Originally published on December 11, 2012:
BY FRANK TERRANELLA
When I was 12, I arm-wrestled a girl and lost. I had not entered puberty yet, and the girl had. As I remember, it wasn’t even close. The girl, who was the same age as me, had initiated the match. She asked me to show her my bicep muscle. Perhaps she was flirting, but I was oblivious. When I flexed my arm, practically nothing popped up. The girl smiled, suppressing a giggle. She also did not have a defined bicep, but she had a thick arm, and was simply much stronger than me at that age. From the moment she engaged her strength, and started to push against my hand, I simply could not stop her from pushing my pre-pubescent arm down to the desktop. She was proud of herself, and when we argued about anything thereafter, she would flex her arm and say, “Remember, I’m stronger than you.”
Soon after that, I entered puberty, and within 12 months, when I flexed my skinny arm, a hard, round muscle popped up. It was truly amazing to the girl. She knew that I had not started lifting weights, or even exercising. Just on the basis of being a boy, I had developed a bulging bicep muscle bigger than hers. And to add insult to injury, she found out when we had our re-match that I was now just a little bit stronger than her also.
I was never a gym rat in my teens and never had athlete-sized biceps. But like most men, I developed biceps in my teens that were bigger than those of the women I came across. While they were just average by male standards, I was confident that I was not going to lose a strength contest to any woman I might meet.
Then I hit 40. I noticed that my biceps did not have the peak they used to have when I flexed them. I noticed there was more fat on my arm covering the muscle. By the time I hit 50, I noticed a decrease in arm strength. Lifting heavy items to put them on a top shelf was not as easy as it used to be. I started to read articles in The New York Times and elsewhere that said I was losing one percent of my muscle mass each year. This was alarming.
And then I started noticing that many women were developing biceps as large or larger than mine. I was walking in Midtown Manhattan one day, when I saw a young woman with biceps the size I had formerly only seen on men. These were not cute fitness biceps from aerobics; these were cannonball-sized guns on a beautiful woman. And I loved them on her! And beyond that, I wanted them on me.
Then when YouTube became popular, I noticed that there were lots of videos there showing women with bigger muscles than me.
I have to say that I find this attractive, and I applaud the hard work it is for a woman to develop large muscles without using steroids.
This has caused me to reflect on the cycle of life that brought me from a 12-year-old boy, who was weaker than a 12-year-old girl, to a young man who was stronger than most women, to a man in his 50s who is now having to fight the loss of muscle mass each year. In the face of this new reality, I have started to work out a bit. It’s not as much as my doctors would like, but it’s tough to begin fitness this late in life. However, not wanting to deteriorate into a weakling is good motivation.
This is another one of those male vanities that women don’t really understand. Despite the fact that some women are always stronger than some men, we are raised to regard physical strength as indicia of maleness. And when the strength starts to fade, it can damage our self image.
Well, as I approach 60, and the inevitable further decline in muscle mass, I take solace in the fact that I was never a bodybuilder. Reports are that 60-year-old bodybuilders lift 30 percent less weight than 30-year-old bodybuilders. Imagine being so strong and turning 60 to find that a woman bodybuilder is stronger than you. That would be like being 12 all over again.