Great guns! The latest arms race

Concert de Madonna à Paris Bercy, Août 2006
Concert de Madonna à Paris Bercy, Août 2006 (Photo credit: johanlb) See what I mean?

“Guns”, i.e. the upper part of the arm, where the triceps and biceps, when toned, make a clearly defined curve. I’d never heard that word until a few days ago.

When Katie Couric, the first woman in the U.S. to become a network television anchor, spoke at a New York City conference I attended last week, BlogHer, the 5,000 women attending, (most in their 20s and 30s),  sent in their questions for the on-stage interviewer to ask her.

I was excited!

I expected smart stuff from these hip, young bloggers, like:

What do you think will happen in Syria?

What story has moved you the most?

What do you think of this year’s Presidential race?

What’s your best advice to a young journalist?

Silly moi!

Instead, one of them was: “Great guns! How’d you get them?”

Yes, her upper arms, for a woman of 55, were strong, smooth and toned.

But, seriously, can we not, possibly stop focusing on what a woman’s body looks like?

My favorite part of the Harry Potter films is the invisibility cloak.

If I were granted a super-power, this is absolutely the one I’d choose. I’m damn grateful my culture doesn’t force me into a chador, seeing the world only through a tiny mesh screen, but I’m so weary of the 24/7 yammering about how thin/smooth/hairless/flawless my body must be in order to be attractive to others, both men and women.

I saw a woman on the train into Manhattan that morning, like so many I see where I live, in an affluent suburb north of New York City. She wore a tight athletic vest and workout pants, lean as a whippet, defiantly hip-less. Easily in her 50s, possibly beyond, her eyes and stance had an intensity I find really unsettling.

You can smell the desperation to be better than, the angry determination to rule their flesh, to beat back the softness, roundness or dimpling that betrays their body at its true age, 55 or 62 or 47.

So their weirdly ropy guns —  Madonna has them — have created a whole new arms race, with flesh-as-metaphor: I’m fitter/better-toned/stronger/healthier/prettier/more disciplined than you.

As a 55-year-old feminist, a former nationally ranked athlete whose sport — saber fencing — left me covered in small bruises people assumed meant I was a battered wife — I find this sad, and ironic.

I’ve known elite athletes whose bodies didn’t even look like this.

Jocks of all ages, male and female, have a sort of walk I find insanely sexy — a rolling, relaxed gait that shouts, quietly, how comfortable they are in their bodies. They know they’re strong and fast and flexible. They don’t need to prove anything.

I love being strong. I can still hit to the outfield. I value my muscles and what they do for me. I’ve always had big thighs, and use them happily for hiking out of a sailboat or hiking the Grand Canyon (four hours down, eight hours up.)

But, with age, my body is changing, softening, drooping. Thanks to my new hip replacement, I now have a shiny six-inch scar on my left hip. No bathing suit can possibly cover it.

I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror for the first few months, so shocking was this new permanent part of my body. Now I bear it proudly, running and dancing and climbing stairs as I once did, with breathless ease.

I wish our minds were as valued as our bodies.

I wish our arms were valued most for their willingness to embrace, to comfort, to soothe. To wave a banner or placard of protest. To plant and hoe and paint and execute a lovely port de bras.

I wish women — and men — would cherish our bodies, above all, for their strength, flexibility and power.

(We do this for every Olympic athlete.)

Do you?

23 thoughts on “Great guns! The latest arms race

  1. caitliniam

    It’s strange how our culture focuses on looks to a ridiculous amount, yet we get these odd extremes of people who are either freakishly skinny or overweight instead of people just trying to achieve health.

  2. I like to see a person – man or woman – who is well toned rather than fat and floppy. But I do not like to see people (women especially) who are thin from over-exercising at the gym, their skin browned to leather by the sun, and yet they think they are beautiful.
    I am about to turn 64. I have wrinkles. I am fit, but not slim any more. But that is who I am. Thankfully, I haven’t been a follower of any kind of fashion. I don’t want to be a model – I just want to be me.

    1. I think self-acceptance, let alone enjoyment, comes with age — because fighting it back is costly and, to some degree, fruitless. When I go to Broadway shows here, and get discount tickets in the costly seats, I see women in their 60s and beyond whose faces are scarily tight from surgery. I just don’t really get it. It seems they’re prey to relentless peer pressure, and maybe terrified their husbands will ditch them otherwise.

  3. As a 47 year old feminist and lifelong fitness fan, I struggle with the desire to be one of those whippet women with no fat, with my Eastern European Jewish heritage (antithesis of whippet thin), and with the desire to simply keep fit to keep doing what I love to do. Mostly, I keep moving because it keeps me moving, but I have that vanity thing going, too. Along with an advanced case of body dismorphia, so I don’t even really know what I look like anyway.

