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Body Positivity vs. Body Shaming: The Fine Line, When We Cross It, And How Not To

“Strong is the new skinny” began as a movement for body acceptance. The naive media consumer in me wants to believe it started with the best of intentions. Greater body type diversity in the media by praising women who have visible muscular definition has fundamentally changed the fitness industry and the way that women understand how their body is meant to look. And while the sentiment behind it is nice, the implications that come from widespread acceptance of this mentality can be, and are quickly becoming, detrimental. It is no secret that being physically strong has its advantages, but to replace one standard with another ultimately still places one type on a pedestal, leaving all others as inadequate. This isn’t a body positive way of thinking.

The images that represent the media’s version of strong women are in themselves limiting. Featuring models who are lean as hell and wearing basically nothing, we’re given even more requirements to meet in order to be considered beautiful. These women ARE beautiful, but become the unreachable expectation. Such a beauty standard is just as difficult to achieve as being skinny, and gives us all just another reason to believe that we just aren’t good enough.

No one wants to be called a body shamer. It’s not a flattering look. But when we consider one way of being as inherently better than another (strong vs. skinny), we are still shaming. Supporting one, very narrow body type does not bode very well for the self love community. 

If we aren’t critically thinking about what exactly the media is telling us, it’s easy to get caught up in just another campaign. So I challenge you to be a critical consumer and challenge what’s being put in front of you.

Real beauty is cultivated from taking care of yourself: mind, body & spirit. Eating real foods that nourish your body, maintaining health (in whatever way or at whatever weight that means for you) so that you can move through your day with ease and joy, engaging with people and activities that make you happy. Beauty is not created from lifting weights, and health looks different on every single body.

I am a CrossFit athlete. I live and breathe for strength, function, and the beauty of having muscle. There is no doubt about the importance of being strong for my sport, and the strength I have cultivated in the gym has infiltrated every piece of my strength outside of the gym. I have the phrase “Beauty in Strength” tattooed on my ribs. Not for the reminder that having muscle is sexy and cool, but to acknowledge the emotional, spiritual, mental, AND physical strength I’ve developed over the last 4.5 years. As an ode to the sport, yes, but also as an ode me growing into my truest, happiest, most beautiful self, in my best and healthiest body. From insecure college woman to CrossFitter, the changes I’ve seen in myself are astounding and have, in part, been created from the physical strength I’ve gained. But that doesn’t mean that my body is inherently better than anyone else’s.

Having defined muscle IS beautiful, but so is being every other which way.

Sending self love,

Maggie

 

 

 

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Let’s Call It An Identity Crisis

Close your eyes. Let’s imagine for a little while.

Imagine that you are in transition. Imagine that you have spent the entirety of your young adult life between the same two towns, one of which you grew up in. Now imagine you are leaving both of those places for a brand new one. Imagine that you have no family or close friends nearby (okay, your boyfriend is on the other side of the city). Imagine that you graduate, move out of your favorite city and away from your favorite ice cream place and move into brand new territory and a brand new, one bedroom apartment, all within 24 hours. Imagine that you are starting your first full-time job two weeks after your move to this new place.

Now imagine the details. Imagine that this place you are leaving holds six years of incredible memories and every kind of growing up an 18-23 year old could do. Imagine that you found multiple families while you were in this place. Imagine that one of those places is a gym, and this gym is where you grew into yourself and found beauty in your own strength and the strength of those around you. Imagine that this gym took a chance on you and hired you. Imagine that this job is the first job that you never waited until the last possible second to arrive and always and eagerly spent more time there than was ever necessary. You remembered almost every person’s name after the very first introduction.

Now imagine leaving that place, and imagine that place closing its doors for good. Imagine the feelings of relief that you won’t physically be there when it happens, but also of overwhelming sadness knowing that neither you nor anyone else will be able to experience that kind of happiness inside those four walls again.

