We live in a world of mixed messages. Work out, but don’t get too big. Lean out, but not too much, because strong is the new skinny, right? It forces you into the gym, but you’re constantly looking for your so-called “limit” because you don’t want to get too buff, or jacked, or whatever comes with a woman gaining more muscle than a runway model.
Too buff according to whom?
In the last three years, I’ve gone through some significant changes. I’ve gone from a pretty average athletic build to a leaner, more muscular frame thanks to a combination of CrossFit and Olympic Lifting. And it’s important to note here that I feel better than I ever have! But the effects my transformation has had on others is what maybe has affected me the most. The comments I’ve gotten on my appearance (unprovoked, I might add) have ranged from “Oh wow, you look great!” in the beginning, to “You are getting so skinny!” toward the middle, and now it’s mainly “Holy cow, I bet you could kick my ass!” or even sometimes “Niki, you know, I’m glad you’re on top of your health, but you’re starting to look a little…jacked. Maybe tone it down a notch?”
Thanks for noticing that all my hard work at the gym losing excess body fat percentage and testing my capabilities as an athlete and as a human being in general have resulted in bigger traps and more toned biceps. Thanks for checking out my butt, which has had to fit into entirely new jeans because my quads and glutes have gotten so much bigger and stronger thanks to hours of squats. Thanks for congratulating me on the blood, sweat, and tears that have gone into years of dedication in the gym, training my mind, body, and soul to be prepared for anything life throws my way.
And thanks for diminishing all of it. Turning into nothing. And making me feel as though I’ve done something wrong simply because you don’t always see women like me on your favorite TV shows or movies or commercials.
This is a lot bigger than just us. It has a lot to do with how we’ve been trained our whole lives through pop culture: we see what they want us to like, we hate what they teach us is ugly. Traditionally, the most beautiful women are long and lean, and the most handsome men are tall, dark, and buff. Really buff. Like, an unobtainable amount of buff. (These stereotypes apply to both genders, after all.)
It’s bigger than us, but it starts with us. It starts with you and your workout buddy, telling her that she looks strong today, instead of “super skinny!” That you noticed how easily your wife picked up the new bag of cat litter this morning. Impressive! Mainly, that you’re proud of whoever out there you know is working hard to better themselves in the name of health, no matter how big their muscles get in the process. (Or how much weight they’ve lost, or how fast they’re running now-this applies to everyone!)
That’s step one–saying it. Step two? Believing it. Because until we all start to change our perceptions, and I mean really change them to accept each other for our skills and our dedication, rather than our genetics and our predisposed ideas of what beauty is, we’ll continue to send mixed messages. And we won’t benefit from the strong willed, and just plain strong women (and men, too!) that we could be building day in and day out.
Nicole is a coach at CrossFit Providence and a reporter at ABC6. She’s from Boston, but currently lives in North Providence with her husband Matt and two pups. Though she grew up dancing with the Boston Ballet, Nicole moved on to running and weightlifting after college. Before coming to the Ocean State, she was a Les Mills instructor and CrossFit coach in Bangor, Maine.