There’s this insidious thing that won’t seem to go away, and it is the incessant chatter about athletic women’s bodies- is it ok for women to have muscles? Is strong really better than skinny? I don’t know if men are the main perpetrators or if it’s mostly us doing this to each other (let’s blame the men, that’s more fun). Either way, it’s apparent that certain forces are less than enthusiastic about the fairer sex being yoked. Don’t be scared, everything is going to be ok, even if us gals get barbells in our hands. I usually chalk the negativity up to mostly internet trolls- a subsect of the population I find it best to ignore. Frankly, I just don’t like giving life to the subject by discussing it further. I don’t feel the need to defend my choices for my body, or encourage others to choose the same path I have. Some see fit to inundate the inter-webs with articles and memes trying to dispel the myth that weight training makes women bulky, that strong is in fact superior to other ways of being, and working to assuage women’s fears that if they pick up a barbell their feminine curves will combust into a manly, hard body. Fears. Fears? Somehow, with everything going on in the world, development of strength, muscle and physical competency has become something that has risen to the status of being fear-worthy. I mean, what are these crazy girls going to do next, try to grow beards!? (Not likely because beards are vile and germ infested. If you don’t know about this you must read The Twits.)
But I digress. A couple of recent events transpired that sparked my interest in this subject. My opinion on the matter, like anyone elses of course, is shaped by my experiences. I grew up as a gymnast- a sport that produces strong, muscular athletes. I grew up with a strong mother. She was not an athlete, but she was strong as a horse in my child’s eye view. She always worked two, usually three jobs (often physical ones) to support us. My mother consistently encouraged my sister and I in our athletic endeavors and frankly, I felt that I was expected to be an athlete. I don’t remember her ever being sick and I only saw her cry once, when I was ten years old and her grandmother died. The problems explored in The Feminine Mystique did not exist in our house. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, in many ways I feel I was freed from the confines of stereotypical notions of femininity. I’ve always included strength as a completely normal characteristic for a woman. When I think of the ultimate woman, being able to handle business physically is one of the foremost thoughts in my mind. Bearing and nursing children, physically carrying them, raising children, doing labor to care for and support herself or her family- these are all things that I find utterly feminine and the ability to do them is enhanced and facilitated by a fit, strong body. One of my favorite things is when my son tells me I’m strong and emulates my athletic movements.
Back to the two events that got me thinking about this subject. One was a woman who contacted me after some of her loved ones reacted negatively to changes in her body after 5 months of CrossFit. Basically, they felt that her new muscle definition looked “manly”. My comment to her was essentially, if you have conviction about what you are doing, you must hold onto that as your shield against the naysayers. You are responsible for your body. You are responsible for your own health and happiness. How your body transforms is secondary to the discipline you’re displaying and the sense of accomplishment you earn in your daily workouts and progress towards your goals. People who really care about you should be uplifted by your joy, hard work and accomplishments. In my case, I’m fortunate that overwhelmingly I am affirmed for what I do with regard to fitness and I’m realizing not everyone has that experience.
The other happening was a conversation with one of the top weightlifting coaches in the country. He told me that he’s had multiple adolescent female lifters quit the sport of weightlifting because they (or their mothers!) felt it was making their butt and thighs too big. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I found this fact shocking. We discussed the matter a bit more on “Weightlifting Talk”. Maybe I hang around too many people who appreciate a developed butt and quads, but WHAT?! First of all, when you’re an adolescent girl, your body is supposed to grow and develop, weightlifter or not. Second of all, what’s wrong with a butt and thighs?