    1. So…personal question: why? What is the value (not being facetious) of being a woman with “no fat” (since it’s fat that also gives us our breasts, hips and booty)? To be sexy to (some) men? To feel OK around skinny women?

      It is very painful to hear you dislike/be disconnected from your body. Ouch!

      I am very lucky that my husband really loves my curves and sobs fake-loudly when I shed pounds and my bras get looser. I’m a 16 right now — and was a size 12 when we met 12 years ago. I would love to get back to that, not sure it is possible or sustainable. Esp. since the big M now allows me about 1600 cals a day and that’s hell and impossible for me.

      No, I don’t like being shut out of designer clothing. But I have only so much energy for self-hatred!

  4. For me, body is functionality, it is sports, work, life, and container for everything inside. If it stops doing what I want, that is a problem. I’ve just been to the surgeon about my shoulder, waiting to see. Guns for appearance, without purpose. Nothing good about them if they do nothing.

    There you go, Fit for purpose.


  5. Loved this post. Whenever I get to missing my flat stomach I look at my children and remind myself that my body was strong enough to carry those children. Lack of muscle tone was a small price to pay for those glorious people. I love the idea of being strong and that’s it should be about. I don’t want to spend all my time working out so I don’t and that’s fine.

  6. OK I am hooked. What a great blog post. Really.

    I sat beside a man in a restaurant recently, he is in his early fifties and divorced. He raised his eyebrows and made a sexual “woohoo!” when his college daughter mentioned her room mate walked around naked. He even clarified by stating the roommate’s name.

    Then five minutes later he chided his ex-wife for saying her doctor looked great because she was using botox. Double standards abound. In his mind it was ok for him to fawn over the image of his daughter’s naked 20 year old room mate, but for a woman in her fifties to want to look her best, that was wrong.

    I agree that a woman’s body should be valued AFTER her brain, but I also think that we as women should be allowed to do what we need to do in order to keep ourselves happy. Keeping fit isn’t about being better than anyone else, or being more disciplined, it is about being at our own personal best. Exersize shouldn’t be punishing our bodies, but rewarding the brain, staying flexible and staying positive. In other words, aging gracefully.

    Thanks for a great blogpost. And now I will hit the +Follow

    1. Love those lech-y old men with ZERO self-awareness.

      “Keeping fit isn’t about being better than anyone else, or being more disciplined, it is about being at our own personal best.” I agree, but I live in a HYPER competitive place. The scathing looks one gets if one is not a single-digit dress size are something else.

  7. I’m in my 40s and work out regularly and eat right. No, I’m not the nubile young thing I used to be, but I feel good and I’m healthy and active and that makes me happy. I don’t really care what other people think about my curves or muscles; I keep an eye on my weight for my own health. For me, it’s not about “OMG I HAVE TO LOOK SVELTE/SEXY/THIN/[insert term here] FOR EVERYBODY”; it’s keeping my weight down to lessen strain on the parts of me that are wearing down a little: knees and lower back, especially. And I like how I feel when I’m at a healthy weight (for me). I have more energy and I get out there and explore more and do more things.

    And I really dislike the culture of women’s value correlated to how they look rather than who they are in totality. That pisses me off to no end, and does endless damage to every girl who grows up in it, and is acculturated not to find value in herself or what she does, but rather in how she looks. Even in their 50s, there they are, trying to look like they’re 20 and “desirable”–usually to the male gaze.

    Work out and eat right because you LIKE it and it FEELS GOOD and makes you ENJOY the life you’re living. Not because if you don’t, you won’t “look good enough.” Good enough for what? Every woman here is unique, and has awesome stories to tell, and is a wonderful combination of all her experiences, both good and bad. And aging is part of life. I’m trying to do it as awesomely as possible, because I won’t ever be who I am now again. Ever. I don’t worry that I’m not attractive enough, not thin enough, not [whatever] because I want to be out there experiencing what I can of this life, and meet all kinds of people, and learn all kinds of things. Yeah, I get kicked in the teeth now and again. Christ, who hasn’t? It’s part of this wonderful, crazy, sometimes messed-up journey we call life. So I’m trying to stay healthy to participate in THAT, and to help keep this body up and running as long as I can with good, regular maintenance. And the occasional glass of excellent scotch.

  8. The “guns” I love the most are the ones of my mom… and she isn’t Madonna, but a perfectly healthy woman in her beautiful 50’s. I’m out of my country, and I miss her a lot. Her arms (even not the most tonned of the place) are the BEST.

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