Remember when Madonna was criticized for having an eating disorder because a photo showed her veiny arm?

The photo above generated a lot of negative feedback for Madonna, because people thought that the prominent bulging veins meant she was underfed, and they called her too thin. What’s actually going on is that Madonna is a physique enthusiast. 

If you’ve ever seen photos of female physique athletes on stage, you would have noticed the vascularity in their arms.

Yet these women are hardly underfed, though they DO strictly diet for several weeks prior to a competition.

However, a woman can maintain veiny arms year-round. Undereating is NOT how this is done.

As a former personal trainer and physique enthusiast myself, I know what it takes to get this kind of arm.

If bulging veins in a woman’s arm mean she has an eating disorder or is too skinny, then why don’t you see this kind of vascularity in every runway model?

Look again at Madonna’s arm. What else do you notice? I see well-developed muscle. Look at the forearm.

I see two distinct, compact regions of trained muscle. And that’s just the forearm—a notoriously difficult part of the body to build up. 

Though her arms aren’t bulky, they are solid with muscle — from lifting weights.

How can anyone say these arms are skinny? Intense strength training keeps the veins perked up.

Shutterstock/By Nicholas Piccillo

They become visible due to a low bodyfat percentage — but this doesn’t mean malnourished, undereating, an eating disorder or anorexic. The two images below show truly skinny arms. Where are the veins?

Shutterstock/Just dance master1305

The reason runway models don’t have veiny arms is because their bodies are “skinny fat.”

They don’t do serious strength training, and hence, their veins are — for lack of a better word — flaccid. 

Another thing you must realize about Madonna’s arms is that the photo was taken while she was carrying something of weight.

If her arms were relaxed, hands holding nothing, the veins wouldn’t be as prominent.

This same principle applies to the physique athlete. When she is standing with both arms at their sides, relaxed, the veins don’t pop out so much.

When they are prominent — she’s at a low-enough body fat percentage that they can show even when she’s relaxed.

Or, she’s tensing her muscles for a photoshoot or is photographed while lifting heavy resistance.

BUT — she is not skinny or underweight!

Shutterstock/Lyashenko Egor

Vascularity in the arms is a physique athlete’s dream, and the goal for contests is to get as vascular as possible.

In fact, this is one of the components that the judges look for.

Veiny arms do not necessarily signal an eating disorder like anorexia nervosa, inadequate food intake or malnourishment. 

Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained women and men of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health.