I came away from these two occurrences shaking my head and more convinced than ever that the best way to deal with this obsession with critiquing women’s bodies is to identify your own beliefs and values about your body and what you choose to do with it, and say FTW. Whether it’s too “manly” because you’re lifting weights, or too curvaceous because you’re lifting weights, or too thin because you like to run, or too whatever. In Tina Fey’s book Bossypants, she documents the list of attributes that every girl is expected to have:
- Caucasian blue eyes
- Full Spanish lips
- A classic button nose
- Hairless Asian skin with a California tan
- A Jamaican dance hall ass
- Long Swedish legs
- Small Japanese feet
- The abs of a lesbian gym owner
- The hips of a nine year old boy
- The arms of Michelle Obama
- And doll tits
Great list, funny and reflective of the ridiculousness of it all. It’s a shame there’s no tidy conclusion to this matter so we could stop having this conversation over and over. I suspect that won’t happen anytime soon. In the meantime, I leave you with a lyric from a song my mother used to play:
“But it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well, You see, ya can’t please everyone, So ya got to please yourself.”- Rick Nelson
I had a weekend of near misses in Palm Springs. Nearly missed the podium at the American Open, with a fourth place finish. Nearly missed the podium at the Outlaw Open with a second place finish after having the lead going into the final. I would be lying if I didn’t admit I have a terrible taste in my mouth about those finishes, but also mixed feelings. Part of me is actually ok with how things went. Both competitions provided me an opportunity to hone my craft, to test myself under pressure, expose weaknesses, check my progress, practice some of the skills that will help me going forward, and grow as an athlete. I got to workout with an amazing field of women. The other part of me feels obligated to beat myself up as atonement for “failing”. Sigh. I’m not going to let the latter part win because it’s a waste of time. There were so many positive things for me this weekend it would be a shame to reduce success or failure to simply where my name fell on the final results sheet.
I realized at the 2012 CrossFit Games I didn’t enjoy myself at all, I didn’t open my eyes and experience what was happening, I didn’t even focus on the things that would’ve been helpful to my performance because I was too worried about what was on the leaderboard. I perform much better when I focus on what I need to do technically in each moment, use positive self-talk, or repeat an affirming mantra to myself while I work out. Based on my experience at the Games this past year I developed a list of things, mental game things, which I wanted to improve on. I haven’t participated in other high level competitions outside of the formal CrossFit season, and I’ve haven’t gone into a lifting meet on a national podium without specifically training for it. As a result, I felt a sense of discomfort going into these competitions knowing that I’m not in peak condition, lifts aren’t really where I’d want them and such. Treating this weekend as a special training opportunity (albeit one with a $10,000 winner take all prize purse) finally helped me get excited for it after having some initial ambivalence about competing.
With the exception of the final workout of the Outlaw Open I felt I did a really good job of executing my plan and practicing the things I set out to put into action. The final workout was a tough, nasty chipper and I’ve been feeling bad about my performance on the event. Though when I reflect back on it I didn’t perform that poorly. I took fourth on the workout. A twenty minute piece, not my favorite length of workout. I took fourth to approximately 11 years worth of Games athlete in Becca Voigt, Kris Clever and Lindsey Valenzuela. Being beaten by those girls doesn’t exactly mean you’re chopped liver, if you know what I mean. Lindsey Valenzuela was crowned the victor this weekend, and I think she would agree it was a great battle throughout the competition. Taking second to Lindsey makes the pill of losing a little bit easier to swallow because she’s such a great all around athlete, a gracious competitor, and on top of that her 92 year old grandfather was at the event to watch her CrossFit for the first time. Kinda awesome. It made me think of my own grandfather who has passed, but was always a huge supporter of my athletic endeavors.
There were some physical accomplishments that were really exciting to me. One of the scoring points for the weekend was an agility test. The event was set up with a series of five 20-inch plyo boxes in a row with lateral hurdles on alternate sides. You had to jump over each box, then back and forth laterally over each hurdle. This was immediately followed by a shuttle run and back over the box/hurdle course. Honest to goodness, prior to CrossFit I spent many years avoiding jumping and movements such as the lateral stop on a shuttle run like the plague (that shuttle run at the Games with the cleats on felt like a horrible idea). I have no ACL in my left knee and I’ve had problems with it feeling unstable in the past. When I started CrossFit and was presented with doing box jumps or even jumping rope I was really concerned and had no idea if I could do it. Seeing an event like this agility test was actually a worst -case scenario for me. The last thing I want to do is bounce around like Tigger. However, after putting some work in I was able to perform it relatively smoothly and with confidence, managing to come in second on the event. I’ve found that my leg with the knee issues has gotten stronger through CrossFit, weightlifting, learning to squat properly, doing GHD raises, etc. Just as important if not more so, CrossFit has forced me to challenge the assumptions I’ve made about what my body can do and it’s given me the incentive to knock down self-imposed limitations. It’s amazing how empowering it is every time you accomplish something you weren’t sure you could. That never gets old, and I think reinforces your ability to move forward on faith knowing that you will find a way, adapt, learn, grow and rise to the occasion one way or another. Every experience of overcoming makes it that much easier to believe in yourself the next time around.
“The inches we need are everywhere around us…on this team, we fight for that inch…’cause we know when we add up all those inches, that’s gonna make the f*^#$&@ difference between winning and losing.”