Being Both Beauty and Beast

by Katie Martin on February 17, 2014

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Every woman has had a day, a week or maybe just a moment where they hated their body. In a society where we constantly feel pressure to look good and have others think we look good, it is easy to feel defined by your weight, or dress size or body fat percentage. As someone who has battled Body Dysmorphic Disorder, Binge Eating Disorder and Anorexia, I can definitely identify. What began in high school after being teased for having broader, athletic shoulders and lacking curves, evolved into an obsession with food and weight loss in college.

I truly cannot tell you how my dissatisfaction with my body morphed into such disordered and disruptive behaviors, because at the time, I sincerely thought that what I was doing would help me look better. News Flash: it didn’t. I may still struggle with my body image on occasion, but once I witnessed what my body could accomplish physically I stopped letting it define me.

While CrossFit is still first and foremost an exercise program, it has started to change the conversation in terms of how we as women feel about our bodies. It’s no longer just about “How can I lose the last five pounds I gained over the holidays?” but instead “How can I get stronger? How can I move more weight more efficiently?”

A short time ago I witnessed something incredible. Picture one hundred women. Now picture one hundred women, all of different shapes, sizes and ability levels, performing tasks that at some point in their lives, they never even dreamed of doing. On a recent frigid Saturday in February I participated in an all-female CrossFit competition. At this event we were all put through three brutal workouts that included a wide variety of movements: wall balls, clean and jerks, thrusters, rowing, pull-ups, deadlifts and handstand pushups. At this competition I saw every woman accomplish incredible feats of strength and determination. Some strung together more than one kipping pull-up for the first time, did seventy-five wall balls unbroken or got their first handstand pushup without the assistance of an ab-mat. In the words of Greg Glassman, founder of CrossFit, what took place at this event is representative of a “refocusing of who and what we are,” that is occurring in the female CrossFit culture. While we can all appreciate the weight loss and the newfound muscle tone, CrossFit has more importantly instilled in us a sense of pride in what our body can do, not just what our body can look like.

I like to think that people come for the fitness but stay because they want to put more weight on that barbell. I remember the first time I did the CrossFit Total in January of 2013. I got three attempts to max out my back squat, deadlift, and strict press. I had never touched a barbell in my life before starting CrossFit one month prior in December. I walked away flabbergasted that I could pick up 200 pounds off the floor, squat 175 and press 75. I felt strong. I looked around and saw women older than me, younger than me, bigger and smaller than me doing the exact same thing. There were high fives, hugs and post-PR (personal record) heel clicks all over the gym. Ask any female CrossFitter you know why they love the sport so much and they will all tell you the some version of the same story: it is empowering, it is exciting, and it is something they never thought they could do before.

As a woman who has had to struggle to find a balance between being strong or feminine; powerful or delicate; forging my own identity or having a look society approves of, CrossFit has changed that. I am proud of my accomplishments and no longer feel that I should have to or want to compromise who I am or how I see myself. No woman should ever have to choose between being strong, feminine, athletic or beautiful—we can be all of them.

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