Now imagine you’ve come to terms with the changes (or so you’ve convinced yourself), and that you find a new gym in your new town. Imagine that you are incredibly nervous but incredibly excited because this new gym means that something is the same. It means that everything you built in your old gym just moved an hour and a half north and can be transplanted right onto their barbells and pull up bars. It means that you all speak the same language, and that kilos and pounds and power cleans and kettle bell swings are all the same as they were before. It means that you get to create a new community and family.

It means familiarity and identity.

Now imagine that you turn 24. On your 24th birthday you visit a doctor who tells you that you have an injury (a pinched nerve in your neck to be exact). On that same day you find out that you can no longer pick up a barbell or hang from a pull up bar until you are pain free. He says it will take 2-3 months to be that person again. He says it could have been worse. He says if you take care of it and do your exercises you will be back and maybe even better than before.

Cue the identity crisis.

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A picture from the workout that literally broke the camel’s back (er… pinched the nerve)

A few months ago I declared my identity as an athlete and challenged you all to claim your own identities, and do so proudly. I am an athlete. I am a CrossFitter, I am a weightlifter.

In the midst of all of the change and the transition and newness, CrossFit was my constant. I joined a gym almost immediately upon moving because I knew the faster I started, the faster it would become my safe place and my community; where everyone speaks the same, loud, metal-and-rubber language. But with this injury, now even my safe place isn’t all that familiar.

I know it’s only 2-3 months. I know that being injured is a humbling experience, that I will grow and probably be even better than I was when I’m healed. I know that it could have been so much worse. I know, I know I know. But right now, I KNOW that it just plain sucks.

Once I take my spoon out of the ice cream pint I’ll see that there is a lot of beauty in the strength to find the positive in this. And I know I’ll find the positive in this. Happy Mags will turn her frown upside down and smile and laugh through the modifications over the next two months. Everything will be okay. But I think being sad is okay too, just for a little while.

Sending self love,

Maggie

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Turning Pounds to Kilos

You heard me! This CrossFitter turned into a Weightlifter this weekend for my very first weightlifting meet.

I am so proud of myself. As a 63kg lifter (or 138.6lb for those, like me, who still have a very limited ability to multiply by 2.2), I made a 122kg total (my highest snatch + clean & jerk) and made 3/6 lifts. Would it have been awesome to go 4/6? For sure! Would it have been even more awesome if I had PR’d my snatch? Duh! How about if I didn’t smash my chin on the barbell on its way up for my first jerk? You betcha!! But I was just there to dip my toes in the weightlifting water, and now that I’ve done it I think I’m addicted to the high.

When describing my experience afterwards and explaining just what the heck happens at a weightlifting meet, I had more than one person bring up the fact that they didn’t think I looked like I weighed 138.6 pounds. They also justified my weight for me by telling me that it was “probably all muscle”.

Well, yeah. A lot of it is muscle. But some of it is bones, some more of it is fat, some of it is my organs, and a lot of it is other things I don’t know how to pronounce. But I didn’t need you to tell me that. I knew it already, because, well, it’s my body.

138.6. Am I supposed to feel uncomfortable with that number?

I weighed in at 63kg on the dot– Literally 63.0kg. And the fact that I did it without really giving up my nightly dose of sun nut butter and the occasional sweet potato binge? Yeah, I’m even more confident in that 138.6 pounds.

CrossFit and weightlifting don’t put a value on the number on the scale. Sure, weightlifting classifies you into weight classes, but that’s done so that your lifts are only competing against others with a similar body weight as you. The women who win the 75kg weight class and the women who win the 63kg weight class are equally respected and regarded as the best, regardless of the number on the scale. Just add it to the running list of reasons why I love these sports: women and men are valued and rewarded for the way that their bodies move and the things that they can accomplish, not how aesthetically pleasing they look while they do them.

