9 Backhanded Compliments Athletic Women Hear

From my experience, athletic women are really put through the ringer in this society of ours. Not only do they face extensive marginalization simply for being women, but they usually have to deal with all of the sexism that comes from being a woman who digs sports. Thanks to our distorted ideas about gender roles, many of us still tend to think of men as being the only ones who care about athletics. And as for women who do like sports? Well, they're often perceived as fitting into one of three descriptions: One of the guys, extremely "masculine and butch," or (albeit more rarely) total sex symbols.

IMO, one of the worst forms of sexism athletic gals have to go through is the backhanded compliments they receive from both loved ones and randos who think it's their place to voice their opinion on someone else's body. For me, hearing micro-aggressive things like, "Wow, you're really bulking up," is never a compliment, though, as they're words and phrases tied to traditionally masculine territory. Athletic women, however — just by virtue of being athletic — are doing something society often tells them they shouldn't. Unfortunately, any kind of social rebellion against the status quo usually results in backhanded BS.

There exist a lot of these backhanded compliments for athletic babes, but these nine are ones I've had the pleasure of hearing for myself.

1. "You look so masculine with your huge muscles!"

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Even if many of us consider having big muscles to be "more of a guy thing," most human beings naturally have at least some muscles. The underlying message behind this comment is that women should fit the traditional idea of femininity and therefore, not have visible muscle tone. The reality? Many women like to have large muscles. Let's just leave it at that, OK?

2. "You're probably just as good as the guys!"

Seeing it spelled out, do you see how this is actually just a quiet insult towards all women, since, you know, it implies that we're not inherently as good at sports as men are? Look: Athletic ability doesn't have anything to do with gender. Men, women, and everyone in between can be skilled in sports.

3. "You look so cute in your competition gear."


I'm not trying to look cute, bud. I'm trying to look tough as hell. Also, you would probably never say this to a dude, right?

4. “Good for you doing your thing. I remember the days when women weren't allowed to compete on the field."

This might sometimes seem like a genuine hurrah towards the progress society has made for women and sports, but bringing up the fact that women used to be treated even worse in the athletic arena can sometimes feel like an excuse for why they're still sometimes treated like sh*t today.

5. "You're really strong for a girl."

The "for a girl" complex is something we hear time and time again in sports, from, "You throw like a girl," to, "For a girl, you're really good." We're not "strong for girls," though. We're just strong. This gender qualifier implies that women can't be as strong as dudes, which you can respond to by flexing your guns.

6. "You have such an athletic build. Just look at your thighs!"

Um, thanks for making this all about my body... And being fatphobic by saying my thighs are "athletic" looking. I get that you're trying to utilize the "nice" way of saying that they're big, but ICYMI, saying they're "big" shouldn't be an insult to begin with.

7. "You really must work hard to stay in shape, with your awesome body and all."

OK, hold up: What isn't wrong with this statement? A. You don't have to stay in shape or any shape for that matter to feel worthy. B. My fitness goals might have nothing to do with my body. And C. Yes, my body is awesome — but not because of how thin or "in shape" you perceive it to be.

8. "You would think your biceps would be bulging with how much you hit the gym!"

Wow, thanks for pointing out how small my muscle tone is "for an athlete." People's muscles differ in size and shape, sometimes regardless of how much they do or don't work out. That doesn't even matter, though. You shouldn't be making unsolicited comments about people's bicep tone or lack thereof.

9. "You don't seem intimidate the guys with your skills!"

Men shouldn't be intimidated by strong women. But if they are, that says more about them than it does about the gal. If I do intimidate guys with my strength, then I don't really want to have those folks in my life anyway.

Let's just try to remember this simple fact: Sports are not just "for the boys."

To the athletic women of the world: Keep on fighting those gender roles and being your badass selves.

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Images: Erin McKelle Fischer (6); Giphy (1)