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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