011

My finance is a very fit hiphop dancer and netball coach. Shes very active, very athletic and very strong. You can tell she has muscle when she's wearing a little top or shorts and when she flexes "wow!" shes breathtaking to look at and inspiring when she flexes her biceps, abs, quads or triceps. Shes highly competitive and very very confident. What I love even more than the hard, defined sexy muscles on her dance figure is that she is so secure and happy physically and mentally and she inspires and encourages alot of girls younger than her to be the same. My kid sister for one has idolised my fiance from day one and wants a strong hard fitness body like my fiance. The both of them flex and show off alot and its great, its awesome that my sister can wrestle the guys and make them work for a win or even beat them! I love it that they are so healthy and its not just a good look for the sake of it. Keeps me on my toes too, like I said, shes very competitive and shes pretty happy that she nearly equals me in strength. Personally, the defined egg shaped biceps on her arms and her defined 6pack are incredibly sexy and no one we know thinks anything less or has said anything less than "wow" etc. Shes not huge, shes lean but buff. Also she has no shortage of energy, get up and go, motivation and drive to make her one fun loving classy adventurous chick to be with.

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