Will the media ever stop portraying beautiful women as those who are skinny, frail and dainty? Will we ever see an athletic body walk the runway? We hope so! Occasionally stars like Noomi Rapace (in this month’s Prometheus) or Angelina Jolie (in Mr. & Mrs. Smith–where she had the best line ever, “wait, why do I get the girl gun?”) are given the chance to challenge those norms, adding a little diversity to the big screen. It’s a start, but not nearly enough from an industry that more often tells women that thin and weak equals pretty.
To find out more about how this is changing, we talked with Vanessa Gale, accomplished weightlifter and owner of PrettySTRONG Powerlifting, who says we need to continue striving to get more fit, strong, muscular women in the media and on the runways–because strong and healthy equals beauty, not what some magazine or fashion show tells us.
I love the name of your fitness organization, PrettySTRONG Powerlifting. What is the philosophy and message that you try to send to women with this?
PrettySTRONG Powerlifting was established by and for the ones who defy stereotypes. We lift heavy to be strong and healthy. We strive to empower and strengthen those who want to be the best at anything and everything they do. Our mission is to promote female athletics by providing informational resources, recognition and entertainment for our athletes and readers. Our passion for the SPORT drives us to share this healthful lifestyle with everyone, not just women.
“PrettySTRONG is a mindset that few dare to express. We release the female spirit through athletics. We are competitive, yet united through natural talents and strength.”
It seems like women are not always portrayed as strong and powerful in the media and in Hollywood today. Would you agree?
Actually, I find that Hollywood is starting to catch on to the strength that women possess. There are a lot of characters that are smart, strong and outwit the male characters in cinema. The problem we are facing is the women in “fashion.” These malnourished skeletons that walk the runway for a living and grace the pages of Vogue are the ones making women think frailty is what women “should” look like.
Why do you think that is?
That industry will always say that SKINNY looks better in high-fashion, couture clothing, and maybe this is true, but where is the harm in making clothes that look good on women with big, strong, powerful legs, hips and shoulders? Clothes are not made for women of muscle. Girls with any extra development can forget about wearing regular clothes. Thank goodness for tailors. We look better naked, so maybe we should just start boycotting clothes until Couture changes its tune.
What do you think our society can do to move away from viewing women as dainty, frail, “girly” and even sex objects to strong, powerful, confident, capable women?
This is the ultimate question, isn’t it? If everyone thought as we did, the problem would be eradicated. But, unfortunately, there are still people out there who want women to be controllable, and the sad part is, some women still feed into this. What we have to do is show the world that bigger, stronger women are actually healthier. Not much else we can do until people change their current perception. I am lucky enough to be surrounded by people who support what I do, but I know that so many out there are NOT supported in their training endeavors.
How can weightlifting help with that and change those stereotypical views of women?
Lifting weights not only builds muscle and makes the body tight, curvy, and more capable, but it makes everyone (women and men) more functional members of society. As primitive as this idea is, the truth is that strong people can withstand more.
What about negative body image and the fact that our culture tends to values thin body shapes the most? How can weightlifting help with that?
Weightlifting combats this because it certainly does put size on if you do it long enough. It reduces fat, and who doesn’t want to do that? But, women still want to be “thin”… I really don’t know why anyone wouldn’t want more muscle–I always have, and always will. We can’t change the way people think, we just have to try to combat society’s brainwashing tactics by getting more fit women in bigger publications until the minority becomes the majority on this issue.
There is obviously nothing wrong with wanting to be pretty. In your opinion, how can women best portray themselves as both pretty and powerful?
The best way to do this is by getting these women to have better self-esteem! The mantra in my home is, “Self Esteem: It’s what you think about YOURSELF.” So it shouldn’t matter what society’s idea of “pretty” is, and that’s what we have to get people to understand. Sometimes there is extreme beauty in the grotesque. I mean, look at art. It can take your breath away without being “pretty.” Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder, and we have to remember this.
Can you give me an example of one of your clients who is a positive role model of this?
This answer might surprise you, but I’m going to have to say my best friend and boyfriend, David. He is the most positive role model of this message because he is one of the few men who isn’t intimidated by strong women. He knows that women can be just as strong, if not stronger then him, and he celebrates that. We have to give credit to those men that are fighting this fight right along side us. Let’s face it, men still rule the world, so if we get them on our side, strength might start to be considered “sexy” again (as I imagine it once was, when we were living in caves and hunting wooly mammoths).
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from weightlifting?
Patience. Living in today’s world, everything is instant gratification, but the barbell humbles us all. Day in and day out, the same weight feels heavy for weeks, months, years, and then gradually it becomes lighter. If I hadn’t learned patience, I would have given up by now.