One of the things I love about CrossFit is its emphasis on strength, especially for women.
You also know, if you’ve been a reader of this blog that I love its account of fitness (see Fitness, yes but fit for what?) and that there are some aspects of CrossFit life with which I’m less comfortable (see Six Things I Love about CrossFit and Six Things I’m Not So Sure About.)
But here I want to venture into murkier territory, the issue of the CrossFit women, advertising, and community aesthetics.
Let me begin by stating my own preferences up front. I love muscles, on me and on other women. Frail people have always made me a bit nervous. And for a long time, I associated skinny with frail. And yes, I know there are people who are naturally very thin, just like there are people who are naturally very large. And I know we can be beautiful and healthy at every size, but here I’m just stating a purely aesthetic preference. Make of it what you will.
So when I see the quote below from strength training coach Mark Rippetoe, I’m not offended. It makes me smile. Sorry if that puts me in the Bad Feminist corner but there it is. I’ll see you when my detention is over.
Rip: “You would look better if you gained about 10 lbs of muscle” Woman responds with look of utter horror.
Rip: “Trust me, I’ve been looking at women a long time, and I’m really good at it.”
– Wit and Wisdom of Mark Rippetoe, http://startingstrength.wikia.com
I know a lot of women interested in improving their fat-lean ratio who think the best and only approach is to diet. But since almost all weight loss is an equal mix of fat and muscle, that’s tricky. Losing just fat without losing muscle is hard, especially for women since our bodies set out to preserve fat (for a variety of reasons, mostly having to do with hormones and reproduction.)
For most women in the normal weight/BMI categories the best way to improve your fat-lean ratio is by building muscle. And you do that best by moving heavy things around repeatedly.
So it’s nice to hear women being told to gain weight, get bigger, get stronger.
So far so good. But here’s my worry.
I worry that images of women who represent CrossFit in advertising and in CrossFit community publications don’t match the diversity of women I’ve met who actually do CrossFit. Tracy has written about how pictures of impossibly fit people aren’t really inspirational and about the need for more diverse images of what fitness looks like.
That’s definitely true in the case of CrossFit.
I like that there are people out there who admire women with muscles. There are lots and lots of Tumblrs filled with pictures of the women of CrossFit. Here’s some:
http://girlswhodocrossfit.tumblr.com/, A collection of awesome girls who live the motto “Strong Is The New Skinny”.
http://crossfitbabes.tumblr.com/, CrossFit Women | Fit and Sexy (NSFW, depending on your definition of “safe,” “work” etc)
And I’ve met lots of amazing looking women at CrossFit, it’s true. But these images do not do justice in anyway to the range of women who actually do this activity. The images are almost all young and lean, able bodied and white. Now I’ve only been to two CrossFit locations and I’ve been doing it for less than a year but what I’ve seen so far is a lot more diversity than I see in the images about CrossFit.
These images aren’t advertising, of course. Instead, they are the collections of photos from CrossFit community members and fans. But insofar as they do perform some work as promotional material for one of my favourite physical activities, I worry they are doing that activity a disservice.
If you’ve been thinking of giving CrossFit a try and find the super fit, super lean images off putting rather than inspirational, set the images aside and come see the reality. It’s a very supportive community of real people, in a range of shapes, sizes, and ages, all aiming to get stronger, faster, fitter, and more powerful.
Among the women, there are teachers, nurses, professors, students, derby girls, runners, rugby players, and triathletes. There are some very fit people who’ve been doing it for years, some brand new people, some new to regular exercise even, and loads of us in the middle.
My favorite ‘woman of CrossFit’ is Jean Stewart, the dead lifting grandma. If I made a tumblr of CrossFit women, she’d be my first entry.
You can read more about her here, http://community.crossfit.com/article/jean-stewart-deadlifting-great-great-grandma