I spent some time reflecting this morning on why, exactly, I have such an emotional attachment to the act of CrossFit – and it’s not just me. Why do so many people, particularly so many women, feel so strongly about the oft-maligned fitness movement? Many will say it’s because of the community, but I don’t think that that is really the answer. At least, it’s not the complete one. CrossFit repopularize barbell lifts, and made barbells and even the complex olympic lifts accessible to high school girls and suburban moms who had never gripped knurling before – and in mainstream fitness a decade or so ago, would as brand-new gym goers likely have been directed, with all their peers, to rubberized dumbbells, machines, and the elliptical leaving the free weights the mysterious domain of mostly men.
What’s so moving, so viscerally arresting about an intense, sweaty, sublimating session with a heavy weight? Why does it seem like CrossFitters identify themselves by their chosen fitness format far more than others might think reasonable? I offer this explanation in the case of those who come to the community with little or no background in strength training, and who belong to groups historically told that they are and should be smaller, weaker, slower, and physically less than – and often, less than in all ways. When you’ve spent your life surrounded by a narrative that tells you you lack capability, and therefore your place in the world is to be quiet, be small, be obedient, be pretty and nice and “don’t get too muscular you’ll look like a man”, and “hey there, SMILE for me, baby” and men who follow you down the street and through the grocery store because it’s just so damn important that you know what they think of your looks – gaining physical strength is not just about looking better in your jeans. Not nearly.
I believe passionately that muscle-building strength training and intense physical exercise can be a near miracle for their power to change a women’s relationship (often bad, almost always influenced by negative social messaging) with her body. But I also believe that so much more happens. It’s not only the relationship with the body that changes – it’s the relationship with the world. How else do you interact with your physical world? By building capability, you build belief in capability – by learning to exercise power, a woman who has heard in so many overt and subtle ways that “power is not for you” or any person who has learned to think themselves somehow powerless or been told that they are so, can see evidence of their own ability to exert power over themselves, and over the world. It’s not just about doing more – it’s about being more, and being enough to do what needs to be done.
It’s a tangible manifestation that for once, finally – you have power over your OWN body, your own world, and yes, you are enough.