For my independent study course right now, I’m looking at some of the issues of SweatRX (a Canadian magazine dedicated to CrossFit). This week, I specifically looked at an article called “Beauty and Strength in Balance.” While I see a lot of potentially empowering stuff coming from CrossFit and from the media that surrounds it (including SweatRX, which I am not bashing in any way), I get discouraged when I see stuff like women in ball gowns and high heels holding 15lb kettlebells to demonstrate how beautiful being strong is (would we ever see a guy just hanging out with a dumbbell in his fancy pants?). Considering my own experience with CrossFit and how I’ve found that the emphasis on what my body can do instead of how it looks, I don’t like to see this kind of emphasis on the aesthetic, even if I do recognize that it helps to sell magazines (and gym memberships, products, etc.) in a world that’s pretty image-obsessed.
Luckily in the midst of this discouragement came an encouraging experience at the gym last night. After a pretty crappy workout (I couldn’t lift as much as I’d like, I felt uncoordinated, and it was busy so I ended up doing a random WOD that didn’t feel like much of an accomplishment), I was showering and getting cleaned up in the changeroom when I got to talking with two women who were just about to do their first CrossFit class.
One of the women was talking about how nervous she was but said that she was ready to get started with CrossFit because she wants a flat stomach and nothing else had helped her. Standing there in my tight jeans with my bra on and my not so flat stomach, I wondered what was going through her head (“This girl’s been doing this stuff for a year and she doesn’t have a flat stomach—uh oh!” came to mind). One of the other women in the bathroom commented on what she hoped would change about her body (I think she mentioned her love handles and something about her thighs but I really am getting good at tuning out the specifics of people’s body gripes).
Instead of entering into the body bashing conversation, I decided to make a point of emphasizing what I think is great and potentially empowering about CrossFit. I told the women that while I think CrossFit will definitely affect their bodies, that I have a feeling it will affect them in ways they don’t expect. I told them that I’d love to hear what they think in a month and mentioned that without mirrors, my experience of CrossFit has surprised me in just how little I focus on what I look like during the workout and instead think about how much weight I can lift or how quickly I can move. While I’m not sure if they wanted to hear this—“You’ll definitely have a six pack by next month” might have been more along the lines of what they were hoping for—I’m sure of one thing: it felt really good to focus on what I think is positive instead of doing what I’ve traditionally done and join in on the body hating and fat talk.
In the same way, rather than letting the things that I’m critical of when it comes to the stuff I look at with my work in school drag me down, it pays to look at the fact that there’s encouraging and empowering stuff going on too. Yes, people will continue to take up CrossFit (or cycling, or Zumba, or yoga, or whatever) because they want to change the way they look—and positioning it as a route to do just that might be a lucrative way to approach things. But just because it’s one (lucrative) route doesn’t mean it’s the only way. I know from the comments I get on this blog, the feedback I get from people I meet, and my experiences coaching people that even in the midst of aesthetic goals and the pursuit of the perfect body, there are people who want more. There are people who want to let go of the obsession and there are people who are genuinely interested in finding an alternative to constantly trying to fix themselves. And if we bring that attitude to CrossFit, I think it can help us do just that. Figuring out the shortcomings of CrossFit or of the CrossFit media might be important for a paper I write, but the focus I bring to things in my day to day life and interactions with people doesn’t have to be critical. Instead, it can be empowering. Focusing on what is good about what I’m doing (or what the women in the changeroom are about to do) feels a hell of a lot better. Empowered and empowering is not such a bad way to feel, so why not emphasize what’s good?
What I want for those women in the changeroom is to realize that there’s something better than a six pack available to them. I want for them to recognize the opportunity to start appreciating what their amazing bodies are capable of. I want for them the feeling I got when I finally pulled my chin over a bar and realized that I can do a lot of things that people like to tell me that I can’t. I want for them the feeling of power and accomplishment that came with putting in the work and getting to a 300lb deadlift. I want for them the satisfaction of being able to Rx a workout the 4th time they see it up on the board (I refuse to do “Jackie” for at least a few months). I want for them the feeling of being supported by a community of people who want you to do your best. I want for them the permission to focus not on what they look like or on how a workout will make their bodies look but on how incredible they are. I want for them all the empowerment and all the good stuff that is there for the taking.
I want you to watch this video (which I’ve struggled with — do I like it? do the images or the part about “discipline” over your body’s shortcomings make it not worth watching? why is it making me cry?) and I’d love to hear your take on it, but I challenge you to watch it and look for what is good and what is empowering about it.
Have you had an empowering experience with CrossFit?
If you do CrossFit, what drew you to it in the first place (functional, aesthetic, something else)?
How do you make sure to take a positive focus on what you’re doing?