You know summer is here when, at the gym, you see a sudden influx of men hoping to make gains in what little time is left, and women looking to shape their perfect beach bodies, fuelled by social approval for staying fit.
For women, praise turns into criticism when you become too muscular by Hong Kong standards. Never mind that strength training has proven health benefits, and having a poor body image impacts mental health: a recent poll of some 4,500 respondents by the Mental Health Foundation in the UK found one in eight people have thought of killing themselves because they were dissatisfied with how their bodies looked.
Is this what we want for Hong Kong women - tight bodies with a healthy dose of self-loathing?
For a while, when my workouts were confined to the living room floor, friends hailed me as a role model. At my workplace at a TV station, I gained a reputation as the girl who could effortlessly wield a tripod.
At home, I religiously performed high-intensity interval training - with light weights only, of course - to get an ab crack without a chunky core, to grow some booty without growing my thighs. I was fit, not bulky; strong, but not enough to emasculate.
Around four years ago, I outgrew my living room floor. So, I joined a gym, picked up a 20kg barbell, and started strength training with my partner. At first, I grappled with insecurities: would squatting make my legs thicker? Would benching make my arms bigger? Would dead lifts make my neck look shorter?
As the months passed and I began to see the amount of weight that my body could move, these insecurities stopped mattering - until earlier this year, when I got some portraits taken at a photo studio. Twenty minutes and dozens of awkward poses later, the studio staff sat me down for the uncomfortable task of picking my favourite images. She then asked if I had any requests for the photo editor. Please remove the flyaways, I said, but leave my muscles alone.
I wondered if I was thinking too highly of my physique, but apparently not: the photos came back and the flyaways were gone - along with my traps, delts and triceps.
I've been told what I should and shouldn't do with my body. A well-meaning female colleague advised me not to get too big if I wanted on-camera gigs. My mother made repeated appeals for me to go lighter on the weights because I was getting "too bulky". A misogynistic uncle told me I was lucky I'd found a boyfriend, even with those thunder thighs. A man at the gym raised doubts about my form with my partner, and another, without warning, removed weights from the machine I was using.
This time, I was shown how my body should look: smooth, rounded, and untainted by heavy lifting. It seems the photo studio did what they thought was best, even though I had specifically requested otherwise. The photo studio thought they had sketched a better me, when instead they belittled more than 1,600 hours I had dedicated to keeping fit. I guess they found it hard to believe that a female client would be perfectly fine with looking a little heavier, and, if I may say so myself, strong.
If anything, the edited images remind me of how far I've come in my strength training journey, and the ridiculous expectations Hong Kong women face: get fit, but not too fit.
These expectations trap us in a relentless circuit of high reps, light weights, short breaks and cardio bursts in our pursuit of society's ideal physique. The truth is, unless you're lean to begin with, the more effective way to look fit and toned is by lifting heavier weights. A natural consequence of this would be gaining muscle mass, and an unfortunate one might be overstepping into "too fit" territory.
In a sea of contradicting voices, perhaps the best way to stay fit - physically and mentally - is by listening to your own. So, if it pleases you, go forth and build that booty. And quads, too.
Stephanie Tsui is a writer, powerlifting enthusiast and an advocate for intentional living
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