Does CrossFit Have a Body Image Dilemma?
Dear CrossFit. What's going on with you lately? You're kind of freaking me out. It started with the photos. My Instagram feed and browser history has reached critical mass of sexy fitness: girls baring some cheek, booties caught mid-squat and repetitive ab-to-crotch selfies (yup, your abs are still there!) All in the name of #crossfit and #fitspo. Is it fun to look at? You bet. Does it inspire me to be a little extra paleo some days? Sure. But the fun stopped when I caught myself looking at a particularly "inspiring" shot of a ripped chick wearing next to nothing and thinking, "Man, my belly is never going to look like that. SIGH."
[Record scratches to a halt]
What in the? I've retired from the negative body image arena thanks to indoor rowing and CrossFit. But this new obsession uncomfortably familiar. Am I on the edge of relapse, sponsored by Reebok?
Before we can examine why this is so particularly damning, we need to look back at how much work went into getting here. Let's call it the 3 Stages of Fit Enlightenment.
Stage 1: The Awakening
Lifting heavy isn't just good for your body, for lots of women it's incredibly eye-opening. See, nobody told us there was more to life than counting calories and obsessing over the circumference of our thighs. We prayed to the altar of Kate Moss and were thankful for fat free yogurt and apps that reminded us not to eat. And if we were really, really good, we'd get the thin bodies men want and women want to have.
I numbly chased that illusion for years. Most of the time I was weak with hunger and still didn't like my body. Even at my thinnest, it wasn't enough. (Sound familiar?) The irony was that as much as I obsessed about my body, I had no clue how it actually worked. I didn't feed it enough. (Uh, way to put your body in panic mode and cannibalize your muscle mass). I didn't train it at all. (Do long walks count?) Yet I had high expectations for a body I wasn't optimizing, and my image of beautiful was all kinds of fucked up. So imagine the surprise we girls experience upon stumbling into a strength or CrossFit program. When we realize we can be strong as shit not shaky with hunger, can rock big thighs like a badge of honor AND can eat like a champ without guilt or anxiety.
"Holy shit," is what we think. "How did I not KNOW this?"
Stage 2: Welcome To Your New Body
If the first phase of Fit Enlightenment is an intellectual surprise and liberation that begets gung-ho gym attendance, the second phase is actually seeing your body change. Some of these muscles have been slumbering their entire lives. You might not be getting thin, but that's suddenly OK. The math isn't hard to decipher. New body = more endurance, stamina and explosiveness. Those become the real goal, the body, a byproduct. And that my friends, is a big mental burden lifted. Not to mention one heck of a motivator. The physical changes so strongly correlate to the effort and heart you put into your program. The more you love it, the more it loves you. After a few months into my Fit Enlightenment, I stopped stepping on the scale. I quit cold turkey. The only numbers that interested me anymore were splits, reps and bumper weight.
Stage 3: Owning It (aka Stop Giving a Shit What Others Think)
There are haters out there. Just look at any fit female's Instagram feed and you'll find troll gems such as, "Is that a dude?" "ugly" "lol no" "gross." Much still needs to be done to win the broad acceptance of a new female beauty norm. And Stage 3 is all about reconciling the old standards with the new. Sure, your glutes have perked up and who can't get behind that (ahem), but there are the other brave new realities that can be more challenging to accept. Less body fat, less boob. Strong quads, sayonara thigh gap. Do delicate flowers have well-defined traps?
Rebooting your hardcoded perception of femininity is no easy task. The more supporters and role models the better. Which is where Instagram comes in...
The #FitChick Problem
So here we have this emerging group of women, boosted by the rise of CrossFit, who are inspiring their friends and followers to achieve new levels of fitness via their photos and content. It is so awesome.
But often the motivation comes interspersed with the fitchick selfie. See enough ass and ab photos and it becomes apparent we've traded one ideal for another. Yesterday's thigh gap is today's six pack. Same old routine, served up on a social media platter.
It's conflicting. These girls have muscle ups down pat and 1 Rep Maxes to die for. They didn't starve to get here, they worked hard. But it sends a message that being physically fit isn't the ultimate goal. We should also be sexy little beasts.
Burpees Not Booties!
For us average female (and male) CrossFitters, sexy beast bodies are just not going to happen. And we shouldn't feel bad about our soft spots or lack of definition.
After all the work I've put in, I'm not going back to judging my body against other women's. Hell to the no. I'll be over here, counting reps, not abs. Want to put down the iPhone and join me?
Featured photo: Ali Samieivafa CC BY 2.0
Additional photo courtesy of midwestnerd CC BY 2.0