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The Ideal Woman

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This is a follow up to the previous post, Defining Bulky, Once and For All.

The response to the article was amazing. In a matter of two days, it was linked to more sites than any of my other posts. It has brought out massive support for the “bulky” crowd. Feminists are angry, trainers are scratching their heads, and the discussion is running wild.

Let’s take a deeper look.

The Poll

A lot of people thought that the poll was biased. Let me explain why I selected the women I did.

I took a poll with female bodybuilders, but it was an instant flop and thought to be too much. And in my opinion, there was no need to measure on that. So I took a second poll in which I surveyed 200 people. I included Hilton, Alba, Biel, Jamie Eason, and a female steroid bodybuilder. Alba still came out on top and in that poll Hilton scored higher than Biel. I wondered if seeing such a visibly intense display of muscle, or any at all, was automatically distasteful to people?

Accidental vs Diligent Training

Another important point is that you can’t get a level of muscle beyond say, Biel or Swank (in general), without being a serious longtime bodybuilder or athlete. This is extremely important to know and understand. You cannot achieve that look by “accident.” You can, however, achieve it by training for a short period of time, with the right kind of intensity.

Becoming an extreme bodybuilder takes drugs or years of discipline with a focus on achievement in athletics or bodybuilding.

The purpose of the poll was to reflect the views of the average female gym goer, most of whom already think bodybuilders are extreme. However, do they think becoming one is easy? What are the pros and cons of different bodies? I thought those were fantastic questions.

New Poll

By the way, I hired a professional survey service to take these impartial polls so the results were not altered in any way. It’s not likely I will be doing more of these types of polls in the near future, as there is considerable cost involved.

(Participants were college educated, between 21-45 years of age, and of moderate to higher income. Both single and married women were included.)

Question 1: From the picture above, what term would you use to explain this woman’s body?

1-Slightly muscular – 0%

2-Muscular – 8%

3-Bulky – 19%

4-Extremely Bulky – 73%

Question 2: Do you think it is easy to achieve this type of look by training in a gym?

1-Very Easy – 13%

2-Easy – 48%

3-Not Easy – 26%

4-Almost Impossible – 13%

Question 3: Do you think that it is a type of look you would like to have?

1-Yes – 2%

2-No – 91%

3-Maybe, at a different time – 7%

Question 4: If you could choose a celebrity body that you think is the ideal woman, who would you choose?

1-Angelina Jolie – 19%

2-Jessica Alba – 34%

3-Jessica Biel – 16%

4-Paris Hilton – 11%

5-Kate Winslet – 20%

Question 5: What isn’t ideal about Angelina Jolie’s body?

1-Too skinny – 32%

2-Too fat – 4%

3-Too much muscle – 24%

4-Not enough muscle – 8%

5-Not enough fat – 20%

6-Nothing, it is ideal – 12%

Question 6: What isn’t ideal about Jessica Alba’s body?

1-Too skinny – 16%

2-Too fat – 11%

3-Too much muscle – 15%

4-Not enough muscle – 20%

5-Not enough fat – 9%

6-Nothing, it is ideal – 29%

Question 7: What isn’t ideal about Jessica Biel’s body?

1-Too skinny – 12%

2-Too fat – 17%

3-Too much muscle – 41%

4-Not enough muscle – 2%

5-Not enough fat – 18%

6-Nothing, it is ideal – 10%

Question 8: What isn’t ideal about Paris Hilton’s body?

1-Too skinny – 37%

2-Too fat – 0%

3-Too much muscle – 10%

4-Not enough muscle – 17%

5-Not enough fat – 22%

6-Nothing, it is ideal – 14%

Question 9: What isn’t ideal about Kate Winslet’s body?

1-Too skinny – 3%

2-Too fat – 39%

3-Too much muscle – 10%

4-Not enough muscle – 28%

5-Not enough fat – 0%

6-Nothing, it is ideal – 20%

Question 10: Of the celebrity bodies above, whose do you think is the hardest to achieve?

1-Angelina Jolie – 14%

2-Jessica Alba – 41%

3-Jessica Biel – 12%

4-Paris Hilton – 25%

5-Kate Winslet – 8%

Isn’t that interesting? An overwhelming majority of women think that Jessica Alba’s body is harder to achieve. They think it is easy to add at least 25 lbs of muscle to a female body. It is obvious they think it is harder to achieve “skinny” than it is “muscled.” Can we also speculate that it’s thought to be easier to be ugly than pretty? Based on how my hair looks in the morning, I’m pretty sure this is the case. And that only took sleep…but I digress.

