Body Image and Being Different

****Don’t forget to check out the Strongman workshop series I’m co-coaching if you’re in the central VA area!****

Last weekend, I spent the day at a Strongman competition watching 2 of my female teammates compete, applying their tacky (one is allergic), cheering them on, and encouraging them. Afterwards, we all decided to decompress a bit with some wine and ice cream in my backyard. While we were sitting around my table, photos from the contest began to be posted on Facebook and we all immediately whipped out our phones to check them out. We all commented about how absolutely awesome these ladies looked, the greatness that is a deadlift face, and looking jacked thanks to good overhead lighting. There was talk of having big thighs that touch, shoulders and lats that break blazers, and how proud we were to have more muscle than the average woman. It dawned on me that this conversation, this scene of a group of women eating and drinking and talking about taking up space, is something that would seem pretty out of the ordinary to most people. It always is a little jarring to overhear other groups of women talking about how much they want to eat something or how they wish their hip bones were visible or how much they hate their bodies. I’m very lucky in that I’ve nearly forgotten what that’s like.

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As a woman, you spend a lot of time hearing about how to “shrink” yourself into some shape deemed “attractive” by society. Magazine (I actually just typed “magainzine”) articles are focused on how to get a “bikini body”, eat less, and get smaller. Women are supposed to want to shrink away and heaven forbid you lift weights because, you know, you’re going to get bulky. This mentality is markedly absent in strength sports because the focus is on performance, not necessarily aesthetics. Women are proud of what their bodies can do. But that mentality doesn’t exist everywhere in “real world”.

 

There will be snarky and downright mean comments about the fact that maybe you’re too “bulky” and how that’s a bad thing. Sorry world, but some of us work very hard to gain muscle and there is nothing wrong with bulky. There is nothing wrong with wanting to get lean either. What is wrong is that people feel that it’s perfectly okay and acceptable to comment on women’s bodies (I’m speaking about women because that’s my experience but I see that this happens to men as well) and how much they don’t want to look like that person. Well guess what? You won’t. Because you have your own set of genetics that are unique.

 

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When you get into lifting or any strength sport, having quads that men in your gym envy becomes a good thing and it’s easy to feel good about your ample legs when you’re pulling a heavy deadlift. Your self confidence skyrockets because your body can do some pretty kick ass things and it’s rewarding to see how strong you really are. You find gym buddies and training partners that understand the struggle that is finding a pair of jeans that fit your thighs and your waist,  and everyone agrees that spandex and cut off t-shirts should be considered casual work attire. When you have a solid support system, it’s easy to continue to feel good about your body.

But there will always be a time when you’re suddenly bombarded with the fact that you, indeed, are different.

You will be shopping and rip the quads out of a pair of jeans in the dressing room (I may or may not have done that), you’ll feel a little twinge of frustration when you have to reach for a bigger size because your lats are stretching a dress to their limits, and at some point, you’ll hear a comment about how “if you’re so frustrated with x,y,z then why don’t you just stop lifting?”. There is the expectation that you are supposed to be at war with your body. When you violate that expectation, people get confused. How dare you be different and actually like yourself?! The fact that women are expected to hate their bodies is terrible. The norm should be that people like their bodies, appreciate their bodies for all of the things they can do, and do things because they love their body. It’s not an easy thing but it’s a possible thing. So continue to confuse people by celebrating how seriously awesome your body is and do things to make it even better, not punish it.

 

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Comments: 15

  1. Scotch July 11, 2014 at 12:06 pm Reply

    Good stuff. As a man, one of the things that surprised me most about CrossFit was meeting women who were happy being and working to get strong(er) rather than small(er).

  2. Jordan July 11, 2014 at 1:13 pm Reply

    This post is fantastic! CrossFit has definitely given me the ability to take more pride in the way I look. I’m can lift and I can row, I still suck at running but there’s a reason I’m not the size of a twig.

  3. Katie@LifesNextBigStep July 11, 2014 at 1:33 pm Reply

    I love 100% of this. I’m still working on not comparing myself or wishing I looked one way or another – but luckily, my ‘body goals’ are WAY different now than they were in the past – I no longer want to look like a VS runway model. I want to have muscles and definition. Thank you for posting this!

