Body Image as a Female Strength Athlete

Body image and all the ingrained societal sexism that drives it to be the THING that it is, is really complicated. To set the tone, I'd like to refer to the following article from The Good Man Project:

CrossFit's Problem with Women, and Ours

It starts to delve into the intricacies of gender dynamics that I don't have the words or thought coherency to even begin discussing. For instance, when CFHQ posted the Talayna picture and people pushed back, they then posted the one of shirtless men climbing the rope, trying to say "see, equal opportunity!" Only it's not. 

Their camera angle and his leg position are at least each about 45 degree off from it being about the same thing. Then there is the whole issue that women are in booty shorts of their own volition, but is it because they truly want to be or are they taught they want to be to further their desirability/ popularity as female athletes. 

What does it mean to be a female athlete? Particularly one who wants to market her abilities for sponsorships and speaking engagements and the like? It's enough to make my head explode. 

But it was the Sherry Stiles article that really prompted me to give my own 2 cent rant.

Sherri Stiles on Perceptions of Fit Women

She tears apart on a comment by a guys that states "women don't look good all muscled up." This commenter makes the assumption that (1) he is the purveyor of all that is aesthetically right and (2) women do what they do for the sexual attention of men, end of story.
From ironemotion.spreadshirt.com and you can find them on Instagram at "Iron and Emotion"

Can you say male privilege loud enough to match the audacity here? I doubt it.

What's discouraging is that this mentality is insidious. It's so assumed that it doesn't even have to be spoken most of the time. And when it is said, you have both men and women nodding along like, "oh yeah, of course."

What kills me is the visceral reaction of many men when presented with the image of a strong women. I'm not here to say that all men should find muscles and a 400 lb deadlift hot, but this reaction isn't the gut level, visceral push back that one gets when presented with a women who is devoted to marathoning, cycling, yoga, or dance. It's only when that devotion takes on characteristics of what society considers "masculine," like strength, competition, and aggression.

After reading a particularly heart wrenching article on Jezebel made me think more about the issue. One of the comments I left was:

"As a black belt, I started seeing more and more how women behave different as a protective mechanism, just to get through their days. I started seeing how people treated me different because I was a competitive martial artist. How their attitude changed. As though my femininity was based on my susceptibility to victimization." 

And herein lies the issue as I see it: those that have the deepest, most severe negative reaction to female strength athletes I tend to find are the same men that rely on external cues to assess their own masculinity. They are the guys that haven't yet found comfort and an innate sense of self, of who they are as a male human, and need comparisons to others in the outside world. And to be presented with an image that puts their external cue system it jeopardy is problematic. Their reaction turns aggressive, a "masculine" reaction in response to a perceived threat to their masculinity.

What is masculinity? Why do we still need to divide ourselves and our habits between masculine and feminine?

Here is an interesting documentary that is in the making:





Anyway.

What does this have to do with body image? Dare I say almost everything?

Starting at ground zero, with the expectation of human dichotomy between men and women and their often unrealized need to be masculine and feminine by comparisons to each other. And then you have people like me, and there are lots of us, who reject that notion that I care to be feminine in a traditional way that means I'm smaller and weaker than a man. (I'm the Newman, and I do what I want.)

The bafflement that ensues.

The aggravation that arrises when even in weight class sports I'm classified as almost too big because I'm over 165 lbs. The wonder by people that "why don't you just cut weight?" Because I don't fucking want to.

Having been told years ago that my choice of pursuits might be off putting to men.

How do we fight it? First, recognize it. Realize that you don't have to work in that dynamic. Just because it was set up before you got here doesn't mean you have to play by its rules. And this goes for anyone who wants to buck trends.

Happiness doesn't come wrapped with a pink or blue bow.