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Natalie Portman’s Thor arms and the turbulent history of female celebrity muscles

NAtalie Portman’s arms. It is now impossible to say these three words in a normal voice. Since the first pictures of the star appeared in Thor: Love and Thunder, nobody really knew what to do. All are enchanted. Here is a sample set of replies from Twitter: “Filling out passport papers. Religion: Natalie Portman as Mighty Thor.” “I’m not going to write a hot shit about Natalie Portman’s arms.” And “Natalie Portman please slap me in the face”. (I mean sure, but have you seen the arms? They would literally kill you.)

For her role as Jane Foster in Taika Waititi’s sequel, Portman said she was “challenged to be as big as possible” — and big she was. According to her trainer, Naomi Prendergast, she trained at 4:30 a.m. for 90 minutes for 10 months to achieve the figure. Something Portman says was “really funny.” But then again, she’s an Oscar-winning actress. She drank the protein shakes. She lifted the weights. And she has the guns. And does it actually make no sense? Finally we have a female superhero who looks like she can really throw giant hammers at the bad guys’ heads.

That the reaction was so solemn is fascinating; This is not usually the case with physically strong women. The You Look Like A Man Instagram account documents the gross things people say about women in athletics. “Leave the crew to the men,” “You look like you’re sweating bacon,” “Good luck with the arthritis,” and “Dudes don’t want to date their dads” are just a few. In the late noughties, Madonna was savaged for her muscular arms, with celebrity gossip site TMZ describing her variously as “bloody-veined corpse arms” and “cruelly muscular arms.” [that] seem to have been reassembled with the remains of bones from a dead cow”. Women are not normally allowed to step out of the mold of ideal femininity. Madonna, of course, committed the double sin of being both physically strong and in her 50s.

There is precedent for Natalie Portman’s guns. When Linda Hamilton first appeared on screen terminator 2, the first shot we see of her Sarah Connor is of her shiny, toned, bulging biceps as she performs pull-ups on a metal bar. Her physical appearance, so different from women’s bodies in 1991, left moviegoers gasping. However, Portman’s love of guns comes at a time when attitudes toward female power are changing. More and more women are taking up weightlifting; There are 32.4 million posts on Instagram under the hashtag #girlswholift. There are many reasons why it is adopted: Not only does it help build muscle, but it also improves your cardiovascular, bone and joint health. Gunnar Peterson, Khloe Kardashian’s personal trainer, recommends strength training as the best way to get lean.

“Muscle pays for the party,” he says. “Muscles burn all the time. Lifting weight means you burn calories at a higher rate post-workout than you would after cardio alone.” Even the Spice Girl who wears the least sports bra does: “I’ve always had a little Scared of weights but turns out I love them. I even have these special gloves to wear!” Victoria Beckham recently shared grace.

And yet the fascination with cultural depictions of strong women always seems to derive from the fact that they remain so rare. Or, as Holly Black writes elephant Magazine. “The term ‘female strength’ is loaded…physical strength is an accepted facet of male gender roles, but it’s still surprisingly hard to find equal female counterparts.” Occasionally it borders on fetishization. When Barack Obama left office Fashion celebrated the occasion with a “farewell to Michelle Obama’s flawless arms”. Her “unreally toned” arms “represented so much more than her personal dedication to fitness: They were also a physical reminder of her ability to roll up her sleeves and get things done” — apparently.

A woman’s looks remain the most important expression of her worth for much of the world. It’s a fact that women continue to win Oscars for being “ugly” — gaining weight for roles or burying their faces in prosthetics. The world wrings its hand as celebs like Adele and Rebel Wilson lose weight. A woman with muscular arms is an oddity, but as long as she’s still beautiful, it’s fine. She pokes at the template of accepted femininity without undermining it in the most fundamental way—by making it unattractive to men. On that note, let’s be honest – Natalie Portman’s guns are actually really good marketing.

And therein lies a danger. Women are already moving in a world full of Instagrammable versions of female ideals. Trying to emulate them is both expensive and futile – in Naomi Wolf’s nineties feminist classic, the beauty myth, She wrote: “Ideal beauty is ideal because it doesn’t exist; The action is in the gap between desire and gratification… That space in a consumer culture is lucrative.”

The problem? Capitalism and patriarchy are a deadly combination. The never-ending quest to curate a perfect version of ourselves has been reinforced by social media, which gives its users the illusion of autonomy while feeding them expensive trends. In her essay “Always be Optimizing”, the New Yorker Writer Jia Tolentino describes the tyranny of life as a late capitalist woman stuck in a hamster wheel chasing a rigid ideal. Barre classes — an expensive, efficient, painful, and results-oriented form of exercise — might make women feel good for all the wrong reasons, she suggests. “What it does really well is set you up for a hyper-accelerated capitalist life.”

Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2: Judgment Day

(Studio Canal/Shutterstock)

But what if our changing relationship with female power became a way to break free from some of these things? Writer Casey Johnston got into weightlifting after realizing she could “get strong much easier and faster than I ever imagined; and that lifting weights might be the funnest, most affirming form of exercise I’ve ever tried.” In one of her “Ask a Swole Woman” columns for (now we continue with her she is a beast Substack newsletter) she gives her readers liberating advice. One wants to know how to lose weight; Johnston rephrases the question. She writes, “What I wish for you is a kinder, more generous, more far-reaching goal than the ‘weight loss’ that the world keeps trying to give us.” If you follow her philosophy, physical strength can be your own Asserting agency and taking care of yourself in a culture that pushes women in a different direction.

This sense of importance and empowerment is echoed by Poorna Bell, an author, journalist, and strength athlete. She recently won the 2022 Sports Achievement Book of the Year for Stronger, her memoir of her journey to being able to lift twice her own body weight. She wrote on Instagram: “To me, powerlifting isn’t just a sport, it’s a metaphor for life. And it has given me sanity and purpose in my body in a world that strives to deny me both.”

In fact, Portman would agree. “To have that reaction and be considered big, you’re like, ‘Oh, this must be so different, going through the world like that,'” she said. “It’s so wild to feel strong for the first time in my life.” In a world where women’s physical autonomy is no longer guaranteed, this seems almost radical.

Thor: Love and Thunder is in theaters now

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/women/natalie-portman-thor-arms-madonna-b2117769.html Natalie Portman’s Thor arms and the turbulent history of female celebrity muscles

JOE HERNANDEZ

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