Seriously, the words women use at the gym just appall me. They are inappropriate and shaming, and I wish people would stop.
No, I am not talking about swearing. In fact, swear all you want. You are working hard!
I am talking about all the talk about what women’s bodies “should” look like and what individual women want their own bodies to look like.
Today at CrossFit, I said I was having a hard time remembering the names for all of the barbell lifts. The woman I was talking to said she did not care about lifts because she does not want to “get bulky” and look like a guy. First, you won’t “get bulky,” but I don’t have time in a one-minute conversation to explain how the body works to you. Second, what am I supposed to say? Some of us are “bulky” in that we may have lost a lot of weight and have excess skin that adds more “bulk,” or we may just have a muscular frame. I have been 120 pounds and 180 pounds, and I have always had “bulky,” muscular legs. Other women have made fun of them and called them “manly.” So, if I validate this woman’s “bulky” comment, I would be inadvertently saying, “Yes, anything but thin and lean on a woman is bad, which means my body is bad.”
I am not throwing my body type under a bus because somehow our culture has only one idea of what a woman’s body should look like.
Another time at the CrossFit box, we were working on pullups and a woman was upset that the skin on her hands was ripping a bit. Our coach said this was normal, that your hands get used to it, and that we should use a pumice stone to help build the skin on our hands. She said “Women should not have rough, ugly hands. That’s disgusting! I am NOT doing that.” And then she looked at me as though I were supposed to agree with her.
I have been working on my pullups a lot, along with some lifts that tear up your hands. I have a pumice stone in my shower for my callouses. I immediately felt embarrassed and sad. Again, I could not validate this woman’s belief without also insulting myself, because I have rough “ugly” hands. Plus, I love my callouses. It shows I have been working hard at some of my goals — just as a manicurist might love their soft manicured hands because it shows they have been working hard at their goals. Have whatever hands you want, but we need to stop talking about “rules” of what a woman’s body “should” look like, especially in the gym.
The gym (or Box if you CrossFit) should be a safe space. You come in there and get all sweaty and smelly. Your hands might rip and bleed, you probably swear when you miss a double under and whip yourself in the shin with the jump rope, and you will make weird faces when lifting heavy things. You need to be in a place where all of that is safe.
When, as women, we say that women should not lift weights because we get bulky and ugly, that we can’t do pullups because we need pretty hands, and that we can’t sweat because sweat is “gross,” then we make the gym an unsafe space. Not all women look the same, sweat the same, or have the same body shape. It should be okay if I, as a plus-sized woman, have a jiggly stomach when I run. I particularly dislike it when very thin women in the gym pass me on a run and say “Oh, my stomach is so big and bouncy.” I immediately want to crawl up into a hole.
I recommend that we change our language by taking a lesson from the men — at least the men I know from CrossFit — and how they talk about women’s bodies. I have spent a lot of time now in two different CrossFit boxes and socially with CrossFitters. The men I have met never insult women’s bodies. One of my coaches has really changed my perspective on my “bulky” legs by saying “Look at those strong legs” when I am doing squats. I accidentally shamed myself once when trying to do pullups and said I was too fat to do them, and my coach told me that weight is not an indicator of strength. In fact, most athletic women weigh more than “thin” (meaning lower weight) women because their muscle ratio is higher.
Please, please, please, ladies. Can we use better language in the gym?
Rev. Katie[Headline image: The photograph shows white women and women of color standing next to one another in various poses. The women are athletic and of different heights, weights, and body shapes. Each woman is wearing a black sports bra and a black pair of underwear.]