This article originally appeared on VICE Spain. Most cultures expect women to be delicate and thin. And those women that push back on this tired stereotype are often met with anything from strange looks and quite sniggers to physical and verbal abuse.
"Muscles have historically been associated with masculinity because testosterone is what helps to convert proteins to muscles," explains physiologist Piero Galilea. We spoke to four athletes about the abuse they receive for their bodies and if they believe society's expectations of women will ever change.
Teresa Pérez, Bodybuilder
"The worst reactions I've experienced have usually come from other women. For example, when I was 15 years old, my mother was horrified when I told her that I wanted to do weightlifting. She told me that it would turn me into a man.
This other time, I walked past a group of women and overheard one of them call me disgusting. For a moment, I thought about turning around and saying something, but I decided it wasn't worth it.
I had another pretty unpleasant experience at a shopping center. I went into a shop to buy myself a drink, and when I stepped in, a couple started nudging each other and giggling toward me. Generally, it doesn't bother me when people look at me because I understand that having a different physique grabs people's attention. But being that openly disrespectful is a completely different thing. If you don't like how I look, then simply don't look. I definitely didn't ask for your opinion."
"I think it's a cultural problem more than anything. Most people expect women to be quiet and submissive, so they're surprised when they find a woman who is different. It's the same with our bodies—they expect women to be weak. Still, it seems to be more shocking for women than men. The macho stereotype associates muscles with masculinity. But I consider myself to be very feminine."
Ely Merino, Pilates Instructor
"I have tons of stories about the times I've had to put up with shit for having the body that I do. A very close friend of mine was once asked why they hang out with 'that transvestite.' I've also been called 'RoboCop,' and told that I shouldn't leave the house looking the way I do. I have super strong legs and abs, so comments like 'you could destroy me with one kick,' really piss me off.
I think women, in particular, make negative comments because they're jealous. And it's hard to see guys look at me the way they often do. Sometimes, I even stop feeling feminine.
It used to really annoy me even more when I was younger, but there came a point where I had to stop paying attention to the comments. I have worked hard emotionally to accept myself as I am, and now I'm delighted with my body."
"And on top of all this, trying to find clothes that fit me can be a traumatic experience. It’s difficult to buy high boots, for example. None of them fit because I can't get them around my calf muscles. The same goes for pants. I wish more people would accept that there isn't a single female body shape.
In our society, men constantly have to feel like they're strong. Often, when I'm loading up the paddle boards, there are guys who come over to me and offer to help. When I turn around and they see my biceps, they’re a bit caught of guard, and I think it's because they suddenly don't feel as manly as they would like to."
Rita García Herrera, South European CrossFit Champion
"My body represents my work and my training. I actually train to improve my performance and not to have a good body, but one thing naturally leads to the other.
I've been told many times that I'm too strong and that I look like a boy. But these kind of comments don't really matter to me. The truth is, I've heard it all. Once, a guy told that if his girlfriend became as strong as me, he would break up with her. But how I see it, your partner should love you for your personality, and not for your physique. Obviously, it's a look that you have to like, but luckily I haven’t had any problems with any of my partners.
Fashion and culture are what dictates that a girl should be slim and trim. I think things are starting to change, though. At least that's the way I see it."
TJ García, Physical Therapist and CrossFit Athlete
"For me, my body is the vehicle I use to enjoy what I like: sports and physical therapy. I've been called a man and a bull and told that no guy will ever want to go out with me. At one airport, they even mistook me for a man, and the person behind the counter ticked the male gender box. That really crossed the line.
Those comments and behaviors represent society's prejudices and fears. People don't understand that women can have a variety of body shapes. They're afraid of what is different and what they can't control themselves, so they try to attack. We are dedicated to judging others when we should all be looking inward, and not getting involved in things that are none of our business."
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.