Embracing Your Own Standards
I’m a little late on writing about this and at this time, I’m sure a hefty dose of people have seen the article “Be a Box Babe, Not a Barbie: The Top 9 Crossfit Female Faux Pas”. If you haven’t, go ahead and read it. Just be prepared to get a little ragey.
So at first glance, this comes off as a typical “oh look, another bitter internet dude telling women how to look” but then you realize...it’s written by a woman. Who is a coach at a Crossfit gym. At this point, you just go “what the…”. I’m not one to chime in on loooong discussions on Facebook or other social media but I just could not help myself with this one. The TL;DR of most comments surrounding this article involves women being really pissed about it, other women defending the author saying it was just supposed to be funny, quite a few men thinking it was ridiculous, and a handful of men agreeing with the article. Overwhelming, the article failed. Quite a few rebuttals were written, my favorite of which is THIS. There were a few people who attacked the author, but truthfully, I don’t see the point in doing that (note that the “you” addressed in this post is NOT directed at the author). What she wrote is nothing new or innovative - it’s alllll the same stuff that women have been hearing for a long time. It’s stereotypical, judgemental, and catty. My overall feelings on the article? It does absolutely nothing to help women. Period.
But I’m not here to write a point by point rebuttal on why this article is one epic facepalm. In fact, I think that there is some silver lining to something like that article being published on a large, very public platform - it gave women a chance to come together and say “hey, not cool”. And THAT is really important.
While the notion of fitting into some standard of beauty is nothing new, it becomes problematic when it turns into a mean girls club. Saying “you can’t lift with us!” because of what someone is or isn’t wearing is just plain ridiculous. In an arena where a large portion of coaches, athletes, and passionate individuals work really hard to help women empower themselves through picking up a barbell, it seems downright counterproductive to tell someone to be a “box babe, not a box barbie”.
I don’t care WHAT you’re wearing - if you’re approaching training with a barbell for the first time, I’m going to be more focused on encouraging you than critiquing your outfit. I've been in a few conversations that start with asking what the heck a bunch of us are doing (the gym I go to has a "barbell" program focused on strength and power, in addition to Crossfit classes), what it's like, and after I wax on poetically about my love for squats (for waaaay too long, sorry y'all), there is often something said like "I totally want to do it! But I'm kinda of terrified". At that point, I'm focused on convincing the other person to talk to the coach about it and that it really is a lot of fun, there is no need to be intimidated, that everyone in the group is really supportive and encouraging, and that they're going to get some high quality coaching and get better. Those conversations wouldn't happen if I just had an attitude of being better than everyone else, or some bizarre notion that I'm more "serious" than the next person because my hair isn't done. That would completely defeat the purpose - I want people, especially ladies, to come hang out and get strong and squat. It also undermines the work my coach does to build a quality program and encourage people to join it. Why would I want to turn someone away by being judgey?
If you’re focused on encouraging women to pick up a barbell or embrace strength or forget what the media tells them to look like, being catty isn’t the way to do it. The judgmental attitude presented in that article is exactly what SHOULD NOT happen. It makes me sad when I hear women saying things like “I’d like to try Crossfit/weightlifting/etc. but I’m not good enough” or they’re terrified of the judgement they would receive for not having a 6-pack and wearing short shorts. And guess what? They’re not usually afraid of getting this judgement from men - they’re afraid of getting that judgement from other women. How messed up is that?! By endorsing the sentiment of, “you’re only serious about your fitness if you conform to these standards”, you’re also endorsing putting women in another box - it’s a slightly more muscular box, but it’s a box nonetheless. Trading conventional standards of beauty for Crossfit/fitspo/whatever standards of beauty is like trading a pink box for a blue box - it’s the same thing but it just looks a little different on the outside. Would you ever tell a 7 year old girl that she can only be strong and serious if she looks a certain way? Why then is it okay to say those things to other women? When did women in strength sports become a cool kid contest and when did we all stop encouraging women to find and embrace their own standards?
[oh look, I'm squatting with my hair down and curled, wearing a cut off shirt, and probably some mascara too]
The notion that a woman can’t be a serious athlete if she wears makeup, has her hair done, or heaven forbid, has a matching outfit is just about the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.. There is this idea that as women, we need to make sure that we try hard without looking like we try too hard. We need to look girly, feminine, be muscular, but not all big and bulky (which is just ridiculous #bigandbulkylife4ever), we should be aesthetically pleasing, but not wear too much makeup or do our hair, be a bit provocative, but don’t be dress too scandalously. No one needs to justify what they’re wearing to anyone, period. I don’t have to justify my cut-off shirts and spandex shorts to someone so they can validate my worth as an athlete. My clothes, my hair, and the presence or lack of makeup on my face has NOTHING to do with me being an athlete - it doesn’t make my squat go down, it doesn’t impact my ability move weight, and it certainly doesn’t imply that I’m not strong or not serious about getting strong. Moreover, it has even less to do with anyone else. I’ve got goals and standards for myself, and they don’t involve making sure my outfit and eyeshadow is acceptable to anyone else. So, if you’re concerned about how many coats of mascara I’m wearing while you’re at the gym, you’re doing it wrong. Moreover, if you’re going to stand there and be catty about it, you’re definitely doing it wrong.
If your goal is to encourage women to embrace strength, say “eff it” to standard beauty conventions, and empower them - you should be leading by example and building them up rather than critiquing their hairstyle. Show them that they should embrace their own standards - not the medias, not a “crossfit babe’s”, or anyone else’s notion of what it means to be strong.