numbers measure reps, not women

Some thinking is probably in order, here, with regard to body image. I’ve had a few discussions lately with women at my box about what we look like: where our muscles are, why we wear what we wear, and how we feel about ourselves. As Jo pointed out a few days ago, this year’s CrossFit Games broadcast brought with it a new (to CrossFit) kind of advertising: one that focuses exclusively on body image and sex appeal. “Turning Sevens into Tens” is a series of images of women performing characteristic CrossFit moves, with the camera paying special (or ONLY) attention to the midsection, butt, and chests of them. There are no faces, no feet. Just middles.

I didn’t see the ad first, Brian did. And he remarked to me later, as he explained the punchline of the ad, that he thought it was a little bit “off” from how CrossFit generally sells itself. So when it came up again, I paid attention and found myself feeling betrayed.

This is not the CrossFit I know.

The CrossFit I know doesn’t care about looks. We don’t have mirrors. We get dirty during our workouts: Tires are filthy. Burpees in the grass. Chalk all over the damn place. Hair? Ha. It’s a sweaty, gross, dog-fur-looking mess when I’m done. If anything, I’m UGLIER when I leave the box, all pitting-out and stinking and red-faced and heaving.

Now, I’m not an angry, militant feminist. I’m sensitive to the ways that small moments of sexism leak into my life, and I generally choose to let them go. I’m totally fine with joking how my snatch needs some work — because it does. I can dig the playful banter that goes on betwixt athletes at my box, because I know they are comfortable with one other the way that crossfitters generally are. What I am not fine with, however, is CrossFit implying that our workouts, our goals, and our successes are all based on BODY IMAGE. I am not OK with that commercial representing and characterizing (to non-crossfitters, no less) that the work I do is toward a particular standard of attractiveness.

Fuck that.

Here’s why: We women are already completely oppressed by a culture of body image, based on generally unattainable shapes: emaciated, light-skinned, tall. And even the most wonderful, smart, strong women I know (who are crossfitting goddesses — you all know who you are) are still beating themselves up about the shape of their bodies. We have been conditioned to be our own worst critics. And while I can recite the defense of such an ad (it’s simply relying on cultural values to sell a product), I can also REJECT the values it’s assuming I share.

This commercial preserves cultural values that are harmful to women.

What DOES help rethink our values is this: A photo shoot that shows the sheer diversity of body images of OLYMPIC ATHLETES. Tall, short, thick, thin, light, dark. All kinds. And these are our Olympians, the best of our own athletes who have competed for the chance to represent us at the Olympic games. Arguably, they are the best athletes we have (maybe aside from our own CrossFit Games competitors). And their bodies are perfect for what they do.

We have to remember that our bodies our perfect for what they can do. And as you get better, stonger, faster, fitter, your body will reflect what you CAN DO. Your body will get better; you will get better.

When people see me now and they remark how skinny I am, it’s because they think it’s a nice thing to say. But I always argue: I’m not skinny, I tell them. I’m STRONG. I can almost deadlift twice my body weight (just 20 more pounds!!). I can run faster now than ever. It’s not how much weight I lost; it’s how much I can lift. Those are the numbers I care about, not the number on the scale or the number on my pants.

Numbers are for counting reps, adding up your bumper plates, counting down to go, calling your time. Numbers do NOT MEASURE WOMEN.

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7 thoughts on “numbers measure reps, not women

  1. Amen. Thank you for this– a much more articulate, pensive thought than my own hasty reflection. Also, I’m right there with you– 20lbs from a 2xbodyweight deadlfit. I’ll race you there 😉

  2. GREAT post! So Cross Fit is now affiliated somehow with Reebok, yes? I’m sure you heard about that “Cheat On Your Girlfriend, Not Your Workout” ad. Not cool…

    (And sorry I called you “skinny”. You are fit and strong and motivated and AMAZING. I’m seriously impressed and in awe of how you’ve changed. Please come back to Parish, open up a box and whip my ass into shape.)

    1. Deb, I haven’t seen the Cheat commercial, but it sounds infuriating. Reebok is the CrossFit Games sponsor, and as Missy comments above, Reebok is probably one reason why CrossFit has “crossed over” to the dark side of sexist advertising.

      I’d love to come back and open a box…except in Parish, you’d probably be my only client!! I don’t see many Parishites loving the tire flip like you would. 😉

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