Love of Labour Lost

FFG after a back workout last year. I cannot wait to train hard again!

FFG after a back workout last year. I cannot wait to train hard again!

Hard work no longer gets much respect. That pisses me off, something easily accomplished these days. I am curmudgeonly, quick to anger as I carefully slide my swollen ankles—they are in fact cankles—across the icy sidewalks in Edmonton. Foetor is now quite large, weighing me down while throwing off my already precarious sense of balance. Without going into too much detail, every little thing—putting on my preggo tights, tying my shoes, cooking a four course meal for 11 guests—takes additional effort, drawing my attention to the hard work of simply living life. After some reflection, I have concluded that labour is now regularly taken for granted and even disdained. I am not really talking about the labour related to pregnancy, however. The problem is more general. In every domain, hard graft is no longer recognized or given its due.

PDDs does not look this way by accident.

PDDs does not look this way by accident.

Just the other night, a small, slim Asian woman was eavesdropping on me and PDDs as we changed in the locker room after working out. Upon hearing PDDs describe her ravenous hunger—she exercises strenuously and eats pretty clean—the unknown lady piped in, asking for fitness advice. “Lift heavy weights,” said my lovely and lean workout partner. “Oh no,” the young woman protested, “I do not want to be muscular. That is why I never do weights and am cutting the protein out of my diet.” A stony and stunned silence filled the change room. “Well then, you are just going to be skinny fat, not fit.” I bitchily declared. As I looked at the horrified woman, I noticed that she was already there, living the dream of taking up as little space as possible. She was misguided but that is not what angered me. I was perturbed by the fact that this woman assumed that she would get muscular and ripped at the drop of a hat, “by accident” if she did not carefully cultivate a soft and squishy appearance. Clearly, she underestimated the sustained hard work and dedication that growing muscle and maintaining fitness requires. That’s what burned my ass.



Something similar happened to me about 8 months after my figure show, when I still had visible musculature (right now I exhibit a 34-week protruding pregnant belly). Back then I was doing hammer curls in the “lady area” when a tiny newbie enjoying a guided tour of the gym gasped at my appearance before loudly whispering: “I do NOT want to look like her.” Now, under normal circumstances I would have cut her down to an even smaller size, asserting myself by saying something like: “Don’t worry bitch, by doing zumba classes three times per week and the odd 20 minutes on the elliptical you will never look like me. In fact, you will never look any different than you do right now.” Unfortunately, I was an employee at the gym, finding the extra $300 a month for teaching spin classes rather useful, so I remained silent. But I did not forget, and I will never forgive.

Iris Kyle and her magnificent thighs win her a 9th Ms Olympia title.

Iris Kyle and her magnificent thighs win her a 9th Ms Olympia title.

PDDs had another story, from a friend who wanted to start working out, but was afraid of getting “frog legs.” “What on earth are you talking about?” queried my workout partner. In response, PDDs’ friend sent her a photo of the ripped and muscular legs of a female heavy weight bodybuilder. WTF? Basically, the totally unfit woman was fearful that doing anything more than walking to the 7-11 would produce similar results. “You are never going to have legs like that, no matter how hard you work out,  no matter what you do,” PDDs commented. “Seriously,” PDDs continued, “if it were easy to achieve those muscular legs, I would have them right now!” Shaking my head in disbelief, I confidently said: “Oh I might be able to grow those legs, given my strong lower body and short stature, but only if I dedicated myself to training and proper nutrition for the next 15 years. I would then use my giant flipper feet to kick that stupid idiot friend of yours right in the face.”

What is wrong with these women? Do they not realize how fucking hard it is to look like a bodybuilder? I think naive guys often make the same mistake, at least according to a local super heavyweight male bodybuilder who is regularly approached by young men asking for advice. They wish to enhance their physiques, but “without looking like you, dude.” They are never going to look like this gigantic, ripped man. He has invested decades of training and education into his body, not to mention hundreds of thousands of dollars in coaches, supplements, and high-protein food. His physical accomplishments were hard won, over many years, and with much sweat and sacrifice along the way. So fuck off you little twerps!

Yet another category: the fitness diva model. Can anyone please explain what wearing different costumes has to do with fitness?

Yet another category: the fitness diva model. Can someone please explain what wearing different costumes has to do with fitness?

The belief that things come—or at least should come—easily pervades our contemporary culture. It sheds light on the recent cancellation of the Ms. Olympia heavyweight female bodybuilding competition in Las Vegas. It seems that the smaller and less muscular physiques of bikini girls are both more marketable and less challenging to sexist stereotypes about women as men’s “other,” i.e. their weaker vessel. But an insistence on rigid gender roles is not the only reason for the bias against heavyweight female bodybuilders. The official reason given for the change focused on the fact that the same competitors have entered the Ms. Olympia contest year after year. Of course they are the fucking same women. Who else could achieve these goals? Heavyweight female bodybuilders are elite athletes, taking decades to construct and perfect their bodies. Most people can barely make it to the gym past January 31, regardless of their initial resolutions. The long hard labour of female bodybuilders deserves to be respected! Instead, the easier categories are taking precedence, like bikini in which you can simply stop adding blueberries to your Greek yogurt for a few months before becoming a “competitor.” I know that many bikini girls are in fact strong, with muscular bodies, but the majority of them do not train or diet seriously, especially for entry level shows. Should someone take pride in half-assed dieting, a few months of semi-hard training, and paying crap loads of money to get their hair and make up done? I say no. I cannot even call myself a competitor, despite working out for 20 years, deliberately gaining muscle for 5 years, and then following a 20-week-long hard core diet to the letter before hitting the stage in 2011. Getting my nails done and wearing a posing suit were easy and count for shit. I am instead proud of my commitment and hard work, but that means little these days, right former Ms. Olympia hopefuls?

