Where are the muscular women in the body positive movement?

All we see are overweight, sometimes obese women, many appearing as though they never work out.

The body positive movement has excluded muscular women, creating the illusion that there’s just one continuum — one that begins with the bone thin or “anorexic” body and ends with the very obese body and everything in between.

On this continuum the dress size begins at zero and goes well past 26. There’s a glorification of bodies that are so overweight that mobility is impaired.

The body positive movement encourages overweight and obese women to love their bodies just as they are, rather than work them at the gym to get fitter and more toned (dare I say muscular?)

Some body positive influencers encourage plus size women to post their bikini pictures.

They encourage women to celebrate their plus size body; there is no mention of muscles or replacing jiggly legs with sculpted strong legs.

Where are the muscular women in their bikinis, the ones built like Serena Williams and Ronda Rousey?

Yes, they’re posted online. Instagram is full of muscular women in bikinis and other scant attire.

BUT … the “Every body is beautiful” campaign EXCLUDES muscular women.

There are many women with stunning muscle development, ranging from physique contest competitors to CrossFit enthusiasts to competitive rowers or powerlifters to just your local gym rat who loves the look of muscles and wants to have a lot of body strength.


I wonder how many size 20-something or even 30s bopo enthusiasts just went “Ughhh” upon viewing the bodybuilder above.

Note: It’s possible for a woman to achieve such musculature without using performance enhancing drugs.

Where do muscular women fit in on the continuum that’s been defined by the body positive movement?

“The ‘body positive movement’ focuses on women’s body sizes who have traditionally been marginalized in our society, such as those who are overweight,” explains Linda Centeno, PhD, clinical psychologist, and assistant director of the Koch Center in NJ that specializes in eating disorder treatment.

She continues, “Muscular women are not marginalized in the same way and, in fact, there has been a shift over the last 20 years, with sports companies (like Nike) marketing the concept that it is cool (and attractive) to be a strong female athlete.

“It would be ideal if our culture respected and welcomed all body types.”

When a woman is muscled, this look is also referred to as buff or ripped, and it, too, is on a continuum:

At one end we have toned (and she may be “thin,” medium or a bit compact or stocky at the same time).

And then as we glide along on the continuum, her muscle development gets progressively more pronounced or developed.

At the other end, then, we have a so-called muscle-bound woman, the kind you see in professional bodybuilding competitions.

They can get away with using performance enhancing drugs at these events because there is no drug testing.

It’s only the “natural” bodybuilding competitions that do drug testing.

Body positive influencers think in a one-dimensional fashion: A woman is either skinny, fat or somewhere in between (slender, medium, plump, pudgy, chubby, husky). Where are the muscles in all of this?

Why is overweight seemingly the alternative to being skinny?

Many women will take a muscled physique any day over a thin weak one and definitely over a plus-size slow one – as long as performance enhancing drugs aren’t involved.

It’s a myth that being “too muscular” is unhealthy. There is no medical condition that’s caused by well-developed muscles.

The chronic medical ailments that affect the U.S. in epidemic numbers include:

• Heart disease
• Cancer
• Stroke
• High blood pressure
• Diabetes (type 2)
• Osteoarthritis (requiring knee and hip replacements)
• Osteoporosis (huge risk factor for bone fractures, causes hump back)
• Acid reflux disease
• Alzheimer’s disease

Weightlifting, bodybuilding and having pronounced muscle development are not risk factors for any of these conditions, nor for any other chronic medical condition such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, thyroid issues or inflammatory bowel disease.

We should see muscular women in all of those photos of women who are part of the body positive movement campaign. Muscularity should be encouraged.

Dr. Centeno works with adolescents and adults. In her private practice her specific clinical expertise also includes anxiety and panic disorder, depression, relationship issues and sexual abuse.

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


Top image: Shutterstock/Artem Furman
Image 2 & 3: ShotPrime Studio; Dmitri Ma