“Thank you Mario! But our Princess is in another castle!”
I remember playing through Super Mario Brothers as a wee lad, wondering when the heck I was going to actually get to save Princess Toadstool.
I remember playing the Legend of Zelda, and doing my darndest to rescue Princess Zelda and save Hyrule.
I remember watching Sleeping Beauty, cheering for the Prince to defeat the dragon and rescue the damsel in distress. And the list goes on, and on, and on…
There was Superman and Lois Lane, Prince Charming and Cinderella, and Aladdin and Princess Jasmine…If you couldn’t tell, I loved Disney movies (and still do).
As the faces of our heroes and villains have changed through the years, there’s one thing I’ve learned…
The Princess can take care of herself.
How did we get here?
I want to take a quick look back into our history and figure out how the heck we got to our idea of the modern woman.
When humans lived in hunter-gatherer tribes, women were expected to contribute and work…like normal people. Whether it was gathering water from far away sources and carrying it back to the camp, farming, or carrying children, strength was a desired trait! This is still true in many third world countries where major duties are shared.
In ancient Sparta, a society structured very differently from others at the time, “Girls were removed from the home at 7 and sent to school. Here they learned wrestling, gymnastics, were taught to fight, and endured other physical training. Spartans believed that strong mothers produced strong children. Young women competed at athletic events.”
Moving toward the Middle Ages and more modern societies: women of noble birth were not expected to work, and in fact being overweight by today’s standards was a sign of prosperity (for they could afford to eat) and thus made them more desirable. Women became more ornamental and decorative.
Fast forward to the 20th century, and gender roles had become more entrenched in western civilization: women had their place in the kitchen and in the home, and men were the breadwinners. Even after earning the right to vote in 1920, women were continually reminded throughout most of the century what their position was: frail, weak, and in need of constant supervision and protection. Yes, things changed when all the men went off to World War 2 (Rosie the Riveter!), but during times of peace things returned to “normal.”
Did you know women can open bottles of ketchup? I certainly didn’t!
Take a look back at ads from the middle of the century (or watch any episode of Mad Men), and it’s clear that progress was slow.
It’s for this reason that movies like Alien (staring one of hollywood’s most famous female characters, Ripley), Star Wars (Princess Leia), and Joss Whedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” were such big deals: they dared to change things up, and let the world know that sometimes the Princess doesn’t need saving. Oftentimes, it’s her job to help save the world.
Now, although I believe we’ve come a long way and seen far stronger, multi-dimensional characters popping up in literature and pop culture, we still have a ways to go.
The mainstream still expects women to act and look a certain way, and has no problem pointing out those that don’t fit the norm:
We’ve even seen this happen first hand here at Nerd Fitness. Two examples jump out:
1) Our resident “Master of Deadlifts,” Staci, had quite the success story. As a result of the popularity of this post, it has been reposted and shared thousands and thousands of times.
I can think of a few dozen comments that all had the same unfortunate message: “I liked her better in her before picture.” These misguided men and women took it upon themselves to let Staci know that she never should have lost weight in the first place, and that she shouldn’t try to get stronger.
I always loved Staci’s responses to these comments: “Thanks for your concern, but I didn’t do this for you. Or for anybody else. Or for some ideal. I did this for me.”
2) We’ve received a few emails from disheartened female readers who lack support at home. They were trying to get healthier, and their loved ones actually told them they didn’t want them to lose weight because they liked them better when they were heavier.
My heart breaks for these women; they’re trying to better their lives in the way that excites them the most, and they’re not getting the support they need from those who should be the most supportive.
Although we’ve come a long way, we still have a long ways to go. It shouldn’t be okay to make fun of people who are strong, fit, and healthy. It bums me out!
These are men and women who have a vision in their head of what others should look like, and then chose to make fun of those who have dedicated themselves to getting in the best shape in the way THEY chose.
This is why we need awesome female characters alongside awesome male characters in this game we call “Life.”
The ass kicking heroine
As a kid, though I didn’t even know it, I devoted hours and hours of my life to playing through Metroid as a female character.
After defeating Mother Brain, you discover that you’ve been playing as Samus Aran, (A GIRL!!), the whole time. Although these days having female lead characters and heroines is more common, playing as a female lead in a video game was truly revolutionary.
(Unless you happen to be an awesome dad who can hack Donkey Kong, allowing your three year old daughter to play as Pauline and save Mario.)
Today heroines are breaking more and more into the mainstream: “the Bride” in Kill Bill, Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games, Dr. Brennan in Bones, Ripley in Aliens, Black Widow in the Avengers, and even Liz Lemon in 30 Rock and Leslie Knope in Parks and Recreation.
Most recently, two female characters who refuse to play by the old rules have jumped into the mainstream thanks to HBO: Daenerys Targaryen and Arya Stark - kickass characters from the A Song of Ice and Fire series (“Game of Thrones” to TV viewers). These two characters are such a breath of fresh air, as they face adversity and ridicule for choosing to be different, deciding instead to just kick serious ass. They are complex, full of depth, strong, and vulnerable…you know, like real people!