This shows the distortion of reality. It shows that the majority of the survey takers don’t have much of an idea of what it takes to train in a gym. Even if the body type you want is not one of muscle definition, you still need to understand that achieving it takes work.

The final survey led me to look deeper into psychology and preconceived notions. These are the pictures I used. Before you scroll down and see the results, I want you to ask yourself what appeals to you more. Please feel free to respond in the comments.

Which body would you like to have of the ones pictured below if you had to choose one listed?

female-body-poll-workout

1-Jessica Biel – 27%

2-Paris Hilton – 21%

3-Kate Winslet – 14%

4-Jessica Alba – 31%

5-Jessica Biel – 7%

If you add the results of the two photos of Jessica Biel (1 and 5) you get a total of 34%. So technically she’s the winner, eh? The first picture shows her body after losing the degree of muscle she has in the second picture; but she is by no means “skinny fat.”

I chose those pictures for specific reasons to try and break through the stereotypes the general public may hold of these particular women. Was it the casual clothes they were wearing that was the issue? Did the appearance of a dress make a difference? Did their complexion—tan or pale—affect the response? Do they look strong or soft?

I do have the answers to these questions and more. But the simple truth of it is?

You are never going to get the answer, so there is no need to try.

Missing the Point

The previous article was not about who is hotter, or what you have to do to achieve these looks. The point was to try and put more of a focus on what women fear so they can achieve their goals when lifting weights. The point was to take that a step further and say, “Okay, you say you don’t want to be bulky. Can you give me an example of who you think looks bulky, and tell me why you don’t like that look?” Getting real and speaking to the truth of the situation was the point.

Finding the Ideal Woman?

The point was not to say that one particular female body is the right body. You can take a thousand polls with any female body or even use the same person (as we saw) in the pictures, and there will always be a difference. That being said, I don’t believe in settling, sugarcoating, or pandering to defensiveness and insecurity.

This is the day and age of being able to do amazing things, overcome severe restrictions, and be the best that you can be on your terms. As long as you are not hurting yourself or imposing problems for others due to your choices, I don’t care what you want to do. If what you want happens to involve body composition, then it happens to be something I can help you with.

As for me, who do I think is an fantastic example of the ideal woman? See below.

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48 comments

  1. Katie
    June 21, 2009 at 10:55 pm

    I chose 4 and 5 for what I like that best. I am so glad you did a follow up article, I really think it was needed. It still really surprises me what the masses think of female images, I for one really would love to see you poll men on the same topic if you ever decided to do another survey.

    Oh and the TED video was amazing! I loved that one so much, I need to put those on my ipod. Thanks.

  2. Leigh Peele
    June 21, 2009 at 10:58 pm

    Good point about the Ted’s ipods. I need to make sure to mention that in my next Haphazards.

  3. Brett Sanders
    June 22, 2009 at 12:21 am

    Fantastic post.
    I think  many women are confused by what they want in the gym or through training and nutrition.
    Many are held back by what they like the look of versus being healthy and haveing muscular definition and strength.
    I’m not saying I know what the answer is to helping women achieve their “ideal” body shape, but I guess it would start with actually knowing what they really want!
    I think your study also shows how easy it is for women to perceive another woman’s body as different to how it actually is, and this highlights even further how women then must perceive their own body differently to how it is. Since we know that body dysmorphia is on the rise (I think due to the media!) this is a problem that needs to be tackled.
    Anyway, great post! Loved the study! Would be really interested to see the same type of study done with men!
    Thanks.

  4. Angela
    June 22, 2009 at 12:23 am

    I like so much that you put up this TED video! It’s one of my favorites.
    Anyway, I would have voted for 1 and 5… But then again, I’d love to look like Biel when she had a bit more of muscle.
    I think the picture itself (set up, light, etc) could also make people decide.

  5. shari
    June 22, 2009 at 4:37 am

    I picked number 5! Thanks for the follow up leigh!

  6. shari
    June 22, 2009 at 4:45 am

    While we are talking “ideal women” This woman is such an amzing person. She is dying of cancer and still has so much joy in her. I will warn you it is a 50 min video , but it impacted me on so many levels. I have shared this link with all my closests friends.
    Death is Not Dying

  7. Marisa
    June 22, 2009 at 4:48 am

    Interesting that women seem to think its harder to be skinny than to be muscular. I wonder whether that’s caused by underestimating muscle gain, or overestimating fatloss. I’m assuming the latter, since I don’t think they have any actual experience with musclegain, whereas it seems many women seem to struggle with diets, so they might consider fatloss to be hard.
    How much time *does* it actually take to lose 10 lbs fat, and to gain 10 lbs muscle? (Not to mention effort, losing fat doesn’t even require you to go to the gym, just to eat less.)
    (I had a hard time choosing between 5 and 1 btw, but chose 5 eventually, and then I read they were the same woman. Funny!)