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After failing my first two snatch attempts, I finally hit that pesky 54kg

I was 138.6 pounds on Saturday morning at 7am. Tomorrow, I’m probably going to hover around 141, maybe even tip the scale at 142 by the time I go to sleep. Guess what? I still fit into my pants. Guess what else? I’m probably a little bit stronger at 142 than I am at 138.6. What’s more? I love myself at 138.6 just as much as I love myself at 142, and probably just as much as I would love myself at 135.

I don’t blame these people for trying to reassure me. The world tells all of us from the very beginning that women should always be dissatisfied with the number on the scale. But I’m not dissatisfied, I’m actually really freaking proud.

Sending self love,

Maggie

 

With Calloused Hands…

I love a lot of things about CrossFit. (I blog about it, so I better). I see it as a metaphor for a lot of other aspects of my life, as I’ve mentioned in plenty of other posts.

A recent CrossFit Inc. video posted on Facebook caught my attention this afternoon. It’s a compellation of top athletes and regular box-goers like me, all with one thing in common: they’re all women. And bad ass women at that. The 3+ minute video is set to a somewhat poetic, lyrical narrative about how strength knows no gender.

In thousands of chalk-filled gyms women are killing the preconceived conceptions of their own frailty, and with calloused hands rewriting the stories of expectations.

Y’all know I could preach this ’till kingdom come. To be strong is no longer a man’s game. To be frail, timid and weak is an outdated version of gender identity. To promote anything else would be more than foolish. Quite honestly, I think to promote anything else would mean you’re pretty dumb.

CrossFit gyms (at least those that I’ve been a part of) do a pretty awesome job at promoting this kind of mentality. And this is where it starts. Can you hear me? This is where the change can start.

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Getting to hang out with two of the coolest women I know (well, don’t really know): Olympian Mattie Rogers (above) and Box Owner Jen Agnew (below)!

 

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Videos like this make me really happy. They make me proud of what I do and what I believe in. Of course, videos like this also show the flaws in a sport like CrossFit and a media team that only sees white, hypersexualized females as the women that represent us. We are not all like this. But, I think we have to start somewhere. And this is an awesome start.

Sending self love,

Maggie

When the Season of Eating is Over and You’re Left With…

Business casual. After three weeks of living in leggings and pajama pants on what is the last and longest Winter Break of my young life, the last thing I wanted to remember was business casual. The thought of buttoning a pair of pants around my waist, belly spilling over the top and booty feeling just a little too -licious… No thank you.

Like everyone else, I indulged myself in the best the holiday season had to offer and consciously refused to put on a pair of pants that buttoned (I, in fact, bought elastic waist band jeggings from Gap in order to avoid it).

Now, back to the normalities of school and work, business casual has once again reared its sometimes ugly but sometimes trendy head, meaning buttonable pants are once again a staple in my wardrobe. Meaning that this morning they were a struggle to actually button.

Cue the self-loathing.

Yesterday, I snatched 120 pounds. No, I didn’t get it on video, but trust me, the entire city of Bloomington could hear and feel my excitement as I pranced around the gym giving high fives. I’ve been working for that 120 pound snatch since April.

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The very first time I snatched 100 pounds, almost one year ago!

Here I am, infinitely proud of what this incredible body has accomplished, and then 15 hours later I’m loathing it for not fitting comfortably into a pair of pants. It is truly incredible to me how quickly my own mind can change about the exact same body.

I read an article this morning titled, Burpees and Blush: It’s Okay to be Fierce and Feminine. The first paragraph reads:

A revolution is bubbling under the veneer of traditional female beauty. Women are celebrating what their bodies can DO, rather than what they look like. It’s easy to get sucked into the body comparison game – we’ve all had moments where we feel inadequate. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

You’re right! It doesn’t have to be that way. There is SO MUCH beauty in strength. I believe it so much I have it tattooed on my body. Tattooed!

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See? There it is.

Look at yourself, Maggie. Your body, in its struggle-to-button-your-pants, snatching-120-pounds glory, is absolutely incredible. The things that it achieves and allows you to do are so much more important and impactful than a day or a week of tight pants.

