What’s messy, and why it matters

If you’re a Brené Brown fan like I am, I hope you’ve picked up her newest book, Rising Strong. I’m into it now and can’t help but be inspired by her words and her dedication of the book to the space in between vulnerability and the heroic ending of the stories we are all so excited to get to. She admits that failure is part of life, and says that the journey is messy:

 “We much prefer stories about falling and rising to be inspirational and sanitized. Our culture is rife with those tales. In a thirty-minute speech, there’s normally thirty seconds dedicated to, “And I fought my way back,”…We like recovery stories to move quickly through the dark so we can get to the sweeping redemptive ending.”

I like to think that my blogging here as well as at my old blog was a space for me to share some of my struggles, but I’ll admit that I like to rush to the ending. Sometimes this blog serves as a spot to figure things out, which is great. But as someone who wants to help others to figure their own things out, it’s a disservice to skip to the ending or to leave out the messy parts. So as I’ve been reading Rising Strong, I’ve been thinking about my own mess in the middle.

On a regular basis, there are parts about living my recovered, healthy, life that are not so easy. There are “failures” or stumbles now, and I don’t always want to talk about them. Is it shame? Is it an attempt to inspire and focus on what’s good? Maybe. But talking about where we feel shame, I know, only takes away its power. And being real about the messy parts of life is what is really inspiring to others. Take it from Brené:

“…[T]here’s a vast difference between how we think about the term failure and how we think about the people and organizations brave enough to share their feelings for the purpose of learning and growing. To pretend that we can get to helping, generous, and brave without navigating through tough emotions like desperation, shame, and panic is a profoundly dangerous and misguided assumption.”

She talks about “the beauty in truth and tenacity.” So for the next couple of posts here, I want to share some of the struggles I’ve had and/or have when it comes to living the healthy and happy life I try to stay committed to. I’ll talk about what it’s like to walk around recovered—some of the times where I find myself slipping, or the ways that I have to work on staying true to myself. It’s not always easy, and I hope that this serves to send the message that it’s alright to have to work at recovery or living a healthy life. We sometimes see these images of people who have it all figured out and beat ourselves up for not being as carefree or as put together as them. It’s the whole comparing other peoples’ highlight reels with our behind the scenes footage, and it’s shitty if you’re the kind of person who then beats yourself up for struggling. Talk about kicking yourself when you’re down. I’ve been there, and I hope talking about it both helps me to let go of some of that shame and also to let others know they’re not alone.

 

imperfections

So in the coming posts, I want to talk about what’s tough. Holidays, the scale, comparisons–these are just a couple of the things I want to talk about.

Are there things you struggle with but keep to yourself when it comes to being healthy and happy?
When you tell your story, do you skip to the end? 

Celebrating strong, but at the expense of what?

In the past, I’ve talked (a lot) about my thoughts on the whole “strong is the new skinny” idea. This morning, as I was swimming before the sun rose, I let my mind wander. Watching all the swimmers come in and out of the pool, I noticed how different their bodies are then those that I’m used to seeing at CrossFit.

Because I’ve been in the CrossFit world and the realm of barbells for a few years now, I don’t think twice when I see a woman with big biceps and even bigger traps. Hell, I’ll even celebrate them for being willing to go against the idea that women should be small.

But I started to think about the way that we celebrate strong women but seem to pick on small men. All the talk of “gainz” (best spelt with a “z”) and the jokes about skipping leg day, for instance, directed at men who don’t make muscle their priority are actually kind of hurting us all.

People love that I am a strong woman. Taking up space physically for women is a sort of statement that goes beyond the physical and our bodies. But while the space women have to be strong is certainly demonstrative of the way in which we’ve expanded on the possibilities of gender, we’re not doing such a great job on the flip side. I’m afraid this does more than just keep men in a space that’s too narrowly-defined—it affects the way we look at femininity and women, too.

Consider a man who wants to take up synchronized swimming, knitting, raising a child, or any other traditionally feminine pursuit. We think twice before celebrating him, while we immediately applaud the women who choose bodybuilding, woodworking, or careers over kids for being leaders. What does that say about the way we think about those traditionally feminine pursuits? Traits? About women more generally?

The “Like a girl” ad that was floating around the interwebs last year comes to mind….

I’m afraid that in celebrating the masculine qualities that women can now embody without also working on expanding the possibilities for men worth celebrating, we are reinforcing that what is feminine is somehow inferior, or less than, or not worthy of praise. Consider staying home to raise kids. In my mind, there is nothing more important than taking time to properly raise a family. But also in my mind are all the ideas I have about the freedom I’ve got to have a career and the obligations I feel to do it all with a smile on my face someday.

