"It Has to Stop Somewhere"

How much is your self-worth tied to your physical appearance?  Where does your definition of “attractive” come from?  Personally I’m pretty disturbed by the relatively narrow definition of attractiveness that I see promulgated in the media.  To put it bluntly, all I see on mainstream magazines and such are skinny white women, or possibly women of color with the most Eurocentric features possible.  If you fit into those category, great, I’m not knocking that, but I certainly do not want to be part of anything that promotes the idea that there’s one shape, size or color that is attractive. 

  So on one hand we have this obesity epidemic.  On the other hand we have these multi-billion dollar industries whose survival is dependent on people’s insecurities about their appearance.  Commercial diets, fitness programs, make-up industry, bariatric surgery, diet pills- the list goes on and on.  What I love about Crossfit is that it’s all about what you can DO, not what you look like.  Train for function, eat and sleep well.  I feel like Crossfit has grown because it works for achieving strength and health, not because of a nice marketing campaign.  A lot of Crossfitters have lean, fit bodies because they do real work and the physical results are the manifestation of that work.  I suspect that most Crossfitters get off on doing a workout faster, achieving a PR, lifting more, convincing their body not to stop.  These are the things that get us “addicted” to it, rather than chasing visual results.  It’s a feeling of empowerment that can bring a whole ‘nother level of confidence out in a person.  That’s attractive.

  “Make your own beauty standards.”- unknown

Over the last week I’ve seen a lot of pictures circulating on Facebook of people (I’ve predominantly seen women) who appear to have lost bodyfat through Crossfitting.  I’ve started to wonder, as we’re convincing people how great Crossfit will make your body look (not perform or increase health), are we selling out Crossfit?  Being a sellout is when you abandon your core values based on what’s marketable.  Crossfit is a strength & conditioning program and a sport.  We call our participants athletes.  I understand that money makes the world go round, but what is your motivation?  The “Get Hot” approach doesn’t work for leading to long term lifestyle change and keeping people motivated.  If it did we wouldn’t need Crossfit.  There are psychological reasons that Crossfit works in addition to the physiological ones.  Eating clean, doing cardio and lifting weights in front of a mirror will result in a lean body too, but most people aren’t motivated to stick with those things.  What sets Crossfit head and shoulders above any other training method (I don’t mean scientifically, but from the user experience perspective) is the thrill that comes with achieving a PR, the pushing yourself harder than you thought you could, the camaraderie you feel with your community.  So why when we are spreading the gospel of Crossfit do we need to revert to the same old same old that’s already been done in the fitness industry?Everyone’s motivation is individual to them.  However as a community and what we represent I find it unfortunate if we reinforce the status quo with regard to the fitness and health industry.  Guess what?  The status quo doesn’t work! 

Would I like to have a 20 inch waist, 40 inch hips and a butt you can bounce quarters off of?  SURE.  But that’s not realistic for my body, and frankly I’m much more rewarded by the pursuit of a body and mind that can perform at the highest possible level given the set of gifts and inadequacies that I have.  When I felt nerves about working out in front of an audience at the Games, a thought that comforted me is that Crossfit spectators want to see competitors crush workouts, or lay everything out there trying to.  I did not feel that I would be judged for my asymmetrical and scarred up legs, my wobbly butt or my gangly arms (or whatever other physical “flaws”).   This is not a fitness pageant or body building show.  Those endeavors have their own arenas, and it’s not the Crossfit Box.  Ok, ok, I know everyone at the Games wants to see hot bodies, too.  But it’s more about performing!!

 This is one of the most beautiful songs about self acceptance that I’ve ever heard.  I also love it because it reminds me of when my son was a baby and his father would sing it to him.  This version is Keith John singing it for the “School Daze” soundtrack, but Stevie Wonder wrote the lyrics, just listen to them.  Beautiful!

Author: Elisabeth Akinwale

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  • Agreed, Elisabeth. I was definitely disturbed last week by a before/after picture that was circulating among Crossfit affiliates and on some ads for Crossfit as a means to “get hot.” The photos were of a young white woman who was, by all visible measurements, healthy and beautiful to begin with. Her gains in 6 weeks were commendable on a personal level. What bothered me was the implication that she was “not hot” to begin with. It’s reflective of a growing tendency in our community to focus on appearance, and I tend to agree with you that it looks like we’re selling out to the magazines and the talk shows.

