Monday, February 07, 2011

Crossfit and Body Image

By Kelly Elmore

(Originally posted at Reepicheep's Coracle)

Tonight, leaving the Crossfit gym, a very young, attractive, and fit woman commented that she was getting ready for swimsuit season, that last year she hardly ever wore one because of how her butt looked in it, and that she was "disgusting." My first reaction was to be a little hurt and offended. I mean, if she is disgusting, what must she think about me, so much less fit? And why make a comment like that in front of me?

But I know she wasn't talking about me; she's wrapped up in her own stuff the way all of us are. She sees herself more negatively than she sees other people (all this body stuff isn't rational, after all), at least that's what I have always done. Other people were okay, but I was just awful. I still slip into that thinking sometimes when I look at less than flattering pictures of myself. Other people just took a bad picture, but I I must really look like that. Thinking of her wasting her youth on all that unrealistic cruelty to her own body made all my hurt and anger morph into pity and sympathy. I've been there, and thinking like that becomes way too normal. It doesn't even feel weird anymore after a while; it's just the way you talk to and about your body.

How is it possible that such a pretty little thing and such a tough Crossfitter could feel that way? What does it say about our culture that she would really avoid fun, active summer activities because she thought she looked fat in a bathing suit? How could all that negativity about her body be on her mind after doing a hard workout really well? I hate this about our world. I hate that she isn't feeling how strong and useful and pretty and healthy her body is. I hate that there are so many women like her who feel that way every day of their lives.

So, I got to thinking about Crossfit and the way it makes me feel about my body. I have suffered from terrible body image issues in my life (how many women haven't?), but I am in a good place. I like the changes that I am seeing. I have made peace with stretch marks and boobs that aren't as perky as they once were. I value my assets, like my legs. I can look in the mirror naked and see me, outside and inside, instead of seeing an enemy and a stranger. Crossfit is a piece of that, I think.

At our gym, there aren't a gazillion mirrors, reminding me of how I look every second. It's not a place for being pretty or for thinking about being prettier. It's a place for sweating and grunting and looking like crap because you are the warrior Boudica, not some china doll, ornamental princess. The workouts are focused on functional fitness, not on building specific vanity muscles (*cough* bench-press *cough*) or losing fat in certain places. My workout is for getting strong and flexible and tough and being able to live better. I like that the focus in on using my body for work and play, not on making it into something to look at.

I love that our coach, Chris, didn't talk about me losing weight when I signed up. He was all about jumping into the workouts at the level I could do and doing my best. I have lost weight, and that's a good thing, but the weight loss is a side-effect of doing what bodies are made to do, what makes them feel good and work right.

I'm glad to be in a place where no matter what I look like this summer, I will definitely kayak on the Chattahoochee, go to the pool and Whitewater, and lay out in the backyard in the very smallest amount of clothes I can get away from. My body is for living my values, even the ones that require a bathing suit, and Crossfit is for making those values easier and more fun.

I have written two other posts on body image that may be interesting to you: Musings on Age and Body Image and Body Image and Gymnastics.

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