So to bring it back to that “strong is the new skinny” idea, I think we should at least consider what we’re saying. Beyond the issues that I see with replacing one body ideal with another, both of which are largely unattainable, let’s take a second and consider that even skinny women, or women who choose to do “girly” things, are also of value. Men too.

What do you think?

 

“strong is the new skinny” revisited

I’ve blogged before about how I think “strong is the new skinny” has replaced one (unrealistic for many people) ideal—skinny–with a new one—strong—and how this isn’t really a solution for changing the way women think about their bodies. Especially if we assume that “strong” involves looking like the magazine covers and women who tell us that this is the new way to shape our bodies, going into a gym and trying to make our bodies look strong and match that new ideal is not so different from going into the gym and trying to make them look thin and toned.

Or is it?

As time has gone on, I’ve started to wonder if the “strong is the new skinny” message might not be at least partially a win for women (and the men who admire them). I’ve come to realize that just like a personal training client who comes in wanting to lose weight but then starts to fall in love with exercising and eating real food because of the way it makes them feel, women who start off trying to build a strong-looking body will (hopefully) end up in a situation where they can amaze themselves with their bodies and can build physical strength–both big wins I’ve had in my march towards loving my own body. Whether or not they are lean and mean and look like the images of strength that are typically associated with the motto, women getting stronger is, in my opinion, a good thing.

I’d be lying if I said that part of what drew me to CrossFit way back (prebok days) when wasn’t hoping that I would look a little more like one of those “strong” girls. In the process, I realized that regardless of what happens with my body, there are successes and strengths that come from working out in a way that focuses more on what I can do than on how I look because of it—I’m not perfect, but I certainly have an appreciation for what I’m capable of that I didn’t have before. At the risk of missing out on an opportunity to get into a kind of working out that just might leave women feeling like badasses and leave them physically and mentally stronger, I think we need to be careful not to dismiss “strong is the new skinny” as another way that someone is trying to trick us into driving ourselves batty chasing a new ideal. Maybe “strong” is a better ideal to go after because it can carry meaning beyond just an appearance or even beyond the physical—something skinny could never do. Am I strong enough to carry that weight? Am I mentally strong enough to talk myself into doing it? Am I strong enough to appreciate and maybe even love my body despite it’s cellulite, it’s flab, it’s whatever I think is “wrong” with it? 

Having strength as a goal, aesthetically and physically and mentally, has been empowering for me. Instead of focusing on what’s wrong with my body or what I needed to get rid of (as was the case when I just wanted to be thinner), it’s been a great opportunity to think about what I want to create and cultivate. Even if many of us are working out because we want to look a certain way, I think that the pursuit of that “ideal” might as well have positive side effects. My experience of trying to look skinny was undoubtedly unhealthy; my experience of wanting to look strong has been quite the opposite. Aiming for something instead of trying to fix something is probably the most powerful switch I’ve made in terms of my own health–and while I might not think that all of the things that go along with “strong is the new skinny” are necessarily in line with that I think the switch to focusing on strength is all about, I hope the women who are in it for the aesthetic reason and end up frustrated at not looking like an Oxygen magazine model are strong enough to see that they still rock.

deadlift

What’s your take on “Strong is the new skinny”?
Do you work out mainly for aesthetic reasons?
What else do you get from working out? 

day 3 and recognizing my strength

Hi there!

Today’s post from Molly Galbraith’s Love Your Body Challenge is all about acknowledging where you’re strong:

“We do things on a daily basis that require enormous amounts of physical, mental, and emotional strength, and yet we never slow down to recognize them, and give ourselves the credit we deserve.”

I think of myself as a strong person:

Emotionally, I’ve been through some stuff, which assures me that I’m strong.

stronger than you think

Physically, no problem.

This is my favourite picture. Ever.

This is my favourite picture. Ever.

 

Mentally, I do my best to think strong thoughts.

Strong or miserable

So, for today, my focus is: “I am strong enough to admit when I’m wrong and start over, and I am proud of that.”  x10

I am the person who sometimes acts too impulsively and trusts too much. In combination, this means I’ve spent a lot of time and money and energy on things that, to some people, might look like a “waste.” I, however, refuse to look at them that way. Of all the “mistakes” I’ve taken or the “wrong” roads I’ve found myself down (switching programs in school, for instance or starting and quitting jobs or training programs, perhaps), there are none that I haven’t learned something valuable about myself from. In lots of cases, finding the strength to stop where I’m at once I’ve realized it isn’t serving me was the hardest part.

strength 2

 

How are you strong on a regular basis?
Does reminding yourself of your strengths make you feel more confident in the moment?