A headline on Yahoo! grabbed my attention the other day: "Pink Shows Off Muscular Bikini Bod in Miami."
As a holistic health and nutrition writer (one who does not believe that your weight is a measure of your wellbeing), I'm always ecstatic when the media chooses to say nice things about celebrities who are not stick-thin.
So I clicked over to check out the article, saw a fit-looking Pink on the beach with her child, and scanned what it had to say.
Sadly, three sentences down, my hopes for a positive message were dashed when I read this:
"But has Pink gone a little too far with the working out?"
This question was followed by a poll where readers could chime in on Pink's body: Did she look good, or was she too muscular?
The majority of folks voted that she had, indeed, been working out too much, using words like ew and gross to describe her. One reader remarked, "She looks like a guy."
And those were the nice comments.
I am, ahem, vertically challenged (5 feet tall) with an athletic build. Though I'm petite, and some would even describe me as tiny, I am not thin. I was a gymnast as a kid and I have a lot of muscle. I've read that Pink was a gymnast, and like me, she's short, 5 feet 3 inches.
Perhaps this is why I clicked over to that Pink article in the first place, since I'm not usually one for giving a hoot about how celebrities look in bikinis. I could never identify with a woman like Gisele, but I can identify with Pink (though I certainly can't sing). And believe it or not, I felt insulted by the comments slung at Pink.
I'm not going to speak to the American public's incessant need to hate on other people's bodies here. (Although what the heck is that about?) What I do want to talk about is how sad I am that we as a culture tend to describe waifish women lacking any visible muscle tone as beautiful, and athletic women as manly. I know I shouldn't pay too much attention to internet trolls, but those comments are symbolic of how many people feel.
Well, I feel very differently. Let me tell you why.
I spent my late teens and early twenties trying to make myself as small as possible while I tried to reach that ridiculously thin "ideal." I did this by restricting what I ate and forcing myself to run long distances and do other types of cardiovascular exercise that I did not enjoy. I was never "skinny enough," and I dieted my health into the ground as a result.
Fortunately, I did get better. It took years, but I healed my broken relationship with my body. I learned how to nourish myself with food and I learned to love exercise because of how it makes me feel, not because of how it might make me look. I've had a healthy relationship with exercise and have enjoyed many different physical activities in adulthood, even earning my black belt in karate. But it wasn't until I started doing CrossFit that I learned to love and respect my muscles.
I drove by my local CrossFit gym for more than two years before I got up the nerve to check it out. I was afraid it would be too hard-core...I'd never picked up a barbell and figured it simply wasn't for me.
To my surprise, I was hooked immediately after the first workout, and have been a fixture there anywhere between about 5 mornings a week ever since.
CrossFit is challenging, but the workouts are scalable to every fitness level. And while it was difficult at first, it did not take long for me to realize that I am much stronger than I thought.
Every now and then, we do gymnastics at CrossFit, and I was excited to discover that not only can I still do a handstand, I can still walk and even pirouette on my hands. At 42.
Who knew? Not me: Crossfit is teaching me a lot about myself.
I've talked extensively with Peter Nathan, my friend and the owner of my gym, about the fear so many women seem to have about bulking up from Crossfit, and from the weightlifting, in particular.
He explained that what most people fail to realize is that it's really hard—maybe even impossible—for the average woman to bulk up. The average woman (like me) who trains an hour a day, 4 to 6 times each week, will get fitter and stronger, but she won't bulk up.
Will we build muscle? Yes. But that's good! Your muscles get bigger when you get stronger! You were born with muscles, so you should be using them.
Are there women who do CrossFit whose bodies are "jacked"?
But you can't look like an elite CrossFit athlete if you don't train like one. And those athletes train hard for hours a day. Those women are insanely strong and their bodies look like that because of that strength. I think it's beautiful.
I go to CrossFit because it's good for my bones. And my heart. And my brain. Has it changed my body? Yes. I've noticed that my waist is smaller, my butt is tighter (or so my husband tells me!), and my shoulders have much more definition.
But that's not what I really care about: I care about how much stronger I am! I can deadlift twice as much weight as I could when I started five months ago, and I went from being able to do 1 pull-up on the day I walked into the gym to 9 in a row at last count. (So, um, women CAN do pull-ups.)
The strength I've gained in the gym is perceptible in other areas of my life: not only can I lift heavy things (like my 65-pound daughter) without missing a beat, I think I walk taller and have more confidence in everything that I do.
We women are doing ourselves a tremendous disservice if we continue to buy into the notion that we shouldn't be strong and that muscles don't look good on us. Weight training has so many benefits: please don't deny yourself those benefits because you're afraid it's too hard or that you won't look good if you do.
I, for one, do not think thin is beautiful anymore, and I won't give up my muscles for anything: I am proud of them. My goal is to be able to do 20 pull-ups by the end of 2013.
How about you?
Let's get all get stronger. And then let's celebrate that strength, because it's beautiful.
Photo Credit: Featureflash / Shutterstock.com