I’m Proud to be a Rhinoceros!

I am a rhinoceros. I realized that just a few hours ago, and I love it!

identity female fitness

Let’s settle one thing first. If you read that title and in any way think, “Aww, shame” or have any kind of pity that I would think of myself as a rhino, then you and I are different creatures entirely. There is no self-deprecation or lack of awareness in the way I view myself. And I wish the same for you and every one of my readers.

Today’s Manuscript Monday is another identity post. I know I’ve asked you before What Kind of Hero(ine) are You? and What Literary Character are You? I’ve asked Who Influences You? and talked about DNA and our cultural identity, but seriously, readers, maybe this one is just as important:

What Animal are You?

At the gym this morning, while I was leg-pressing, I noticed that I had a few people watching me. I have gotten pretty comfortable in the strength training area, so I don’t normally pay attention. I play my Power Training Music Mix (see list below), set my face to serious and get to work. Maybe I was paying attention more than usual because of my own excitement at lifting heavier. Whatever the reason, each time I got up to add more weight, I looked up to see people on the bikes staring at me, a couple guys in the strength area staring, and a couple women in the cable area. Staring.

It was kind of cool, kind of unnerving. I knew I was only about halfway to my final set, but I also knew that the weights on the press were double what most of the women at my gym are pushing. I took my press to its current max of 216kg (476 pounds) for the final two sets of 10, then tried not to look up or around again as I patiently unloaded the machine so it would be empty for the next user to start. I can’t wait to hit my next goal of 500 pounds, which is 226 kg. So close.

I have no aspirations to be a professional weight lifter. But I love strength, and I want to be as strong as my body can become naturally. I didn’t get the best genes from the family lines, but I did get strength. I love going to the “big boy rack” and picking up a 30kg dumbbell for rows. I’m ecstatic when it’s “bench press day.” I wonder, every single time, whether my strength and endurance will have increased.

My trainer keeps telling me I’m not just “strong for a girl” but “strong.” I’m not sure that would be the case if more people regularly lifted weights, but I know I’m strong, so I take it with pride. My favorite gym-goer, Wernher (click here and here for references to him) also tells me I’m strong regardless of gender. But it wasn’t until I was cooling down on the bike today and taking time to look around, that I was really thinking about it.

identity female fitness
Traveling Marla’s leg press is nearing 500 pounds as she trains at Virgin Active Hazeldean.

I was just watching the body types and what people were lifting and how fast or slow they moved on bikes, on elliptical, on leg pressing, on bench pressing. There is one guy I see regularly who is rather lean and has well-defined muscles. But he’s not very strong. At least, I should say, not strong by my standards of strength. He’s just well-defined. And that’s great for him. I’ve seen him on the bike and he’s incredibly fast. I kept thinking of a phrase I once heard a friend use to describe the first time he saw his wife at a track meet: “She ran like a gazelle.” I always thought that was a sweet and memorable way to think of his runner athlete spouse.

Then I started thinking about a woman I regularly see at the gym. I used to think of her as “worm with boobs” which is an awful, awful term. I would usually see her at a distance and all I saw was a stick figure with disproportionately large, fake breasts, and as someone whose only purpose for being in the strength training area was to bend and flex in front of men in what I considered the “real lifters” area.

I’ve always had an aversion to thin, the way some people have an aversion to fat. I’ve even caught myself with the same disgusted look on my face that other people have when looking at obesity. And while I do think the two reactions are based on an evolutionary response to what we see as unhealthy, I think the majority of our reactions are learned responses. I’ve worked very hard to talk myself down from this type of judgment, so it was awful that I began thinking of her this way. It was an ugly part of myself that I needed to fix, fast.

So I started watching her more closely. She actually seems to be a nice person. She works very hard to stay in shape, and regarding those boobs? Even when I had a small waist, I was never less than a “C” cup. I haven’t lived her life, and I don’t have a right to decide on her behalf what she should do with it. And even if she doesn’t turn out to be so nice, judging her body makes me feel not only like a traitor to females, but also like an ugly human inside.

While I was thinking of her I got to thinking that my judgment is reserved for humans, but not for animals. If I think of people in terms of animals, it’s easier to accept and love them for how different they are from myself. I’ve never, for example, looked at a cow and thought “God, you’re such a fatty. Lose some weight already!” Because a cow is supposed to look exactly the way a cow looks. And I’m pretty sure a cow never looks at a chicken and says “Man I wish I had her legs.” Because a cow is not supposed to have chicken legs. A cow looks exactly as a cow should look.

identity female fitness

So I decided I need to see people more as the way they are meant to be, and see myself as the way I am meant to be (and love to be).

In the case of the woman I previously called a derogatory name, she’s super skinny but super muscular. Again, she isn’t strong by my standards, but she has little fat and pushes her body to its limits (because all our limits are different) so her muscle definition is incredible. In fact, she should probably be a physique competitor if she isn’t already. I now think of her as a whippet. She’s lean, muscular and looks pretty fast on her cardio. My friend has whippets and they’re beautiful and amazing animals.

