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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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24

As my 24th year on this earth comes to a close, I look back on the past year and honestly think only one thing: I thought I had grown during grad school, but boy was I wrong. Hey grads, get ready. Put your big kid pants on. Life outside of school is literally the weirdest, happiest and saddest experience you could ever imagine.

In the past year I’ve graduated from grad school, left my safe haven city, moved to a brand new city, lived alone, started a new job, had a significant injury, adopted a cat, joined a new gym, quit that first job, lived unemployed, traveled, cried, fought, laughed, struggled, read, wrote, watched a lot of HGTV, cooked, refinished wood floors, bought a mattress… basically 24 was absolutely terrifying.

I knew that graduating after 6 years bottled up in a little utopia town was going to be a hard thing to stomach, but I didn’t realize how incredibly hard the transition was going to be. This social butterfly, moving to a new city to be with her boyfriend, taking on the world as a young, capable, 23-year-old. The world at her fingertips. Doesn’t seem like it would be all that bad.

I started a job that I knew instantly wasn’t for me, but besides my very closest friends and family, tried so desperately to hide it. As a millennial, you hear all of these terrible things about how millennials are at work (and generally at life) and try SO HARD not to be “like that”. Not to be the spoiled, selfish, quit-when-it’s-too-hard kid living off your parents’ money, wasting away with two degrees and no effort to use them. A failure.

Quitting a job is one of the most shameful things I have ever experienced. Brené Brown tells us that “shame is lethal”, and I agree with her. It is honestly counterproductive. But how do you convince yourself to stop feeling that way when you are knee deep in it? I didn’t get fired, I was dreadfully unhappy, and I made the big girl decision to try and make a positive change. But I felt more like a big, fat, awful failure than I ever had in my entire life.

I still struggle with feelings of shame, even though every single decision I’ve made in the last year has been my own. What will people think of me? There are people who have been nothing but supportive so why should anyone else be anything different? If they aren’t supportive, why should I consider their opinions important to me in any way? After all, as everyone’s favorite poet told us,

“Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind”.

I’m worried about the shame I’ll feel from the assumption that others are looking down on me. You wonder why I’ve waited this long to publicize the fact that I’m struggling? The fact that I quit a job and still don’t have a new full-time job? That I’ve been rejected from more positions than I can count and have even turned down the only opportunities that have presented themselves? That I’ve been a moody, drawn back, glass-half-empty friend, girlfriend, sister, daughter? That I’m almost 25 with two degrees and I still don’t have my shit together?

Want to know how long it took me to get over that shame? Oh, I’m still not. Gallons of tears and hundreds of hours of soul searching and processing (and thank God for my parents and their patient, patient hearts) have brought me to where I think I’m about to break even. Some days I really do feel optimistic. Like I’m doing the right thing. Like these few months of feeling lost and overwhelmed is coming to its peak and soon I’ll be riding a sweet, snowy sled down towards the end. Other days, I’m consumed with this feeling that I’m just floating, unattached and useless. Wasting away with this deep-seeded desire to feel needed and purposeful.

Lucky for me, the gym is where I get that feeling. (You knew it was coming, didn’t you?)

I am now spoiled rotten with the ability to throw myself into the gym, something I so desperately wanted when I was working full-time. When you’re unhappy, you want to do things that make you happy; thus, the gym. My sanity. How lucky I am that I found something that has been so incredibly important and helpful through this process. It’s hard to imagine any scenario in which I feel MORE purposeful than when I am using my own body to put a barbell over my head. It is one of the most powerful, empowering feelings I can imagine. Not to mention the lessons I learn every day when I’m in there about perseverance, hard work & trusting myself.

To quote myself (how Millennial of me):

“Sometimes CrossFit doesn’t have hidden life lessons, and then sometimes it does and they’re really more blatantly obvious than hidden. Work Hard. Trust yourself. Have faith. Find beauty in your strength. Struggle is guaranteed, failure is immanent. But, above all, just be patient, because it’s the only way you’re going to get the bar over your head and I promise you it’s the only way you’re going to get better.”

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(I have thought from the very beginning that crossfitters should put it on their resume. If you can show up every day to better yourself at your own will, work as a teammate and individual, do things that scare the crap out of you, take and follow direction, bring energy to the room, aren’t afraid to make mistakes, are capable of finishing work in a set amount of time or even before that time cap… you deserve the job. Period.)

This thing is a process, and it is not easy. It is something I can’t even really put into words. There are plenty of articles out there that try to explain it to us, articulate the emotions that we can’t quite understand. But honestly, those articles and even this blog post won’t do you any justice until you experience it for yourself.