  4. Chris @ ifailedfran July 11, 2014 at 1:46 pm Reply

    You’re so brave Gabby for continually posting articles like this and for being a flag waver for positive body image.

    When my wife and I are out (both CrossFitters), say at the mall, now it’s almost a game to spot the girls who obviously don’t lift/squat. And no, that’s not totally a cool thing to do but it just shows the change in mindset for both of us… muscles are good.

    For me, looking at the beautiful canvas that is the female body… muscles are hot. Muscles are sexy. Strong is fantasizable. Looking to the right of your post I see a Reebok CrossFit ad with Stacie Tovar on it – shoulders, arms, and legs all muscled out and she looks damn good.

    As a guy, I appreciate what you have to say and how you say it. I can only imagine I would appreciate it even more if I were female. Keep it up, please.

  5. Liz @ I Heart Vegetables July 11, 2014 at 4:10 pm Reply

    I love this, and not because I’m very strong, but because it’s so REFRESHING to hear women talk positively about their bodies and be comfortable in their own skin. It’s a good reminder that we don’t HAVE to hate our bodies! Gabby, I love your blog and I love your attitude and perspective!

  6. Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table July 11, 2014 at 5:13 pm Reply

    I really needed to see this today. Thank you. My jeans don’t fit because my ass is too big. Which is what I wanted. But dammit… it can fuck with your head.

  7. Maggie July 11, 2014 at 5:54 pm Reply

    Love this post. I am ‘bulkier’ (aka have more muscle mass than before when I was a bean pole)- and I get constant comments from friends, family, and strangers about my ‘guns’. I love my muscle and work so hard for it. Some of the comments are nice and others are not. I just have to remember MY goals and that I’m not living for others!

  8. Kethry July 12, 2014 at 3:11 am Reply

    I really, really wish I could use a sewing machine…because dammit, there should be clothes for women with muscles! I’m sick of the waist/hip/thigh mismatch, and I’ve had issues with my guns and jackets practically forever, because “obviously girls have small arms/shoulders”. UGH. I could make a killing. Somebody ought to, because I would buy the heck out of clothing like that.

  9. Ashley July 12, 2014 at 4:01 pm Reply

    A couple of tips for buying clothes – buy the size that fits your quads, cut the tags out, find a good tailor. Don’t get frustrated because your body doesn’t fit the clothes, make the clothes fit your body! (Took me 40 years to figure that out!!)

  10. Gingerzingi July 13, 2014 at 6:44 am Reply

    I love every word of this post, x 1,000,000! I’ve read it three times already. It’s so important to hear another voice contradicting the many messages of self-hatred women are exposed to. “There is the expectation that you are supposed to be at war with your body … So continue to confuse people by celebrating how seriously awesome your body is.” That’s just perfect. Thanks for writing this.

  11. Natalie Wester at Clean Eating Teen July 14, 2014 at 11:53 pm Reply

    Oh my GOSH, this is JUST WHAT I NEEDED. I went from being very out of shape, to having an eating disorder at weighing 90lbs, to falling in love with powerlifting, gaining upwards of 30lbs and now everyone telling me that I am getting too big and bulky. And I’m a 16 year old girl! Can’t I catch a break?
    Yes, my thighs are bigger. My back is bigger, my arms are bigger! But you know what, I am stronger than ever before. My body is the product of my hard work in the gym. People need to stay out of others business!

  12. lauren July 15, 2014 at 2:21 am Reply

    So relate to this. I’m not a crossfitter/lifter but a cyclists so my “guns” are my legs. No toothpick legs for me! I have bigger calf muscles than most guys (including most of my fellow male cyclists). Do they make my body look different? Damn straight they do! I’m proud of my legs. They’re the only part of me that I actually like (them and my butt).

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  14. Jenny July 18, 2014 at 1:20 pm Reply

    I love this mentality of focusing on what your body can do and how it performs over what it looks like. I hate that there is this stupid standard of how everyone should look. Everyone is different, and that should be something to celebrate! And I definitely relate to not finding jeans that fit both your thighs and your waist!!

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