Body Image

On the Issue of Body Image

-Billy Shand, CrossFit Chicago

While I am ecstatic over the recent trends regarding body image within our specific community, I feel as if the topic should be further examined. We’re trending on moving past that wont for what was long considered traditional American beauty; that Barbie doll-esque physique, and instead toward embracing a new sentiment of “Strong is the New Skinny.” If you’ve spent any time in the box, reading various CF missives or perusing specialty diet blogs, you’ve likely run into this phrase verbatim or otherwise. What exactly does it mean? I trust you share in my interpretation that it’s an acknowledgement that we as human beings come in all shapes and sizes, that there are infinite permutations in our DNA which tell our bodies how to be, how to grow, how to evolve physically. That waist/thigh/chest size is not a measure of beauty. That emphasis be put on being functional and competent in physical activity over being as thin as possible, often at the detriment of one’s health. To be fit and vibrant in order to enjoy a healthy life to it’s fullest. To offer no apologies for the balance in mental strength and physical aesthetic we achieve in our ever differing physiques when we attain our fitness goals, whatever they may be.

Most of us don’t look like those featured within the pages of the new SI swimsuit issue, or the body builder ads in Men’s Fitness, and that’s a good thing. If you’re participating in CrossFit it’s likely your goal is to attain a high level of balanced functional fitness. Can the girl in the tiny bikini back squat the bar? Can the dude in the NO Xplode ad run a 5K in under 30 minutes? Hard to say. If we actively participate in a sound general physical preparedness initiative (CrossFit) we’ll all see positive results, and said results may be as diverse as they are constant. The reality is that if we apply ourselves in the WODs some of us will lose weight, others will gain, some more than others, some much less, all contingent upon body type and DNA programming. However, everyone should certainly experience an increase in at least the organic of CrossFit’s 10 general skills (cardiovascular endurance, stamina, strength, and flexibility). If we work hard and continue our practice, the neurological skills are sure to witness improvement (balance, coordination, accuracy and agility). The synthesis of both the organic and neurological sets together begin to yield power and speed, and now the coveted 10 skills are all accounted for. Add in the CF diet of the moment (to be read paleo, zone, primal, etc.) and I should have the recipe for perfection for my body type.

But wait, I’ve been doing CrossFit for better than a year and a half, eating the way Dr. Cordain told me to, and I still don’t look like Jason Khalipa, what gives?? Genetics, that’s what. You know what else? That’s okay. I’ll never have that body type and I’m okay with that. As long as I’ve been going to weight rooms, gyms, studios, boxes, I’ve always been the smallest guy in the locker room. I struggled with this fact for most of my athletic life and it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t until I found CrossFit that I started to embrace the idea of my ideal body. I was invited and encouraged to do the same workouts as the big boys and was never meant to feel ashamed for scaling the weights. My times were never belittled by others due to my bearing a lesser load, rather celebrated as we all struggled equally through the workouts together. It’s a liberating feeling to have shed the unattainable goals I had set for myself (gain 60lbs of muscle, YEAH) and focus instead on balanced, functional fitness, which has yielded both physical and mental benefits for me.

It’s important even in CrossFit that we identify that our best self doesn’t need to measure against the body image of someone that our sport puts on a pedestal, or even against other athletes we’re working out with daily at the box. It is paramount that we acknowledge we are all in different stages of our journey within CrossFit, and that we’re all welcome and equally embraced within our community. My best advice for those of you new to our community would be this: be confident and comfortable with yourself, be open minded and simply come as you are.