Does strength come at the expense of femininity? Are women who are strong and muscular considered hot? Many seem to think so, but does mainstream media?
Women with muscles, who are strong – possibly stronger than most men, is something that is beginning to be celebrated.
Just last week, R&B singer, Trey Songz, released the music video for his song, "Na Na." It features women who are known for their beauty, but also their physical strength and athleticism: Rosa Acosta, Massy Arias (Mankofit), Brie Bella and Nikki Bella (WWE's The Bella Twins) and Jazzma Kendrick. And, they have a strong social media following because of it.
In the video, Songz is put through a different workout by each woman: from pushing and pulling weights to boxing and even partner yoga. The video is steamy, but not because the women depicted are objectified. Though they do fit many established beauty ideals (like a proportionate hip-to-waist ratio, flowing hair and they wear makeup), they're depicted as powerful and in charge.
"What's notable about the video isn't just that the women are strong, but that their athletic bodies are seen in motion and that that's what's shown to be attractive, even erotic," said Jillian Hernandez, Assistant Professor at the University of California, San Diego whose area of expertise is ethnic and race studies and sexualities. "The women are not just shown posing, but the movements they do demonstrate their power. Their eroticism involves holding power as Trey Songz submits to their teaching."
A few days ago, urban music and news site, WorldStarHipHop released a #fitspo-worthy video. It stars Arias (Mankofit), a celebrity trainer who has earned a strong social media following with more than 1 million followers Instagram and over 48,000 on Twitter.
WorldStar's sister site, WorldStarCandy, features women in soft core porn-style videos (NSFW). The video of Arias which currently sits prominently on the homepage. The fact that Arias, with her ripped abs and bulging biceps, contends with the other "I'm lying on my back, waiting for you"-type videos, further argues the sex appeal such a muscular woman has.
While there's no shortage of examples of athletic – and even buff – women who are feminine and sexy, these two videos are the most recent examples that show an expanding mainstream definition of feminine sex appeal.
Photo courtesy of Massy Arias (Mankofit)
But, according to Hernandez, women like Arias are considered sexy because they still fit within the boundaries of normative gender expressions.
"For women, there's always a thin line," Hernandez said. "It's good to be fit and toned, but there's always a line. When their bodies take on what our culture considered masculine, there's lots of policing around the body."
Last Spring, MAC Cosmetics launched a campaign for their line of makeup called "Strength." The ad for the campaign featured Serbian-American competitive body builder and fitness model, Jelena Abbou, whose biceps didn't go unnoticed.
"Exercise and heavy lifting is becoming a trend among women and more women are opening up to the idea of having muscles," Arias said in reference to the reaction she gets from her social media fans. "But, I still do get hateful comments that say, 'Stop lifting so much or you're going to look like a man!' In reality I'm not bulky and [being so skinny] that you have a thigh gap isn't sexy."
Of course, while this fitness trend could be just another form of policing – telling women what they should look like (and shaming them if they don't fit the mold), there is something to be said for changing the narrative around feminine beauty and representing all body types as beautiful.
Why can't being ripped and feeling empowered – literally and figuratively – be sexy?