    I think that as the movement grows, there are bound to be more tangents taken from the core values, and more interpretations of what those are to begin with. But what I hope we don’t lose it the commitment to openness and transcending what’s acceptable and unquestioned as “normal.” And out tendency to superficial extremes is one thing that i wish weren’t normal in the general culture.

    I also worry about the extent to which Crossfitters are experiencing exercise addiction and body dismorphia.

    • I totally agree with growth, the tangents will continue to abound! But for me and mine, there will be an effort to promote a true focus on performance and health and to fight that slow migration into some of the norms of our “general culture” as you put it.

      Regarding the exercise addiction and body dysmorphia,- this may sound mean but sometimes I find myself shocked by the lack of fitness in the general population. It’s like my idea of what an average body looks like has shifted. I would imagine the same thing happens with body builders. To the general population the huge quantities of muscle mass and tanning looks like too much, but to the participants who are around it daily it looks normal. Steady decline into dysmorphia? I’m not sure how that works…

  • Per usual lady a fantastic post. I need to hear this and remind myself more often. To this day, I still get very self concious about my body. I’m not one of the girls that takes her shirt off during a WOD, even though I know it would be fine. I compare myself to the other girls who have leaner legs and six packs. If I CrossFitted just to “get hot” then I would have quit a long time ago! Nothing beats the feeling of PR or getting your first muscle up.

    • I agree Ginny, I can’t imagine Crossfitting just to look good. But I KNOW people do it, they’ve told me! At this point in my life I find no motivation in that, it just seems really unfulfilling to me to be chasing a particular body. Look at the Games athletes- each engage in Crossfit, presumably eat reasonably clean (I guess), yet everyone’s body looks completely different. You can only be you!

  • I want to say for the record that when I met you a few weeks ago I thought you were one of the most women that I have met. My definition of beauty is always evolving but currently it is – Beauty is not found in the shape or size of a woman’s body, her hair or the size of her breasts – True beauty is found in the love in her heart, the kindness in her soul and the strength of her spirit. I have realized during this past year with the help of CrossFit that I am never going to be a size 2 with skinny thighs but that does not mean that I am not beautiful. I have met some of the most beautiful people I have ever encountered at CrossFit and they are never going to end up on the cover of a fashion magazine (maybe that is part of their attraction). I enjoy reading your blog and am so glad that I had the chance to meet you. Thanks.

    • Thanks for posting Anita! It’s awesome that Crossfit has helped you recognize your own beauty. I can relate in the sense that Crossfit has helped me embrace my size more than ever before. Growing up as a gymnast I always felt like I was SO tall and SO big. Now I LOVE my size because I feel like it’s a huge attribute to my ability to perform in CF. Take what you’ve got and work the hell out of it!

      I’ve also been so fortunate to meet many beautiful people through CF- you being one of them. I was SO inspired by your work spearheading the Crossfit Dupage B4B event, and your Grace time 🙂

  • The whole body issues thing is some sort of woman-invented problem. Guys could give a crap less who is on the cover of a magazine. We use the old fashion method of determining who is hot: Did you get wood? Yes? She’s hot.

    Still, good post EA.

  • Elisabeth: I am so impressed by this post. It means a lot to me; thank you for addressing issues of body image and how doing the BEST with the body you have is more important than striving for an “ideal image.” I plan to share this on my FB wall/Twitter later this week.

    “I’m much more rewarded by the pursuit of a body and mind that can perform at the highest possible level given the set of gifts and inadequacies that I have.” = AWESOME

    Thanks again.


  • Melissa, there’s so much more I have to say on this topic, I’m sure many of us could go on and on about this one!

    I really, truly believe in what I’m saying about this subject, and it’s one of a number of big reasons I love CF. When I was younger I trained with some body-builders and I fully believed that if i was willing to work hard enough and make sacrifices I could make my body look any way I wanted it to, genetics be damned. In retrospect that seems like such a waste. How about developing some athletic abilities? Yes, I gained muscle during that time, but to think I could have been learning to actually DO something! Infinitely more fun, healthy and productive.

    Thanks for commenting!

  • As an African woman with afro-textured hair, this post resonates with me on a lot of levels. I am not my hair. I am not my body type. I am not my bra size. I am not the color of my skin. I am who I am, and I am wonderfully made.

