A Brawny Brand of Beautiful

Lessons learned while boldly embracing this body

Ashley Strahm
Published in
4 min readJun 4, 2021

“You’ve got those Michelle Obama arms!”

People love to yell that at me. In reality, my arms are more like Serena Williams’, and I wish they would just say that. I love me some Serena.

I grew up with boys ducking, slinking, and hiding from me in hallways, shouting about how they didn’t want to “get beat up” by the dude in girl’s clothing (wrong on so, so many levels). Nothing had grown in yet, of course, so I really was just a chiseled, thick little thing, proud of being a track-and-field athlete when I wasn’t sleeping or eating. I was and still am the spitting image of my mother, a personal trainer and former gymnast who spent her childhood in South America climbing trees with her five brothers.

It’s not the gym. It’s the genes.

Genes are a real thing. I’ve never, ever been able to outrun mine.

And run I did. There were more than a few moments where I resented my body shape. Sure, I’ve always been more comfortable in sports bras, Birkenstocks, and jorts than dresses, but I still felt somewhat frustrated that my femininity was questioned because of musculature beyond my control. I asked my mom where my curves were, begged for a relaxer and braces, and stabbed myself in the eye more than once while attempting to wear mascara in middle school. I wanted to prove I was more than muscles, that I had soft qualities to me, that I deserved to be protected just like any other girl. I couldn’t understand how my athletic prowess somehow disqualified me from being an emotional, sentient being. Yes, I could do more pullups than most in elementary school. But I was still capable of getting hurt, of needing support, of being insecure.

Perhaps it was because of all of those years of yearning to be conventionally pretty, but I think at a certain point, I learned to seek solace in my assumed strength. That appeared to be the consistent expectation, so I relented. I attempted to hone that quality in myself and strove to keep vulnerability at bay. After all, strength has always felt like a prerequisite…



Ashley Strahm
Writer for

Jersey roots, Durham fruit. Committed to justice, enthralled by stories, and inspired by an equitable future for us all.