Convenience and speed of transformation are now equated with value. This expectation of easy results extends far beyond the fitness world. Many kids in their 20s assume that they should have a house, car, and leather sofa right away, after getting a short-cut education. I often face university students who complain about doing too much work, despite the fact that standards have never been lower and grade inflation is still on the rise. “Well, if you want a quickie two-year certificate at some lame-ass community college feel free to go there,” I advise. “When you later find that you have few career opportunities and need to retrain in order to move up, do not come crying to me.” Short term goals and general laziness are prized but are rarely fulfilling in the long term. The assumption that things should be easy nevertheless fuels the debt crisis: everyone tries to have it all without actually earning it.

Me training with DYT in March 2011.

Me training with DYT in March 2011.

That is the end of my rant, unfortunately. I could go on but have already been quite a pissy pants on Christmas day this year! In my not-so-humble opinion I worked fucking hard for everything I have without receiving financial support from anyone. Then I trained at the gym for years on end before I got on stage to do a figure show. It is true that I did nothing to achieve my current pregnancy; that was an accident. Yet I am pretty sure that some hard labour is about to come my way. I plan to buck the trend and embrace it. Who is with me?

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About feministfiguregirl

I am a 51-year-old professor named Lianne McTavish who receives as much satisfaction from working out at the gym as from publishing my academic research. About eight years ago, I decided to combine my two primary identities (scholar/gym rat) to create "Feminist Figure Girl," a fictional character who both analyzes and participates in bodybuilding. I competed in my first figure show in June of 2011, and then wrote a book inspired by the process, published by SUNY Press in February 2015. In this blog I will write about and consider my ongoing research on the body, while regularly making fun of myself. I recommend that you start reading my first post from August 2010 (available on the home page), instead of backwards from the most recent one, in order to get the full FFG effect.

6 thoughts on “Love of Labour Lost

  1. I had a similar situation in the gym. I lift heavy, eat well, train hard, and I *still* am not huge. I’m starting (after almost two years!!!) to get the body I want, but I am nowhere near body builder physique. I saw a woman I work with at the gym and she said she wanted to start lifting weights, but she didn’t want to do anything heavy because she didn’t want to “bulk up”. The woman was at least 75lbs overweight. The last thing lifting was going to do was bulk her up- she was already “bulky!” Then she got on the elliptical for an hour. I just felt bad for her because she is misinformed. That’s what it is, people are misinformed. I’m studying to become a personal trainer and that’s one of the biggest things I’m excited for- educating people who are ready to listen!

  2. I really enjoy your blog and find your posts very satisfying to read, so first off, thank you!
    However, on the issue of body building, I must say that there seems to be a great deal of intolerance on the part of the athletes towards anyone who doesn’t agree with the aesthetic.
    I fully agree that the comments by the gym-goers who fear bulking up are ignorant and uninformed (and in very poor taste), but one’s body shape is a matter of personal preference. It is possible to achieve various healthy alternatives.
    I understand your point that there is a lack of appreciation for the hard work and time investment in achieving a muscular physique, but I find the lack of regard for someone else’s aesthetic quite jarring.

  3. I took up weights at the age of 16 because I was bullied at school. My dad suggested that I get stronger if I wanted to defend myself from the bigger girls. (I went to an effed up school and I had a cool dad.) Up until that age, I tried to be thin like the skinny girls by starving myself, doing leg lifts in my bedroom and being miserable in general. It wasn’t until I stayed after school for the weights program that I discovered that I was strong; also it was the very supportive gym teacher who told me that I had a natural body for weight lifting, and that I was a “Mesomorph”. When I looked up what that meant, I felt sort of special. Armed with the knowledge that I was meant to be muscular, I felt more motivated to lift with the guys more often, my confidence increased, and the bitchy girls stopped messing with me. I did put on a little muscle, but it wasn’t until 1999 that I discovered power lifting through Krista Scott-Dixon’s website; then I really put on some noticeable strength.
    So, I thought it was kind of strange for Elena to say: “one’s body shape is a matter of personal preference.” I disagree: your genetics chose your body-type (shape), not you. I don’t think you really have a choice. Maybe some people can choose to be skinny, but I don’t respond to exercise that way. I am stout, I am bulky. I am useful; made for hard labor, and at the age of 42, that’s fine with me.

    • Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment Sharon. I agree that genetics largely determine our body shapes. I think that even when we attempt to fight those genetics, however, this is not simply a choice based on personal preference, but is a decision shaped by a rather limited set of culturally sanctioned options.

  4. I’ve discovered the value of hard graft. Results and a sense of accomplishment. It wasn’t always so. Wanting a bigger, stronger body, I overused a variety of steroids to help attain that goal faster. I believe the cancer I developed occurred as a result of the steroid abuse. The obvious – even to me – link being between artificial hormones and testicle cancer. The fact cancer developed in both testes makes me believe the steroids were the cause. The end result has been that I had both testicles removed, endured radiation, and lived without testosterone for a year. My muscles seemed to dissolve into fat and the thought of living a life without the benefit of testosterone was almost too much. It was actually looking at female athletes that put the idea in my mind that a good physique could be attained without the benefit of having balls. I made slow gains back to fitness. Even now, on testosterone replacement therapy, I am focussing on hard work and technique. Quick gains aren’t gains is my motto now.

    Great blog, btw.

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