Why do I see myself as a rhino? Because I’m strong. I’m powerful. I’m rare and beautiful and unique. I’m quick-tempered but loyal and nurturing. I could never be fast (unless charging to protect myself or someone I love) and graceful like a gazelle or lean and hyper like a whippet. And I don’t want to be. I love my qualities, both in my physique and my character.

identity female fitness
Rhinoceros in Kruger NP

Kurt and I watched Grown-Ups 2 last night. It was the worst Adam Sandler movie I’ve seen, which was sad because I enjoy a lot of his comedies. Ironically they worked bullying into the storyline, yet the punchlines of most of the slapstick humor through the movie were their own forms of bullying in that they sent a message to the audience that certain types of people are okay to make fun of.

The one that stood out to me (of course) was the caricature they made of a female bodybuilder. She wore her “jock” attire at all times, muscles flexed, steroid-induced anger seeping from every pore. They paired her with the comedic and scrawny David Spade and never failed to crack jokes about her having a penis or wearing a jock strap, or alternatingly threatening and defending her partner (Spade).

It’s sad to me that it’s okay to equate muscle strength in females with a lack of femininity. I’m certainly not a traditional female by any means, but I’m plenty feminine in my own way, and it doesn’t undermine it at all that I can bench press your mama.

I asked Kurt about the portrayal in the movie, and asked him how he would like me if I built myself as strong as that woman. He didn’t even hesitate to answer “You would still be beautiful. You’ll always be beautiful, because happiness is what makes you beautiful, and being strong makes you happy.”

It’s true. The more I dig to find what makes me happy as an individual, regardless of others’ expectations of me, the more confident I am in every aspect of my life. And confidence is beauty.

I love what I can do with my body and how powerful and healthy I feel after lifting. I love knowing that when we return to Pennsylvania, I will still be strong enough to be Frontier Wife again. And I love the blisters and callouses that accumulate on my hands from lifting. Because when I’m away from the gym they remind me to be strong, always, and to hold my head high and love who I have become.

identity female fitness

Friends, regardless of whether I see that man as a gazelle or that woman as a whippet, we are the only ones who can decide what kind of animal we are. We can’t look at another person and choose for them, because it’s more important who they believe they are rather than who we project onto them.

So, I’m curious…What animal are YOU?

Love, Marla

P.S. If you want to know what’s on Marla’s Power Training Music Mix, here it is. It’s not suited to many tastes, and I prefer the beat and rhythm to the words in many, but I chose it because I like lifting to more aggressive music, and because since I don’t listen to it outside of lifting, it works as a Pavlovian trigger:

Marla’s Power Training Music Mix

Get Up (50 Cent) – I start with this one every single time.
What’s Your Fantasy – Ludacris
Timber (Pitbull, Ke$sha)
Rollout (Ludacris)
Whistle (Flo Rida)
In Da Club, We Be Clubbin’ Remix (50 Cent, Ice Cube & DMX)
P.I.M.P. (50 Cent)
You Don’t Know (50 Cent, Eminem, &tc)
21 Questions (50 Cent)
Ayo Technology (50 Cent, Justin Timberlake)
Window Shopper (50 Cent)
Dynamite (Taio Cruz)
We Speak No Americano (Yolanda Be Cool)
So What (Pink)
Shake That Thing (Nelly)
I Like It (Enrique Iglesias & Pitbull)
Right Round (Flo Rida)
Rehab (Amy Winehouse)
Candy Shop (50 Cent & Olivia)
Shake That Ass (Eminem)

More Manuscript Monday posts:

Meanwhile, Russia Hates America: So Kiss Me, I’m Irish!
Mrs. Kurt: Identity Struggles on Manuscript Monday
The Hue of You
I May be a Nudist, But I’m Not an Exhibitionist
Bottled Flatulence of Literary Elitism and the Cannibalistic Marla-Cow
The Great Divorce
The “W” in my Wrollercoaster
“When”, not “If”
Geraldine Brooks Tickets, Ned Stuckey-French and a Poem on Manuscript Monday
There Was a Little Girl
Climbing St. Paul’s Cathedral in London
What Kind of Hero(ine) Are You?
Stephen Foster Day, and Truth vs “Truth”
Ignite Your Bones
A Man in the Jaws of a Crocodile
The Influence of a Vietnamese Temple
Writing is Like Christmas Morning…at the Bates Motel
Who Influences You?
Wallenda’s Highwire Locale, and the Supermoon: “Creative” Nonfiction?

3 thoughts on “I’m Proud to be a Rhinoceros!

  1. Not sure what I am. Once I was a dancer, strong. Never thin, like you think of dancers bodies but muscled. Now waiting for permission to go back to the gym, to much injury to ever get really strong again but like you still ‘strong’. I think I will have to think about this.

  2. I forgot just how much I looked up to you when I met you at the coffee shop, Marla. But this just brought it all back. You are one of the strongest and most beautiful (inside and out) women I have ever met. Thank you. You just lifted my spirits tremendously!!

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