Athletic Women Talk About the Abuse They Receive
"I've been called a man and a bull, and told that no guy will ever want to go out with me."
Photos L/R: TJ García by Gonzalo Manera, Ely Merino by Chechu Pajares, Teresa Pérez – her own photo
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 was walking down the street when I came across to women. As I walked past them, I 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 centre. I went into a shop to buy myself a drink, and when I stepped in, a couple started nudging each other and giggling towards 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 women who's different to their expectations. 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 loads of stories about the times I've had to put up 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 like the way I do. I have supper 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 trousers. 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 out, 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, Physiotherapist and CrossFit athlete
"For me, my body is the vehicle I use to enjoy what I like: sport and physiotherapy. 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 a line.
"Those comments and behaviours 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, what they can't control themselves, so they try to attack. We are dedicated to judging others when we should all be pointing looking inwards, and not getting involved in things that are none of our business."
This article originally appeared on VICE ES.