    Thanks for the awesome post.

  • Funke, thanks for commenting. I totally agree, wonderfully made! So much more to say on this topic and really on hair alone, I think I will do a hair post! Random share, but one of the nights in California before the Games “Good Hair” came on- I hadn’t seen it before. I found it to be so sad and disturbing. You can see I am natural with my hair and that’s intentional and one specific way that I feel it’s important to just be me.

  • this blog post sounds very, very familiar … great minds think alike … wish you were around a couple of years ago when us old box gals voiced the same … amy h, alison j, mo m … i’m sure you’d have loved participating in it and i’m glad you’re bringing it back to mind … good stuff, girl … preach it and keep it alive!

    • Awesome Tery! Yes, I’m sure I would’ve loved being part of those convos. Being new to CF, talking about my thoughts/observations I run the risk of stating what’s already been said. I do suspect the CF world has evolved since the “old box” days, it would be interesting to note the differences people are seeing in the CF culture as it becomes more exposed to the general population.

  • Wow. I haven’t seen the sellout Crossfit ads but what you said is “spot on”! I think that’s what I love about Crossfit, is that it’s not commercial. Body image is a funny thing. I don’t think anybody sees themselves as others do. I receive complements on my physique from time to time and although it’s very nice and flattering often when I look in the mirror I’m wondering why my arms aren’t getting bigger or something of that nature. Instead of allowing self-doubt to sink in I use that as fuel for my workouts and not just to look a certain way but to push myself and get more out of my workouts so I agree with pretty much everything you said. And another point about self-image, I doubt anybody looks at you and thinks you have a “wobbly-butt”!!!!

    • Thanks Fred- well just like you said, we don’t always view ourselves as others do. It can be hard to simply accept compliments when we are self critical. I’ve tried to learn to do that, and also to focus on the performance aspects of my body and the things I like about it. However I do still lean on self-depreciating humor to manage the things about myself that aren’t my favorite. I appreciate your thoughts.

  • Funny! I’ve been told a time or two that I don’t know how to take a compliment. I’ve worked on that. The self-depreciating humor is one of those things that make us who we are…..

  • BARF….Do you people ever STFU! Stop your whining and train…its you hardcore people that make crossfit look like a cult. r all a joke so go fucking train and shut ur mouth

  • This is one of the most amazing blog post I’ve read… and resonates so much with discussions i have had with friends recently. I have celebrated my 1 year anniversary with crossfit in Jan here is my blog post and story :http://blog.marielyssa.com/?p=1117

    I echo the feeling because I am a black woman who chose crossfit for exactly that because it BUILDS CHARACTER, DISCIPLINE, PERSEVERANCE, RESPECT, DETERMINATION WORK ETHICS and all great fundamentals for life values. Before crossfit i tried going to the gym once in a while but was never able to commit to a health and fitness regiment.. or lifestyle ..i did so much research on finding something that would resonate with me and although many of my friends were involved in “beach body” type of work out i never really understood the point of working out 3 months to look good for 2 months in the summer and eat crap the rest of the year … I remember my first work out at crossfit and how i felt after and thinking to myself wow can I do better tomorrow let’s see .. and the next day and the next day etc etc… I am in a marathon .. shipping away and building on strength and skills and every little victory adds a ton to my self worth and confidence..i am conquering my demons and fears.. The appearance is all but a side benefit to the woman i am becoming each day i attempt a WOD and a PR… That WOMAN is the VICTORY!! Thank you for your post and all the best for the games… ML

    • Marielyssa,
      That is absurdly fantastic!!! Seriously choked me up a bit, because I’ve watched so many friends go through what you’re describing (minus the successful CF part). When I tell them about CF I think it’s hard for them to think it’s for them too because I’ve always been into working out. Your experience would resonate with ALOT of people! I’m so happy you’ve found Crossfit and to hear all the amazing benefits it’s brought to your life. I’ve only had a chance to skim your blog, but I will be back to it.

      Thanks for posting!

      • Thanks Elisabeth! So funny I just read your post about the open… i actually surprised myself and registered last week … again not in to compete but simply for me to get better and challenge myself o grow strong physically and spirtitually.. I am so excited to report that i did my 1st full WOD yesterday with doubleunders lol been practicing everyday .. a month ago i could barely get one in 🙂