body image · feminism · fitness · motivation

Christine won’t be crushing anything today, thankyouverymuch.

The vocabulary of fitness is wearing me out.

I was already bored to tears with all the phrasing around burning fat/calories, trimming inches, and sculpting parts of our bodies. That stuff is so common that aside from the occasional eyeroll, I usually just skim over it when I see/hear it. I hate it but…meh.

However, as I have been seeking out more challenging videos lately I have been, to use the local vernacular, absolutely drove by the vocab that is supposed to motivate me.

I don’t want to ‘crush’ anything. Nor am I interested in a video that has the word ‘attack’ in the title. I don’t want to ‘destroy’ my abs or my glutes or my biceps. I don’t want to leave any of my muscles ‘screaming.’*

a GIF of a curly haired girl crushing a can in her right hand. Text below reads ‘We must crush them!!!!!!’
Sure, this is cute but it doesn’t feel, to me, like a way to encourage your muscles to work with you to get stronger. Image description: a GIF of a curly haired girl crushing a can in her right hand. Text below reads ‘We must crush them!!!!!!’

And despite being a martial artist who loves to practice punching and kicking, it bugs me that a lot of videos that incorporate those movements are called ‘body combat.’**

When I read titles with those words in them or when I hear the instructor use them during a workout, I don’t feel charged up and motivated, I feel tired.

And, shockingly, that is NOT what I am looking for when I’m exercising.

I want to be encouraged to work hard. I want to be told that I can do it. I want to be guided to forge ahead, to persist. I don’t want to feel like my exercise is supposed to be painful or punishing.

I thought we had left the whole ‘No Pain, No Gain’ thing behind but all of this language of destruction makes me feel like that attitude has snuck back into the party wearing different clothes and is waiting to see if we catch on.

And, as Tracy noted when I mentioned my irritation with these words, it’s frustrating and sad that we are all assumed to be in battle with our bodies all the time.

I am not fighting against my body in the quest to increase my fitness level.

My body and brain are working TOGETHER to move toward increased mobility and strength and a feeling of wellbeing. Any video titles or peppy encouragements that invite me to pit my brain against my body end up sapping my energy and leaving me feeling defeated.

a GIF of a kid in a dress ​hanging on to one pole of a small merry-go-round. As the machine turns the kid is being dragged along.
Accurate depiction of my energy levels upon being invited to crush/attack/destroy some part of my body on a workout. Image description: a GIF of a kid in a dress hanging on to one pole of a small merry-go-round. As the machine turns the kid is being dragged along. Text in the upper left reads ‘Status:’

I know that, culturally, many people’s bodies are seen as problematic and unruly – always being relentlessly human instead of a perfectly managed creation. This vocabulary thing ties into that, of course – an unruly body must be managed and defeated so it will look and behave in acceptable ways.

And I also know that the phrasing I am describing will seem like no big deal to some. In fact, I’m sure lots of people would tell me to just ignore it’ but I can’t do that.

I’m a writer and storyteller and I spend a long time making sure that the words I choose serve the purpose I want them to serves.

Words matter. Words have power. Words carry messages above and beyond their direct meaning.

And these destruction-themed words can drag all kinds of social expectations into my exercise time. My workouts are hard enough without also lifting cultural baggage at the same time.

How do you feel about these words? Do you find them motivating? Frustrating? Or do you not even notice them?

*If those words help you to power up, please feel free to completely ignore this post. I’m talking about my feelings and frustrations. not laying down a law about what can and cannot be said in a workout.

**The combat part I totally get but calling it body combat really makes it sound like you are fighting your own body. Ick.

8 thoughts on “Christine won’t be crushing anything today, thankyouverymuch.

  1. I totally agree. It took me a long time to see my body as part of me rather than an unruly vessel I had to control, and this kind of language really doesn’t help.

    Even in the context of sporting competition I don’t think this language is helpful.

    I compete in powerlifting and there’s loads of very macho, violent language used in the inspo and marketing around the sport. I have a comp tshirt with the sponsor’s slogan: “defeat, destroy, devour”.

    It gives an impression of the sport and of strength training that is such a long way from my experience, which is of an amazing, positive, mutually supportive community.

    The other women you can see (and hear!) in this video ( from my last comp are my competitors. Not a lot of destroying/devouring going on 😂

    1. Thanks for reading my post and thanks for your comment.

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who finds this language unhelpful.

      I loved your video, not only because of the encouragement from your competitors but because of the incredible power you are displaying. I don’t even know you but I am proud of you and of the hard work it took to reach this point. I did a full, mom-style, hand-to-chest, eyes tearing up a little, small nod, gesture of pride. Go you!

  2. Fully agree. My body and brain are in a partnership. I’m motivated by imagery of them working together like a fully integrated system rather than one part of myself fighting to defeat or sublimate the other. Fortunately circus arts has very few ‘crushing it’ type instructions since that attitude will quickly result in injury when doing aerials. Plus an activity filled with clowns will always be prone to turning negative imagery into something very very silly instead.

    1. Thanks for reading and thanks for your comment.

      It would definitely be hard to maintain ‘crushing it’ imagery in circus arts, I’m glad you have that space for your brain and body to work together. 🙂

  3. I always thought that Body Combat meant combat with your body. I agree with the rest of this post. I feel like we have a very strange relationship to exercise that has nothing to do with health and everything to do with whittling our bodies into an acceptable shape. I agree that this is something that we should resist and change.

    That said, I feel like the fitness community is overwhelmingly white and privileged. We have a tendency to focus on things like this and we fail to devote equal time to making fitness more welcoming to a diverse population. I know that this is out of scope with what’s being discussed in this post, but I really think that we spend a lot of time and energy trying to get people to change language and significantly less energy trying to actually make fitness more accessible. I’m only bringing this up here because I know this community actually cares about these issues.

    Thanks and this is a great write up.

    1. Thanks, Ari. I appreciate your comment and your insights.

      When you say ‘combat with your body’, do you mean that you thought of it as using your body in combat? That makes sense and my interpretation of the class title might have been coloured by the language of attack and destroy that I saw and heard in so many other videos.

      And, as to your second, more vital point, you are absolutely right. The fitness community is overwhelmingly white and privileged. Issues like the ones I raise here could become a tempest in a teapot and give us the feeling of doing important work while never truly addressing larger inequalities. As a white, able-bodied person who is privileged in many ways so I run the risk of doing the ‘busywork’ of change without actually making an important difference.

      I’m not always sure how to balance my personal writing about fitness with the need to call attention to bigger issues and to push for changes on a larger scale but you are right, this community cares, and I care, about fitness becoming more accessible overall even if I can’t always tell where to start.

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