CrossFit and Body Trash Talk

By Katie Schenkkan April 18, 2013 09:45 AM
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CrossFit and Body Trash Talk

You may have noticed pictures of men and women doing CrossFit cropping up with increasing frequency in the last two years, as well as articles about the benefits of the practice and still others about some health concerns about the high-intensity exercise.

But in addition to the inspiring stories of many women who went from complete beginners to weightlifting to competitive lifters, there have also been many criticisms, not only of the practice, but also of the results. Photos posted to the online pin board Pinterest and on Facebook have become a forum for discussion (and often vicious criticism) of the featured women’s bodies. Posts have popped up on personal blogs across the internet documenting people’s negative reactions to the writers’ new, über-cut bodies.

Men’s reactions run the gamut from a polite, “It’s great, but I prefer my women to be soft and curvy” to “These women look disgusting, she looks like a man.” It frankly doesn’t surprise me to see these reactions, and I can offer an explanation for both types: the first is an expression of personal preference for a particular body type, and while it might be preferable to hear someone say, “Hey, I love all women’s bodies no matter what they look like!” it’s hardly realistic for the majority. The second reaction is, perhaps, a feeling of being threatened by the strength and physicality of these women.

But no, surely not, you might say; women have been competing in elite bodybuilding competitions for decades, why are people suddenly reacting this way? Because CrossFit is marketed towards the Average (Joe and) Jane; according to the CrossFit website, “Anyone with…the willingness, curiosity and bravery to try it, could.” Suddenly women with muscles have become a focus in the media, highlighted in women’s fitness magazines ( blog, Feb. 2013; Self, Sept. 2011 issue; Women’s Health, July 2012 issue) and plastered all over the internet.

However, what really interests me is women’s reactions to other women doing CrossFit. The negative responses don’t come with a clear set of explanations; some are perhaps reacting to what men may think, or simply responding the same way as the first category of men – that is to say, they simply prefer women’s bodies to have less well-defined muscles, or more curves.

Maybe. But I think it’s more than that. It seems to me that this aesthetic trend (toward fit bodies, rather than just thin ones) is making some women feel that this is yet another way in which their bodies will fail to measure up. Not only, they muse, do I have to be thin, but now I have to have muscles too, or I will be judged for being “too skinny.” Hmm. It’s not news, but it bears repeating: ladies, please stop bashing other women’s bodies, no matter what they look like. It’s only creating more hurdles for everyone to overcome, and probably doesn’t actually make you feel better about your own body.

“Real women have curves,” a slogan that has been gaining ever more popularity on Pinterest of late, seems harmless on the surface: a defense of curvy femininity in response to an overwhelming media preference for thin women. However, the backhanded element to the phrase is all too visible to women who are naturally slim, and who already may feel self-conscious that their bodies don’t live up to the voluptuous standards of womanliness (ironically also set by the aforementioned media).

Part of the problem is that it’s far too easy to make a slightly snide comment online than it would be to do to someone’s face. Again, this is not news; we see evidence on the news that bullying in schools is getting ever worse due to increased time spent communicating via the internet, photo sharing sites and social networks in particular. It is worth noting, however, that this behavior is not exclusive to middle- and high-school students. We all need to make a concerted effort to curb this behavior, no matter our age. Those viral photos do belong to someone, and it’s not hard to imagine that a comment might get right back to that person.

None of this is to say that CrossFit, P90X, Insanity, or any other program are not terrific ways of getting in shape, and things that might be interesting to look in to. We should just all remember that society’s idea of the perfect body shape changes, and that before long, the ideal will be different; for that reason alone, not to mention our own sanity, we ought to at least try to accept and respect our bodies in all their glorious diversity.

If you need a reminder of how much our collective idea of “the perfect body” has changed in a little over a decade, I suggest you watch some of Britney Spears’ or Christina Aguilera’s first music videos from the late ‘90s. Both, though still fit, were much softer looking than their later incarnations in the mid-2000’s.

We’re a fickle bunch, we humans, and we’ll surely change our minds again soon.

Meanwhile, let’s play nice with one another.