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District H Crossfit Blog : “Female Athletes and Body Image” by Coach Karen

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Recently I’ve read several articles about female body image that have frankly enraged me, and they’re not the typical articles you’re thinking of. One article I read was about Serena Williams defending her body from accusations that she’s too “manly” and “muscular”. It seems very hard for me to believe that she’s too muscular for anything. She’s certainly not too muscular to win Grand Slam titles, of which she’s won 21 times. She’s certainly not too muscular to hold the most major singles, doubles, and mixed doubles titles among ALL active tennis players, male or female. She is a completely dominant force in the world of tennis, and is one of the top athletes in sport, period. Male or female. And in achieving all this, some people think that questioning what she looks like is appropriate?

Again, this issue had come up with another dominant female athlete, Ronda Rousey. Love her or hate her, she is at the top of her sport. She, once again, had to defend her body as being too “masculine”. She said “If people, like, say that my body looks masculine… I’m just like, listen, just because my body was developed for a purpose……, doesn’t mean it’s masculine. I think it’s femininely badass……because there’s not a single muscle in my body that isn’t for a purpose.” Her response was pretty direct and to the point (and awesome), google it to read the entire thing.

Karen WB

Imagine, if you will, a press conference involving a top male athlete, and having questions and comments about the male’s physique. Imagine Peyton Manning, in his heyday, being questioned about the size of his biceps, that they’re too big. Let’s ignore that Super Bowl you just won, don’t you feel uncomfortable with the way those biceps look? This is ludicrous. It would never happen. Athletes train their bodies to compete and win at the top levels of their sport. Their physique is a result of that training. It’s not their appearance that should matter, it’s their skill and abilities. So should it be with female athletes. Their bodies are there to perform, NOT to be pleasing to others’ gaze. They do not exist simply for people to pass judgement on. How self-defeating is that thought process???

This same issue came up again on social media, after Camille Leblanc-Bazinet won her regional this year. People had commented on pictures of her that she had a “belly”, not the rock-hard abs you see on other athletes. Let’s think about that for a minute. This woman, 1 time winner of the CrossFit games, had just won her regional for the 5th time out of 6 years she’s competed. That’s right, since 2011, she’s only ONCE not won her regional, and that year she was 2nd. They took this opportunity to try to detract from her achievement by criticizing her appearance. Guess what, her body just achieved something 99.99% of us will never achieve!

Karen Jerk 1

Without getting too far into our societies’ troublesome message to women about their bodies, I want us as female athletes at District H to think about one thing. What can my body do for me? Can your legs squat 100 pounds? Great! Can your arms and shoulders throw a wall ball up repeatedly for multiple reps? Good! Instead of worrying about losing weight, gaining weight, having too many muscles, not having enough muscles, try to focus on what is good about YOUR body and the physical things it can do for you every day. How can you make it stronger? What skills have you discovered that have surprised you? Are you more flexible or stronger than you thought you were? Excellent. And if that means you have strong, muscular shoulders or thick thighs, so be it. The more we think about what our bodies can do, rather than what we look like, we will learn to love and appreciate our bodies and get rid of the self-hatred.

Karen Handstand

Personally, this viewpoint has helped me immensely since starting CrossFit. I used to do cardio for hours on end, trying to be the petite, thin girl that I am not genetically capable of being. However, I wanted to be healthy, and when it comes to exercising that’s what society tells women, do cardio until you die so you can lose that fat! I had never lifted weights until I came to District H, and guess what! I really enjoyed it! I realized I’m actually pretty strong! My focus went from worrying what I look like to wondering how strong I can get. How high can I max out this week? What can I change in my technique to finally get that heavy clean? What new skills can I learn? When you change your mindset to this, it is a whole lot more satisfying than running for hours on a treadmill and seeing zero results. And I’m prouder than ever of my body now, “imperfect” as it is, because I know what it can do for me, and I know the long hours of work and sweat that went into making me the strongest version of myself I’ve ever been.

To sum up, I’d like all of our female athletes at District H to ask yourself some questions: What can my body do for me? How has my strength or skill surprised me or made me proud while at District H? What have I done that I thought I could never do? How has my life improved since beginning Crossfit? If you focus on the answers to these questions, you will feel much more satisfied in yourself and your feelings toward your own body, instead of chasing an ideal that is obtainable to very few.

Coach Karen