As CrossFit and strength training in general have gained in popularity and visibility over the past several years, and a girl doing deadlifts and squats is no longer as unusual as it may have seemed in the past – mostly because it’s something a lot of us never learned to do, and were never exposed to – there’s been some cultural bleed over in both directions and it’s honestly not all a good thing. On the plus side, female strength is no longer as widely condemned or simply discounted (such as when a high school gym teacher refused to help me work for a pulp because “women just can’t do those”), what was only a potential darkside of the “strong is the new skinny” mantra that arose in the early days of the movement is now pretty thoroughly realized.
What do I mean by that? Well, back in “the day” (harhar) I took the phrase to have the intent of saying “I’m done living up to societal expectations that I should be skinny, frail, and always less than – less imposing, less obtrusive, LESS CAPABLE – to be “feminine.” This was a fantastic thing. Some women are naturally slender, some build or carry mass more easily – but whatever your natural body type is being strong FEELS good, and makes you a more capable human being – and healthier too. All positives. Even then, though, it was easy to see the potential for the message to become, instead “stop striving for the super skinny ideal, instead strive for a super lean, muscular ideal because that’s the way you need to look to be “sexy.” And if you open up your Pinterest on any given day and look at feeds focused on fitness, this is pretty much all you will see. The one that especially makes me frustrated is the omnipresent tank and/or photo of a near-bare @$$ with the caption “this is why I squat,” pointing at the glutes.
So now we’re squatting not because it builds strength, flexibility, maintains healthy range of motion, and makes us feel like bada$$es, but because it makes our butts look nice? I mean yes, that’s a welcome side effect… but think about the implications when it becomes the “why.”
Every woman has the right to work out how and WHY she wants, even to objectify herself if she wishes – but I also reserve my right to have an opinion about it. I do not mean to imply that there is anything at all wrong with wanting to have a nice butt (or back, or arms, or abs… whatever) and working hard to get it or being proud that you have it – what I am distressed by is the sole focus on “being sexy” as the “why.” That’s the same “why” that was the reason we were supposed to subsist solely on 500 calories of celery stick a day, remember? That “why” stinks. We’ve just replaced ultra-skinny arms and legs with “bubble butts” as the parts we are “supposed” to have. You’ll never be “perfect” anyhow, and the looks of the fitness models in those photos? That’s not even how THEY look every day! Better to balance the fun of having a pretty backside with some more durable “whys” on the inside.
I love that my body is, in my opinion, roughly 3,000 times more attractive with all my hard-won muscle than it was without – but the purpose here is not to look a certain way – certainly not to resemble the overly-sexual photos you’ll find all over the place as “fitspo.” Certainly not, as the one I saw yesterday, to make my rear-end a better “handful” for a man.
This is NOT why I squat. It’s not about looks, it’s about joy. I squat because I love it, I squat because it keeps my knees, back, and hips strong and healthy. I squat because it makes me a better olympic lifter. I squat because it makes me feel powerful, and free – which can in turn make me feel sexy, sure. But it makes me sad to see women starting on such an empowering path and then still somehow getting off on a detour towards identifying themselves solely with their appearance, and their worth with how well that appearance matches up with the image of “sexy” du jour. One of the things I loved most about CrossFit when I started was that it was about function – no mirrors, no frills, no pitches to change my looks in 21 days – just hard work, and hard won strength. It wasn’t about what I looked like, my coaches never included in a cue that “this one will really sculpt your buns!” it was about what I could do. As a woman, that was a huge, refreshing, liberating change from pretty much every other message the “fitness industry” had to throw at my sense of self-worth.
Squat for yourself. Enjoy the nice butt that comes with it, but remember you are way more than an @$$ or a set of abs. Strong indeed has become the new skinny – and it’s time to make it the new strong – inside AND out – instead.
It’s true that heavy lifting and added muscle are a fantastic solution to many of the body gripes and insecurities a lot of women express – but instead of assimilating strength and lifting into the traditional “do it to look good, your self worth should be tied to your sexiness” attitude that has pretty much been the norm, when it can instead be a powerful vehicle for say yes- this WILL make you look better. It will also make you feel better too, and you’ll be more independent, and healthier, and maybe you’ll even care a heck of a lot less what other people think about the appearance of your backside anyway and that is actually a good thing.
Because really – let’s think about what is happening here. It’s two things – 1) the message that “looking sexy” is the only fitness motivation women can (or should) relate to, so in order to “sell” women on weightlifting we have to show them that it will “make them sexy,” and 2) the reduction of a strong, powerful, capable, independent female body, built through the hard work and persistence of the female MIND living within it, to once more be nothing but a visual buffet of tits & @$$. We women can and should aspire to more, because we ARE more.