Fill your new year with gratitude and thanks for you and all that your body lets you do.

Sending self love,

Maggie

Belly Woes and Diet Foes (and Leaky Guts?)

Have you ever been told that you can’t do your absolute favorite thing anymore? You broke your leg, and can’t play soccer until it’s healed. You’re knee deep in repaying your student loans and can’t afford to travel until they’re almost gone. Well, my absolute favorite thing to do is eat. And this summer I’ve essentially figured out that I can’t really do that anymore.

I have a lot of gut health issues. A lot. We won’t go into details (you’re welcome), but essentially my recent life has been consumed with combating and trying to prevent symptoms from crippling almost every move I make during the day.

Before 2012, my belly was filled with every yummy treat you could think of. Eating was (and still is) my favorite past time! But after realizing that daily stomach aches weren’t the regular happenings of healthy 20-year olds, I decided to cut out gluten and dairy. Immediately, I noticed a dramatic difference in the way I felt, but still often experienced the same symptoms. In 2014 I said, “Heck, Paleo sounds neat!”, and gave that bad boy a try with a little encouragement from the Crossfit community. Boy did that change everything. I was living a happy gluten-free, dairy-free, Paleo lifestyle with a Zone diet twist (strictly because I don’t know how to portion control… Don’t look at me like that, neither do you!) and I was feeling goooooood. I had more energy, saw results at the gym and in my running, and even dropped a pant size. Problems were solved!

Nope.

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One of my favorite Paleo recipes: Chocolate Cinnamon Swirl Banana Bread from PaleOMG!

Here comes June 13, the night I thought I had food poisoning after going to dinner with my parents. It turns out the food poisoning symptoms (intense abdominal pain, nausea) were actually symptoms of a rupturing ovarian cyst. After moving back home for the summer and coming under an immense amount of stress, that bad boy decided it couldn’t take it anymore and exploded inside of me, leaving excess fluid in my abdomen (gross, right?).

Luckily for me, I didn’t end up in the emergency room. Unfortunately for me, I’ve been battling significant gut health issues since the day after it happened.

Again, I’ll spare you the details, but imagine your digestive system being the only thing you think about pretty much every hour of the day. I became obsessed with learning about why my body was revolting against me after thinking I had finally gotten a handle on my digestive issues.

So, I stuck my nose in a book- two, actually. The first, Brain Maker, written by Neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter, first opened my eyes to something called Leaky Gut. Basically, after 20 years of eating gluten (while unknowingly gluten-sensitive), my gut started to break down; more specifically, the flora of my digestive tract, allowing bad bacteria to grow where good bacteria should be, and weakening the ability for my body to decide between good and bad nutrients to be transferred into my bloodstream. (PSA: I am not a doctor, and this is probably the most simplistic version of Leaky Gut available anywhere on the Internet). So, when my cyst ruptured from stress, it irritated my digestive system (a common side effect) and bada bing: chaos ensued.

Gut health is a mysterious thing- I know I didn’t understand it until I started reading, and still have so many questions. After multiple procedures (a CT scan and Bacterial Overgrowth Test) and no diagnoses, both doctors I’ve seen have suggested trying a Low-FODMAP diet to minimize my symptoms. Add it to my list of descriptors: gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, Paleo, Zone, Low-FODMAP…. What’s next?

Is this Low-FODMAP lifestyle going to help? Who knows.

After 626 words, you now have a somewhat extensive description of the past two months (and previous three years) of my life. When you struggle to maintain a healthy gut, you struggle to maintain a lot of other things- energy level, anxiety, (sanity), a desire to workout… And man, oh man, have I had to push myself to keep going. When you don’t feel good, all you want to do is lie down until it goes away. Well, when you don’t feel good every, single day… you can understand where this is going.

