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Redefining Body Image: Women in CrossFit

By Audrey W. | In News, Nutrition & Health | on March 15, 2014

OK Ladies. There has been a lot of talk among the women at the gym about weight loss recently. It’s probably the most asked about topic in the gym, especially with summer approaching. It usually goes something like this: “I used to weigh 120 pounds, now I weigh 140 pounds, so how do I lose weight?” -or- “I’m not losing weight anymore (even though I’m way stronger, and my pants are too big), I need to lose more weight.”

I’ll start by saying, I get it, I do. I struggle with this as well. I’ve included here a post I wrote last August on just this topic. Women still think they are supposed to be skinny. Or that we are to stay around some mystical magic number on the scale that means we are successful at being thin enough. Yes, some of you do have some weight to lose to be healthier, but we all need to rethink our measures of success.

When we find CrossFit we decide we want to be strong! What we fail to remember is this:

  • Stronger = More muscle mass.
  • Muscles weighs more than fat.
  • Therefore we will weigh more!

You have to find a new way to measure your worth, and to measure your success. Make the numbers on the bar and the board more important than the numbers on the scale. Your rope climbs, double unders, pull ups, and hand stands. The 10 seconds you shaved off your Helen time. Or maybe the way to feel when you reach the top of the stairs and you’re the only one among your group thats not winded.

— Here you go. From August 2013—

CrossFit has made me stronger, emotionally, mentally and physically. But even as an athlete a year and a half into my training, proud of every pound I’ve moved, every record, every accomplishment, I cannot help but continue to feel a pull from the societal messages of thin beauty. Like many women I struggled with these unspoken expectations much of my life, always feeling I fell short.

Lets put things into context:

In 2009 I was became a P90X and Insanity devotee. Before that I had struggled with weight, as large as a 14 and as small as a 6. I combined the two programs and a month before my wedding date my alterations told me I had to put on a few pounds because I was getting too thin for my dress. I was 134 pounds, a small size 6 and very lean. I looked great, I felt great, I ate whatever I wanted. Even more unexpected, for the first time in my life since puberty, my thighs didn’t touch! I had found my recipe for achieving the societal ideal of beauty.

But it didn’t last (and neither did the marriage). Relationship and financial stress took a toll and I gained weight… Well, fat actually. Again I found myself unhappy with my body. I attempted to start my program again, but felt bored and lonely.

Then what?

I saw a GroupOn for CrossFit. I went to my first class January 9th of 2012. The initial fat loss and strength gains were exhilarating. I was quickly sucked into the culture and the addiction. I began to admire the strength of the women of this sport in a new way. In about 8 months I was back to a size 6 and holding at about 18% body fat, but this time weighed about 150 pounds.

So here is the catch, when you are stronger, you have more muscle, which also means that you will have more fat. So, when I was 135lbs and 18% BF, I was carrying 24lbs of fat. However , at 150lbs I was carrying 27lbs of fat.

The idea that I would cary more pounds of fat had not crossed my mind before this. At the moment I weigh about 155 and about 28lbs are fat. I find myself feeling some dissonance. My old and new concepts of beauty duking it out. In conversations with other women at the gym, I find I am not alone. A larger butt and thighs makes shopping for jeans a challenge, broader shoulders pose a problem when shopping for trendy tops, and more fat can make a strong girl feel ‘puffy’ next to the thin waifs we all once wished we could be. My tummy isn’t flat, I don’t have a 6 pack, the little bit of fat around my armpits and lats squishes out of my sport bra, and, yes, I have cellulite.

On the other hand, I am stronger, faster and more than anything, I am proud. I wouldn’t trade being able to squat over 200lbs, in order to fit some thin ideal.

So now I also challenge my internal dialogue. It’s not just my challenge, it is the challenge of any female athlete. Even in the CrossFit world, we see airbrushed pictures of perfectly built women; smooth and lean. So when I walk by a mirror and the first thing my mind notices are the dimples on my cheeks (and not the ones on my face), it’s the perfect moment to remind myself of all that I have to be proud of.

Audrey

PS: (and this is important). My goal is be strong and lift heavy, which is not everyones goal. Form follows function. In my case that means muscle mass. I don’t expect other women (or men) to have the same goal or want the same things. Love your body for what it can do, and work to reach your goals, whatever they may be. 

—Update—

I’ve taken the past 6 months pretty light with my workouts, and gained some weight. I’m at about 160 with 20% body fat. The few times I have mentioned my desire to loose a little weight, I’ve been met with comments like “you’re kidding, right!?” I venture to say that not a single one of you would think I’m chubby, or that I need to drop weight. Yet, ladies, I guarantee if you were the one inside this body, you would be thinking about that scale… Take a moment today to look at yourself the way the rest of the world sees you.

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