In an interview George R.R. Martin (author of the series) was told that he writes “women really different and really well.”
Asked how and why, he simply replied:
“Well, I’ve always considered women to be people.”
It seems to me that society as a whole is becoming more and more okay with women being portrayed as actual poeple. More and more writers/filmmakers are making the same decision. Not just “strong” and “tough,” but realistic:
- Want to be super freaking strong? Awesome.
- Want to be a gamer? More power to you.
- Want to play with trucks instead of dolls? Great.
- Want to do all of those things? Marry me!
I cannot say enough amazing things about the community members we have here at Nerd Fitness: we have both men and women from all walks of life, with varying levels of social status, economic status, religion, sexual orientation, and occupations.
On any community on the planet, this is a recipe for disaster.
Instead, we have a supportive and engaging group of men and women looking to help each other do the same thing: live a better life in the manner that fits one’s personality and goals.
Whether you want to get healthy by starting strength training, lose weight by becoming an awesome runner, or just eat better and become more active, the Rebellion is here for you.
Real life heroes
When I started Nerd Fitness, over four and a half years ago (!), I wrote a series of articles highlighting what some actors did to get in shape for their particular movie roles.
Whether it was Daniel Craig for James Bond, or Ryan Reynolds for Blade III, I did the research and found out how they got healthy. I eventually came to a sobering realization that these actors will always have more resources and better genetics than 99.9% of the population. Try to follow their plans, while working a full time job, raising a family, having a life (without unlimited money) and you’ll find yourself disheartened when you don’t look like them.
So I started downplaying unfair celebrity comparisons and instead started playing UP the real life heroes and heroines I wanted people to learn from:
These people focused on building their workouts and diets around their busy lives and found ways to be the best version of themselves. They put their focus on getting stronger and eating better and found success.
Why did they pick this path?
Not to fit somebody else’s ideal, or conform to somebody else’s desires, but so that they could look in the mirror each morning with pride knowing they lived a better day than they did the day before.
The world needs you
“Now Cinderella don’t you go to sleep.
It’s such a bitter form of refuge.
Don’t you know the kingdom’s under siege.
And everybody needs you.”
Two weeks ago I saw the Killers in concert, and they played on of my favorite songs, “A Dustland Fairytale.” While I was writing this post, those four lines above kept coming back into my mind:
I love the concept of a fairytale flipped upside down. I love the idea of taking control of your own destiny rather than waiting for Prince Charming to come rescue you.
If you’re a dude reading Nerd Fitness, thanks for being here. Thanks for being supportive of your fellow rebels, both male and female, and helping them reach their potential. It’s what makes this community great.
If you’re a female reading Nerd Fitness, thank you for being here. The world needs you to be yourself. To stand up for what you want in life, even when it doesn’t line up with the expectations of others. Strength is about more than just the physical. It’s about a dedication to becoming better tomorrow than you were today.
Your friends, parents, and children need you to be their role model.
This is why I love Bronwyn, and how she’s showing her daughter that it’s great to be strong:
This is why I love Staci, who outlifts pretty much everybody in any gym she walks into.
This is why I love Robin (Hammi!), who chose a different path and lost 100 pounds and changed her life.
This is why I love the Nerd Fitness Community: it’s full of THOUSANDS of women (and thousands of men) who are leveling up their lives in their own way, for themselves, for their families, for their future.
In life we’re all playing the same game, and we should all get to choose the way we want to play.
When you play the World of Warcraft or anything similar, you get to decide if you want to be a strong warrior, petite assassin, or slender druid. Life should be no different. Whether you chose to play the game of life following a more traditional path or you decide to forge a different path, go for it.
The important part is that you make the decision to aspire to the goals and ideals that you set for yourself, not the goals and ideals that others expect of you.
I challenge you to inspire those around you to be great, and to inspire those who are afraid to be different to get started.
I challenge you to smile politely at the naysayers and keep working on being better in the way you chose.
Everybody needs you to be YOU.
I’m glad you’re here.
Let’s have some fun.
PS – Speaking of women…we’ve been talking about it for over a year (oops), but Staci and I are finishing up content and finally getting close to the launch of our course specifically designed for NF Rebel women! We plan on launching an early version on September 23rd. Sorry it’s taken us so freaking long, but I promise it’ll be worth the wait. More details are coming in the next few weeks.
Today’s Rebel Hero: Michelle R!
From Michelle: “I’ve attached a picture that my husband and I took in….Costa Rica! Yes, I decided to just go for it and do something different. I was sure to take my NF gear with me, so I wore it while hiking around the volcano in the rainforest. Amazing experience! I’m so glad that I joined the Rebellion! I was looking for ways to change my lifestyle around, and this was the answer!”