I just completed my third 10k yesterday (sorry social media world for exploding with pictures), and I finished about 5 minutes later than I had set my goal. The first three miles were agonizing because I just couldn’t keep the pace I wanted. But, after realizing I just wasn’t going to meet that goal, my race improved dramatically.

Yes, it was hard (hot damn it was hard), but this body has been putting me to the test the past two months and was still able to finish 6.2 miles under an hour. And this body is going to run 13.1 in October (yup, that’s a half marathon. LOL.). Holy crap it’ll hurt, but holy crap am I thankful for the things that I still can do, and you better believe I’ll keep doing them. My struggles do not even compare to others who battle severe, even life-threatening digestive health issues, and I know that, and I’m so thankful for that. But even so, my struggles are my own, and I am proud of the way I’m continuing to try and overcome them.

To celebrate these victories, both big and small, I’d like someone to find me a gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, Paleo, low-FODMAP piece of chocolate cake with a gigantic scoop of ice cream. Please.

Future Strong Women

Yesterday, a friend tagged me in one of Elisabeth Akinwale’s Instagram pictures. A bit before, Elisabeth had posted a video of herself doing a clean complex on what looked like a high school or public field. Children, teens, runners, and parents alike are around, no one seeming to notice this absolutely incredible woman doing some incredible things. I smiled, double-tapped, and proceeded to scroll.

I came back to my phone a bit later to see my friend, @Kimberlyoakes, had tagged me in another one of Elisabeth’s pictures (insert shameless plug to follow her and her Paleo foodie alter ego, @Paleoakes on Instagram! You will not regret it.. well, maybe you will if you hate getting drool all over your phone). Akinwale’s picture was posted not too long after her video, and shows her in the bottom of her snatch, bumper plate-clad barbell overhead, with three girls sitting in the grass next to her, watching. The caption:

And then this happened. These three little girls came over and wanted to know all about what I was doing. #representationmatters #amillionquestions #futurestrongwomen

Cue the swelling heart. So many feelings. ALL of the feelings. I have just been associated with one of the best CrossFit athletes in the world, not because of her talent, but because of the way that she has just represented herself and inspired these three girls. She is now a new role model, representing beauty in strength in the best way that I could possibly be using the phrase, and @Kimberlyoakes recognized that. I may not be the best CrossFit athlete, but I sure hope I can serve as some inspiration for someone along the way, as Elisabeth has just done for these girls.

One day last week I was working out at the same time as a CrossFit Kids class of six girls, all probably under the age of 12. I’m literally soaked in sweat doing box jumps, handstand push-ups, and snatches while they’re doing burpees and practicing their rowing on this slick, humid day. Each one is hesitant to touch the wet gym floor with their bare knees, out of fear of getting dirty. But each time they walk by my chalky, sweaty space I see them shyly glance over at me, trying to watch without really watching. One girl, Hannah, starts to cheer for me as I’m doing box jumps. After I finish, I walk outside to see the obstacle course they’ve created: sled pulls, a wall ball run, tire jumps, and some agility runs, so I ask if I can join- immediately I get pleas of “yes!” from the girls, and Coach Alex gives the seal of approval.

One at a time, we complete the agility course and compete for the fastest time. With 12+ years and inches on them, I win the course with a time of 1:08, and let me tell you, they designed a good one! But the point of this is not to say that I beat these girls.

I’m telling you that I have never felt more like a role model than I did in those 10 minutes that I spent outside with them. How cool is it that I spent an hour in the gym that day and got to inspire six girls to try their best, just because I was trying my best? I was “cool” because I’m older, but what an absolutely amazing opportunity for me to model so many different things for them- sportsmanship, confidence, resilience, a positive attitude…. The list is really endless. And if there is one thing that owning beauty in strength has taught me, it’s that modeling it for others is just as important as modeling it for myself.

So, @Kimberlyoakes, thank you for inspiring this blog post, and Elisabeth Akinwale, thank you for making it so easy to understand just how important it is for girls to have someone to inspire them to become #futurestrongwomen.

Sending self love,

Maggie