Over the last few weeks I have had a few different conversations with women in our gym about self image (I guess that’s what tank top season brings out). It seem that even though media now displays strong women with muscular definition as often as they display waify skeletons, our generation was still bred to believe that strong is not feminine and that muscular arms are “man arms”. The CrossFit community, tending not to be as publicly vain as perhaps other gym scenes, focuses more on raw physical capacity… yet here we are with our women aiming for PR’s on bench press and backsquats and heavy max weighted pushups, and feeling slightly uncomfortable with the resulting image. And it all comes down to self perception. What I see when I look around the gym are women that stand tall and strong. Yes your midsection might be a little “thicker” (you need that when you overhead squat) or your shoulders may be a little broader (you are probably happy for that when you shoulder press). There are women out there who would die to look like you guys do… but don’t have the drive to make it all happen.
The reality is that we are built with the frame that we have…and that frame won’t change… but you can wear a lot of different looks on that frame… and each look has a functionality or lack thereof. Overweight doesn’t help for much of anything. Skinny and wiry can look good in a lot of clothes, but doesn’t do much for you when you try to lift your bike onto your car by yourself. But strong not only makes you look how human’s were meant to look, it also happens to be quite useful. I think that the little girls growing up now will have a different perception of what women can look like, let alone do. We are working hard as a society to steer little girls into good eating, being confident with their bodies, and convincing them that fitness is fun. Let’s be careful not to send them the message that there is such a thing as “man arms” or “legs that are too strong”.
So yes, there are women out there who look like monsters. I would hazard a guess that some of them supplement more than just a little whey powder in their shakes. And as far as the concern of being perceived as “butchy”… well, we are who we are…. lets not forget that personality affects people’s perception of us.
There are many women out there who demonstrate that strong, feminine and beautiful can be part of the same package. If that’s what you are aiming for.
If you haven’t seen an interview with Tanya Wagner (winner of the games last year), I would recommend watching one on the games site…. she is unbelievably strong, and has an adorable personality.
Here is a poem that I have always liked and have emailed to specific people from time to time….
If I were feeling a little more lawless, I’d gather all the copies of Cosmo and Seventeen, douse them in kerosene, and strike a match. I’d throw in reams of print ads from Calvin Klein and watch with delight as Kate Moss’ stick-thin image was reduced to carbon. I’d add copies of Shape and Runner’s World until the flames reached toward the heavens, and then I’d crank call the editorial desk at Muscle and Fitness until they stopped publishing pictures of women on steroids.
I’d get the master tapes of America’s Next Top Model and dub over them with “Nasty Girls”, broadcasting the results on every television station in America. I’d skywrite “CrossFit.com” across the Boston skyline, and gently admonish the hoards of long distance runners trotting along the Charles River—with a bullhorn.
I’d take every woman with mass media-induced ideals of beauty, and I’d show them what it really means to be beautiful.
Beautiful women are strong and powerful. They are athletes, capable of every feat under the sun. They have muscles, borne of hard work and sweat. They gauge their self-worth through accomplishments, not by the numbers on the bathroom scale. They understand that muscle weighs more than fat, and they love the fact that designer jeans don’t fit over their well-developed quads.
They know that high repetitions using light weights is a path to mediocrity, and “toning” is a complete and utter myth. They refuse to succumb to the marketers that prey on insecurity, leaving the pre-packaged diet dinners and fat-burning pills on the shelf to pass their expiration date.
Beautiful women train with intensity. The derive self-image from the quality of their work and their ability to excel. They don’t wear makeup to the gym, and they wouldn’t be caught dead with a vinyl pink dumbbell. They move iron, they do pull-ups, they jump, sprint, punch, and kick, and they use the elliptical machine—as a place to hang their jump rope.
They spend their weekends in sport, climbing walls, winning races, and running rivers. They laugh as they sprint circles around the unschooled, turning the image-obsessed into benchwarmers. Beautiful women don’t care if they’re soaked in sweat and covered in dirt, if their nails are chipped or their hair out of place. They care only about quality of life.
Beautiful women are happy, healthy, and strong, and they’re right there beside me, tossing conventional beauty on the ever-growing flames of what used to be.