  8. Sarah
    June 22, 2009 at 5:38 am

    Nice Follow up, Leigh. Can you say what mag. your article will be sited in?

  9. April
    June 22, 2009 at 6:25 am

    Loved these posts!

    I agree, that lady is a great role model!

  10. Laura
    June 22, 2009 at 6:40 am

    Loved the video ….. It always inspires me to see what people are able to overcome. She’s definately another amazing woman. Great job on this follow up as well…. So interesting to see how presentation and appearance affect perception.

  11. […] 6-Nothing, it is ideal-12%. Question 6: What isn’t ideal about Jessica Alba’s … http://www.leighpeele.com/the-ideal-female-body Daily […]

  12. D
    June 22, 2009 at 8:16 am

    I chose 1 and 5. I guess I am pretty consistent in the body type I like! I know how hard it is to put muscle on though… so perhaps I am not the average survey taker 😉 

  13. AnnetteW
    June 22, 2009 at 8:36 am

    Wow, definitely shocked by the replies to question #2.  I too find a muscular Jessica Biel as a lovely figure type.  Personally, I’m not too picky either.  It’s too skinny (a non-pregnant Angelina Jolie) that I find least attractive.
    Your body builder lady there, I don’t consider her bulky.  She’d be bulky, imo, if/when she has 20 lbs of extra fat on her.
    This was a terrific follow up post, thanks.  And that video was great.

  14. Sinead
    June 22, 2009 at 8:49 am

    Another awesome article. I wonder if the people who picked Jessica Alba as the ideal body were thinking of her airbrushed body; I’m sure they were. I loved her article in Cosmo (I think–one of those magazines) where she was open and honest about how she felt after giving birth and “getting her body back” and I was glad to see her admit that she wore a girdle and then they STILL airbrushed her!

    At any rate, I thought it was funny that I was automatically drawn to photo 5 (of course) and knew immediately that it was Jessica Biel. My second pick was #1 but I thought her arms and legs were too thin and not muscular enough. lol Funny.

    I was shocked that such a large percentage thought it was easy to achieve the amount of muscle in that pic of the female bodybuilder. Hard to imagine. At the same time, I think that, for most people, it would be hard to achieve the Paris Hilton look, too–you have to have a certain genetic makeup to be predisposed that way (tall and willowy/waifish) or perhaps some ED issues if you aren’t predisposed that way. I’m tall and all, but with my bone structure and broad shoulders, I can’t imagine it’d be possible (short of being near hospitalization for starvation) to look like Paris Hilton.

    loved that video, too. She’s amazing!

  15. James
    June 22, 2009 at 9:16 am

    Great follow up Leigh. Awesome video too.

  16. karen
    June 22, 2009 at 9:17 am

    I chose 4. I think for me more than anything was the skin tone 🙂

  17. Jeff
    June 22, 2009 at 9:31 am

    Leigh this is a really interesting look into what I think about women as well. I was drawn to the first image the most. I thought the 5th look was too harsh. I train women and tell them not to worry about getting too much muscle but I have to be honest, some get above the level of #5.

    This is really making me take a look at things and how I talk to my clients. Thanks.

  18. Jordan
    June 22, 2009 at 10:24 am

    I agree with Sinead.  It’s incomprehensible to me that 61% of responders thought that it would be easy or very easy to look like the women in the picture.  Insane!  It would be very hard for most men to look like that, let alone women.

  19. Missy
    June 22, 2009 at 10:51 am

    Ha! I picked 1 and 5 – I liked 5 more, but decided I liked #1 too.
    Great post and I am glad you are getting national recognition (about time!) – this is so very interesting and I am glad you reiterated that you are not making a statement about which body is “the best” – because best is different for different people and their individual taste. But like hairstyles, you have to have a certain degree of natural/genetic tendency for this. I love the cute hairstyles that have razor edges, but I have fine thin naturally wavy hair, so I could never carry that look. Likewise, with my bodytype, I can only be the best I can be for ME. If I happen to have Cindy Crawfords or Jessica Biels potential, great (but I doubt it)
    That is why I wanted a “body potential” video! To see what I can do to make the best me possible for my perceived best body type.
    Great discussion!!

  20. Amanda
    June 22, 2009 at 11:07 am

    I also went with 5. Disliked 2 the most as I thought the arms were too skinny. Not at all surprised to see they belonged to Paris Hilton.
     