Now as 25 approaches, I have moved once again, still full-time jobless, spending my savings on rent and food, but trying to feel more hopeful than I did when I first left Bloomington a year ago. I’m not working a job I dislike, I won’t go hungry (thanks, again, to my perfect mom and dad), I have a roof over my head, and even some part-time stuff going on.

Some days I feel okay. Other days I drive to Meijer and spend $4 on a pint of Arctic Zero ice cream that I should be saving to spend on real food, and forget about my shit out tomorrow. Some people call it balance, I just call it being 24.

Here’s to 25.

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

 

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

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

Two Years Strong

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I have madly and passionately loved for CrossFit for two years.

Two years. A blink in time in the grand scheme of life. Oh, how life can feel static in two years. I still live in the same city, I am still a student, I am still an ice cream addict, I still worship my dog, I still can’t go more than three days without talking to my mom. But oh, how life can change in two years; how life has changed in two years.

I completed my first “foundations” class at CrossFit Bloomington on November 5, 2012, according to my yellow workout notebook. My max, one rep dead lift was 135 pounds. Today, it’s 235 pounds (soon to be tested and hopefully destroyed!). I can literally lift 100 more pounds off of the ground today than I could two years ago. I am by no means the strongest woman at my gym, but I am the strongest me that I have ever been.

I didn’t realize how desperately I needed a life change until I was about 6 months into working out. My self-actualization came during the summer of 2013: Newly single and totally lost. I vividly remember the workout that I did the day after: The Broken Filthy Fifty. Ironic, I know. It was upwards of 95 degrees in this unairconditioned warehouse after working 9-5 at my internship cubicle, and I was about to do 20-15-10-5 reps of: Box jumps, kettlebell swings, walking lunges, knees to elbows, push press (35 pounds), back extensions, wall ball shots (14 pounds), burpees, and double unders, for time.

I don’t remember what time I finished in… I could barely breathe. All I know is that between the heat and the emotions, I was on the verge of tears the entire time. But I finished. I wiped my face, washed my hands, and had officially sweat out everything left inside of me. And it was time to rebuild from there.

CrossFit was my constant, it was my rock. When I talk about the spiritual awakening I went through, it was the Broken Filthy Fifty that signaled the beginning of it. Physically, emotionally, socially, intellectually. You name it, I changed. Some more significant than others, but all noticeably enough for me to appreciate and realize that I am now a more confident, independent, strong woman than I ever was before. I was building my self-worth. “Beauty in Strength”, as many of my friends know, is my mantra now, and it will continue to move me forward.

Today, I’m generally a happier person. HOW?! You ask! For those who don’t know me, happy is my neutral; happy is my normal. But these days, it is more genuine than ever. I love the way that I look. I weigh five more pounds than I did when I started, have lost a pant size, and have gained some serious self-confidence. I value myself more and the things that I am both good and bad at. I understand that life is always challenging, but if I could back squat 180 pounds 10 times in a row last week, I can probably make it through my first semester of graduate school.

I can’t forget to give credit where credit is due during this two year CrossFitiversary:

CrossFit Bloomington, you made this all possible. Thank you for teaching me the basis for everything I needed to know, and sparking this insane fire inside of me. Thank you.

CrossFit Deerfield, thank you for taking me in these past two summers and giving me a community of extremely talented and passionate trainers and athletes. Thank you.

Stonebreaker Athletics, I love you. Thank you for loving me right back in all of my silliness, and for letting me do what I love (almost) every day. Thank you.

Carl and Q, you raised me! You are major role models and have influenced the person that I am and continue to become. Thank you for constantly challenging me, even when I don’t want to use 95 pounds for my cleans during the workout because I’m too tired. For your high fives, and your constructive criticisms, for laughing at me and with me, and constant belief in my abilities these past two years. Thank you.

I was thinking about this post today and what I should write when reflecting back on my two years. This blog has been, since the beginning, dedicated to my complete obsession with this sport and how it has changed me. The first few posts were a little rough, and I will openly admit it! I was new to the blogging world and wasn’t writing it for anyone but myself. But now, these posts have found their purpose: To not only reflect on the adventures that I take my body through, but to hopefully inspire other people to find something they’re passionate about– literally anything– and let it completely consume them, mind body and soul, and build them up, and prove to themselves that they can always be better than who they were yesterday. This is what I have let CrossFit do for me, and I wish its magic upon every person in this wonderful world.

Happy two year CrossFitiversary to me, now go do something great today!

Sending self love,

Maggie