As longtime readers of this blog might already know, I’m definitely a “glass half full” kind of person. I can throw down criticism like any feminist-minded lady but I also believe strongly that an important part of working to change society is being able to recognize progress when it happens. If you spend all your time pointing out everything that’s wrong without ever taking a few minutes to look at what’s right, it’s easy to become jaded and cynical and to fall into the trap of believing that nothing ever changes and so why even bother trying.
Something came across my radar yesterday that exemplifies what I’m talking about. If you spent any time yesterday in the various women’s fitness circles of the internet, you probably heard about a pretty controversial article posted on the Women’s Health website. I found out about it from Reddit’s /r/xxfitness group, where a Redditor posted a link to an article entitled “Q&A: Are There Any Exercise Machines I Should Absolutely Avoid?” I assumed it would be about the Smith machine or something, but no, WH had consulted a fitness expert who said women should not do wide-grip lat pulldowns or flat bench presses.
From the article (archived in Google Cache, because the internet never forgets!):
Doing the exercise with a wide grip widens your back (no surprise there, right?). “It tends to exaggerate the muscles just above your bra strap—an area many women are trying to minimize,” says Perkins. “It builds the muscle outward. So the fat we already have there is pushed outward.”
So you’ve finally worked up the nerve to hit the bench—a notoriously dude-dominated part of the gym. Good for you! Just don’t follow their lead when it comes to the exercise you do. “The flat bench press builds the chest in a wide, forward direction,” says Perkins. The effect: Any little bit of armpit fat you have gets pushed out.
Truth be told, I didn’t find the article itself all that surprising. Articles like this are why I’m not all that interested in mainstream women’s fitness media anymore. I am trying to become as strong and fit as I can, and my pursuit of that goal has no room for worries about bulging bra-strap fat and whatever it is that we ladies are supposed to obsess about these days. (Insert “ain’t nobody got time for that” gif here.)
What I did find surprising, however, was how commenters went off on Women’s Health when the editorial staff posted it on Facebook. I mean, they eviscerated it. They were not having any of it. It was a glorious sight to behold.
Unfortunately, the glorious sight was a transitory one, as Women’s Health deleted the Facebook post a short while later, as well as the actual article itself. (Which is why the link I posted is from Google Cache and not the magazine’s website – big thanks to the Redditor for digging that up.) If you want to get an idea of what happened in the FB comments, you can check out the /r/xxfitness thread, the Fit and Feminist Facebook page or the comments on the cached article itself.
Obviously it’s not great Women’s Health is still posting things like this, especially as it appears as though they are on board the “LIFT ALL THE THINGS” train too – as evidenced by this article (written by Jen Sinkler!) and also this one (which quotes Rachel Cosgrove) – and thus should really know better. There’s really no excuse for a magazine that gives a platform to fitness professionals and lift-big proponents like Jen and Rachel Cosgrove to also engage in hand-wringing over armpit fat and wide back muscles.
But instead of feeling annoyed by the whole thing, I felt buoyed by what had happened. The magazine’s editorial staff thought their readers would be super interested in the article, but the readers responded with a tsunami of HELL TO THE NO that was so massive the magazine actually pulled the content from their site.
I will be surprised if they ever run an article like that on their site again and run the risk of incurring the fury of their readers. To me, that’s huge. That’s progress. It’s a sign that attitudes regarding women and fitness have changed dramatically in the past few years, and now it’s time for the mainstream women’s fitness media to start catching up to the rest of us.