    I was also surprised to see that so many readers felt it was easier to gain muscle than achieve the Paris Hilton look. Then again, when you have Tracey Anderson claiming lifting above a 3lb weight will make you “bulky,” I guess I shouldn’t be. Of course, we then get back into the original question of what’s considered bulky. Sheesh.

  21. Leigh Peele
    June 22, 2009 at 11:36 am

    Marissa-How much time *does* it actually take to lose 10 lbs fat, and to gain 10 lbs muscle? (Not to mention effort, losing fat doesn’t even require you to go to the gym, just to eat less.)
    (I had a hard time choosing between 5 and 1 btw, but chose 5 eventually, and then I read they were the same woman. Funny!)

    It depends on a lot of variables. How overweight you are, your training history, degree of intensity in training, genetics, gender, age, etc.


  22. Leigh Peele
    June 22, 2009 at 11:37 am

    Amanda-Makes the head spin eh?

  23. Abby
    June 22, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    Great post – I picked #5.  I can’t believe 61% said it was “very easy” or “easy” to achieve that look in the gym.   No wonder some women are afraid of weights. I’m guessing they probably think getting “skinny” is more difficult because they’ve failed on “diets”.

  24. Chris Correia
    June 22, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    I picked #5 (I couldn’t answer any questions withthout pictures).
    That TED video is great. Yes, an awesome female

  25. M.J.
    June 22, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    Another possibility is that in that photo JB is wearing a guy’s beater tank, but everyone else is in feminine clothingA(JA in a sheer camisole and everyone else in a dress). So even as someone who lifts weights, I can see how some people would be turned off and think she looks butch in the survey photo as compared to when she’s all glamour-pussed out: http://cinematicallycorrect.files.wordpress.com/2009/05/jessicabiel.jpg http://cm1.theinsider.com/media/0/21/87/20070620-Jessica_Biel_GQ3.0.0.0×0.500×674.jpeg Sidenote: Given this post, it’s unintentionally hilarious that if you Google Image Search Jessica Biel it asks if you meant Jessica Alba.

  26. James
    June 22, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    Jessica alba is in a tank and jeans so I think that isnt the issue but femininity is.
    Also no one is the ideal, kind of the point.

    Why is it that people keep on insisting to defend biel’s style? To me that screams insecurity of your decision. Who cares?

  27. Leigh Peele
    June 22, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    MJ-If you note I put…

    “I chose the pictures I did for particular reasons and to try and break through the stereotypes of what a lot of the general public may think of these particular women. Was it casual clothes that was the issue? Did the appearance of a dress make a difference? Tan or pale? Strong or soft?

    I do have the answer to all those questions and more. The simple truth of it is?

    You are never going to get the answer, so there is no need in trying.”

    It is exactly why I pictured biel soft and muscled. At the end of the day put those arms in a dress and it makes no difference. Some women and men are not going to like it. Again, not the point. The point is we need to make it more clear when trying to define what we want and to better tell others what that is to achieve it.

  28. I’m really glad you’ve moved this debate on, Leigh. I think you’ve got to the heart of this issue by examining women’s feelings about ‘bulkiness’ – it’s what was needed. We have enough articles telling women ‘you can’t get bulky from lifting weights’ without really understanding the nature of their fears and preconceptions.
    Just to quote yourself back at you, this is the bit I liked:
    “The point was to take that step further and say, “Okay, you say you don’t want to be bulky. Can you give me an example of who you think is bulky, and why you don’t like that look?” Getting real and speaking to the truth of the situation was the point.”
    Nice one 😉

  29. Jim
    June 22, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    I don’t know Leigh, I think I have the answer….1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. BAM!!

    I know this was really intended for the ladies, but as far as I’m concerned..Jeans, dress, shorts–all hot.

    Hell, through in a Salma Hayek or J-Lo and I’m in heaven….

    😉

  30. David
    June 22, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    I am right there  with you Jim. I thought all of the ladies are hot. I am not picky, as long as you take care of yourself and you aren’t stupid you’re all good with me 😉

  31. Sinead
    June 22, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    hehehe i like Jim and David’s approach. 😉

  32. Amber
    June 22, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    I really liked 3, I just really like the monroe, j-lo look. Oh and Leigh I forgot to mention I am under 160 now! I am 2 pounds shy of 50 pounds lost! Thanks so much for all that you do!
    I really loved the video too, I love that her friend was jealous of her!

  33. RG
    June 22, 2009 at 5:32 pm

    Thanks for the Aimee Mullin video. I’d seen her first, but not the follow-up. And saw the Cremaster cycle long before I saw Aimee on TED, didn’t put them together. I waffled between 1/5 and thought 1 was flatter-stomached. Never would have guessed that 2 was Paris Hilton.

