On Warped Beauty Standards, and Embracing the Buff


Own Your Beauty is a groundbreaking, year-long movement bringing women together to change the conversation about what beauty means. Our mission: to encourage and remind grown women that it is never too late to learn to love one's self and influence the lives of those around us - our mothers, friends, children, neighbors. We can shift our minds and hearts and change the path we follow in the pursuit of authentic beauty.

I resisted the larger weights. I didn't mind sweating, but I'd read in Self and Fitness and all of the other magazines with the cayenne pepper maple syrup diets and concave-bellied glamazons that in order to tone, you must do high repetitions of light weights. Sure, it was obscenely boring to lift 10-pound dumb bells over my head six hundred and twenty times, but that's why my iPod existed, to relieve the mind numbing boredom.

I wanted my belly to look like this.

I wanted my legs to look like that:

If eating only collard greens and suffering endless boredom were the only means to a shiny abdomen and skinny legs of doom -- I at least wanted to give it an honest go.

But tolerance of the mind-numbing boredom only lasts so long when you're an adrenaline-chasing Type A personality. Thank the Universe that we found Crossfit when we did, because I had run out of good music and was beginning to unwittingly enjoy songs whose lyrics centred around sunglasses making you cooler than me (side note: have you listened to the lyrics of the songs at the top of the charts right now? Are they infuriatingly dumb or am I just a crotchety old lady?)

Anyway, we discovered Crossfit moments before I might have thrown myself in a ditch in frustration and boredom. I totally enjoyed flinging wall balls and jumping on boxes and firing mad kettlebells in the air. But I worried about the heavy backsquats, the push press that might turn my arms into huge quivering beasts of flesh.

"I'm worried I'm bulking up," I whispered to Corey after my first week of cleaning 100 pounds, back squatting almost 200. I could see veins bulge in my neck, under the bar, and I imagined myself with tree-trunk legs and a stumpy She-Ra neck, terrifying gas station attendants and maitre ds who worried secretly that I'd crush them with my dangerous girth. I was worried my muscles would take away my femininity, I'd be totally bereft of any womanly appeal.

"It is hard to bulk up," he said."It takes forever, and you have to concentrate on it, so don't worry. You're not going to bulk up."

But he is a man and therefore knows nothing about these matters, so I disregarded his assurance as blessed male ignorance and continued to be scared of the heavy weight and its potential to fuck up my relationship with my skinny jeans.

Six months into Crossfit and I stepped on a scale for the first time in ages.

The scale was up 14 pounds, and I said to Corey, "I'm worried I am definitely bulking up."

I think he said nothing, because as a relatively intelligent man, he must have known there was no correct answer to my slightly frantic (and very obviously true) observation.

I ran home and hauled all my skinny jeans and pencil skirts out of the closet.& One by one, I tried them on. Or rather, my legs tried them on a la carte, because there wasn't a single garment in my closet that could fit over my ass.

At first I felt like crying -- ripped off, because I'd put so much work into exercise and eating spotlessly. And I had believed for so long that the reason I exercised was so that I could look like a slightly older houselady representation of that girl on the cover of Self.

And then it came to me in a rapid hurtling swoosh: A concave stomach and matchstick arms are stupid reasons for lifting a five-pound dumb bell sixty million times in a row. Aspiring to look like an undernourished teenager is more than slightly insane. The definition of fit needs an overhaul in the mainstream media.;

I had developed a booty, nurtured muscular thighs and created a bit of a muscle maze on my back. There was no evidence of starvation anywhere on me.; I put my skinny jeans in a large black garbage bag and dropped them down a vent in the clothing donation box down the street.

"I've heard about Crossfit," says the young mom outside my son's kindergarten class.

She has just asked me where I work out, and I am suddenly realizing that I never wear anything but spandex and sweatshirts at drop-off and pick-up.

"But," she says,"I don't want to bulk up."

I have to fight hard not to sigh brokenheartedly. I was her a year ago; I have only just stopped thinking like her.

I want to say: It's effing ridiculously hard to get buff. It takes concerted effort over time and attention to your diet and maybe you will get "bulky" if you eat like a maniac and throw around heavy weight five days a week for a year or so. But if you do get bulky at that point, you'll also likely to be amazed at the transformation of your body and proud of the hard work you've put in at making it a lean, mean, effective machine.

Some might call me "bulky" at this point into my fitness journey: I am 16 pounds heavier than I was a year ago. My thighs are too big for a lot of my old pants, and I can see muscles in places I never knew muscles existed. Skirts fit me better now, because my waist is much smaller. I can haul a tire up a mountain for you if you ever need it and overhead squat your back-talking seven-year-old.

I am more confident in my abilities and willingness to try new things.

If you're a woman who refuses to lift heavy weight because you fear the bulk? I think you should give it a try anyway: This terrified line of thinking interferes with your capacity to do so much more than what you think you can do right now. Your fear of the bulk and adherence to the twisted media perception of ideal feminine body proportion is ripping you off. It's preventing you from kicking ass in a monumental way.

I think (admitting fully that I know nothing in particular) that you should give those heavy weights a try. Back squat, deadlift, load up bars with weights heavier than your cat. You can always stop trying so hard if you are afraid of the sleek new muscles that will appear after months of hard work, but my best is that you'll be surprised by your appreciation of them and all that they mean. If we all lost a bit of the fear, we'd maybe see women like this on the cover of Fitness Magazine:

Crystal McReynolds

(Mothereffing BULKY.  And also: completely hot, elite Crossfit Athlete and Competitor Crystal McReynolds, photo from Facebook group.)

Maybe if strong women started gracing magazine covers and helping to define feminine, we'd stop making excuses to take it to the next level. We'd maybe understand what really fit and healthy really looks like, and aspire to the beautifully possible rather than the absurdly unattainable.

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