  34. […] the web: Leigh’s two posts (here and here) on what women consider “bulky” in a woman (not was is bulky, but what the average […]

  35. Andrea
    June 23, 2009 at 11:58 am

    Great followup.  Ultimately women who are strong and show it don’t have to worry about what most people think, because two things will likely happen:
    1.  You’ll have enough confidence to saunter through life with your amazing guns, smiling all the way and moving furniture when requested.
    2.  You’ll tend to associate with those that are of the same  mindset, so they will have far greater understanding and appreciation.  I can’t tell you how many “Biel-esque” women are in my Vinyasa yoga class, and they all look amazing while just reinforcing that body composition for everyone else.   Like attracts like, for better or for worse.

  36. Matt
    June 23, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    Great great post Leigh. Loved the video.

  37. Sara
    June 23, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    Pretty nice post. I just came by your site and wanted to say
    that I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way
    I’ll be subscribing to your blog and I hope you write again soon!

  38. Natalie
    June 24, 2009 at 6:27 am

    Great post Leigh! I’m LOL , because I picked 1 and 5. Just figures. I love the way she looks. I’m 5’9″ and weigh 145, which puts me at a size 8, and have always been refered to being an Amazon. I consider it a compliment. What’s better than being a healthy, strong, confident woman. My husband digs it too. For all it’s worth, I think he’s the norm.

    What I consider too bulky is when the veins are popping out all over the place. That just does nothing for me and I wouldn’t want that look for myself. Just MHO. Keep up the excellant work!

  39. Anna
    June 24, 2009 at 8:06 am

    Thanks for these posts Leigh — I really love your new site and all of your new content.
    I picked number 5 — if only it were easy…

  40. krispy1138
    June 25, 2009 at 7:12 am

    My husband wants to know what the hell is wrong with women who would rather look like Jessica Alba than Jessica Biel. When I told him Jessica Biel is considered too muscular, he was floored (and this from a man who definitely does not like the muscular look on women at all).

    And it scares me that women would rather be too fat than too muscular.

  41. Krystal
    June 25, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    LMAO!!!! Girls think it’s easy to look like that first picture??! Wow… females are pretty much sad, and very unknowledgable. It’s not even easy for a male to look like that, let alone a female with no testosterone levels! LOL… that is the funniest thing I have ever seen.
    I would like to see how easy it is to try and bulk to that size, for one. Eat the amount it would take for that, and the time at the gym it would take to be that muscular and that lean.
    IMO everyone of those actresses should eat some chicken, steak and grapefruit! And lift heavy! They would all look much better that way.

    • katy
      August 31, 2010 at 6:31 pm

      i know! i was shocked that such a large percentage of women actually believe that figure is attainable without a significant amount of work, discipline, and quite probably, steroids.

  42. Ajka
    June 26, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    I picked # 5, without hesitation.

    I was shocked when Leigh’s article # 1 was discussed on the 3 Fat Chicks Forum (it’s a weight loss forum). So many women would basically go for “skinny fat” and quite a few would spring for mildly plump. Basically, to these women even the slightest hint of visible muscle was “GROSS.” To each his/her own, I guess.

  43. MJ
    June 26, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    Leigh,
    I’m really glad you pointed out the stereotypes we all have about the female body, especially trainers.  It is very frustrating when trainers say women should lift “real weights” and “heavy weights” yet they publically post on blogs, in articles, etc. pictures of  women who can barely carry a gallon jug, let alone something heavy.  They idolize the same body shape women do (thin with less muscle), but spout a different exercise philosophy; never noticing the sheer hypocrisy.

  44. Pauline
    June 27, 2009 at 10:15 am

    Great post, Leigh!

  45. Deborah
    June 27, 2009 at 5:10 pm

    I didn’t read the article–yet.  I jumped to the video because your email intrigued me.
    I couldn’t agree more that she is an incredible example of the ideal woman.

  46. Anika Clark
    July 19, 2009 at 12:58 am

    This is a really interesting article.  I have always found it fascinating to observe the struggle women go through, the anxieties and worries plaguing most of the American female population, to be “fit,” and therefore attractive to men.  Growing up, this always meant skinny, now I’m hoping that we are beginning to recognize the value of “healthy.”  Nice job in pointing out some of the trends and truths regarding this topic.   

  47. Jasmine Cuesta
    March 19, 2011 at 9:43 am

    Thank you so much for sharing that video!!!! It is incredible what the mind, spirit, and body are capable of whether it be constructive or destructive. You article highlights both of those aspects and it is brilliant. THANK YOU!!!

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