May 31, 2010

Body Image: A Personal Story

Originally posted at FemineUs, a student run blog created as part of their final project for my WS 30: Women and Pop Culture course. Cross-posted with permission. Created by Alexa G.; feminist, blogger, CrossFit badass and all-around amazing young activist and scholar.

Nearly a year ago I became a CrossFitter. For those of you not familiar with what I’m talking about, CrossFit is a high-intensity workout program that’s designed to help build all-over strength. I didn’t enter the program with a specific goal in mind. I wasn’t looking to lose weight nor was I looking to shape myself into a top-tier athlete. At the very least, I figured I would get into better shape and be a bit healthier. So I started taking classes, became hooked to the challenge it provided, and soon found both my body and mind undergoing a radical transformation.

Over the months my body began to change dramatically. Strength I didn’t know I had came out of nowhere. You want me to deadlift and back squat my body weight? I can do that. And you want me to shoulder press and front squat half of my body weight? Hey, I can do that too. Don’t forget plenty of sit ups, pull ups, and push ups for good measure. Having been skinny and without any kind of muscle tone my entire life, being able to do these kinds of exercises was a big deal for me. I felt stronger and more confident than ever- something I hadn’t always felt about my body before.

But even though my body has changed for the better, part of me feels uncomfortable with my new-found biceps and muscular calves. Instead of celebrating my strength and confidence, I sometimes find myself wanting to be skinny again. I’ve put on 20 pounds of (what I’m guessing is mostly) muscle weight and have gone up two pants sizes because of it. And I know that this isn’t a bad thing because I’m the strongest and healthiest I’ve ever been. So while I am blessed with greater health and wellness, I still find myself wanting to go back to a body that wasn’t healthy for me.

I find myself caught in an odd position here. Here I am, a self-declared feminist who is uncomfortable within her own body. I’m well aware (and I’m sure you are too) of the ridiculous and unrealistic beauty standards that women are expected to live up to. But even though I do have this feminist consciousness, I still compare myself with this impossible beauty standard. This is all embarrassing for me to admit to because I do know better and I do know that being a size zero is unhealthy for someone like myself. But even with this knowledge, there is a part of me that still longs to be skinny and tiny and everything that popular culture tells me I should be.

And I know I’m not alone with these feelings. Countless books have been written for, by, and about women on the topic of body image. Some of these books deliver a lighter hearted, but still serious take such as Leslie Goldman’s Locker Room Diaries. Others, such as Susan Bordo’s Unbearable Weight deliver a more academic take on Western beauty ideals and culture. Both are fully aware of and discuss the consequences and impact that these beauty standards and images have had on women. Goldman speaks freely about her own battles with eating disorders and talks to women of all ages about their body image.

Am I planning on giving up CrossFit any time soon? Not if I can help it. I do my best to ignore what popular culture tells me I should look like, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t affected in some way.


  1. My uncle is paying for a gym membership for me as of two months ago. At first I was going because it’s paid and I wasn’t putting much effort into it. I was 160 and stayed that way for about a month. I am now 145 and I love hearing how skinny I’ve gotten and now I try very hard, I watch what I eat, workout even when not at the gym. I can feel myself becoming obssesed with how I look. The people I currently live with are obssesed with body image, very different from those who surrounded me growing up. I’ve started looking for articles such as this because I know that if I continue I’ll be a very unhealthy size zero. It’s sad that there are so many young girls and women in this situation, but I hope we can find each other and help each other realize our true beauty.

    Comment by Alejandra — May 31, 2010 @ 5:53 pm

  2. Great video. Very honest. It is amazing that intellectually we can understand something very clearly, yet our actions still resonate to a different, more ingrained trigger. Isn’t this evolution in the true sense for us? If it was easy to understand something on an intellectual level and take proper, aligned action effortlessly, wouldn’t everyone be enlightened, peaceful, harmonious beings?

    I’m still working on it!

    Comment by Marla — May 31, 2010 @ 8:39 pm

  3. Body image issues are pervasive throughout Western societies and it is amazing how many women of all contexts are affected in some way. This was a powerful story and reflects what many women, even feminist women, are grappling with.

    Comment by Sophie — June 2, 2010 @ 4:58 pm

  4. I go to the gym almost 5 times a week. I have never seen a big difefrence in my weight. I think geneticlly i am a big boned girl. I dont consider myself fat but i dont consider myself skinny either. I am fully affected by media, pop culture and magazines that promote the skinny model figure. Although i know i will never get to that point of skinniness i am still happy with myself becasue i know i am healthy.

    Comment by Delyla M. — October 20, 2010 @ 4:10 pm

  5. The media feeds us with “ideal” body images and we are expected to live to such standards, however it tends to be unhealthy and or physically impossible. Being healthy and looking thin are two opposites which they media attempts to merge and we tend to be caught in the middle which is a shame.

    Comment by Dalal C. — October 21, 2010 @ 12:05 am

  6. The issues that are associated are one of the most critical problems facing our society. Having a healthy body seems to always take a back seat to having a body that “looks good.” I have some friends that have in the past gone on diets to lose weight and they do a good job. They finally reached a point that they were no longer overweight, but they did not stop. It hoestly got to a point where it made me a little sick to look at them. The ideals and images consume these women until there is not much left. I think that the more people put their story out there for others to hear, the closer we can get to helping the people that are faced with what is essentially a very big problem.

    Comment by Joshua. S — October 21, 2010 @ 9:04 am

  7. Everything you have said, I can relate to. The problem is society, and unfortunately no matter how much we try to deny it we are all products of society. We live in a culture that focuses on being skinny and therefore attractive. I think as a society our sole focus should be being healthy. -Leora S.

    Comment by Leora Sheily — April 17, 2011 @ 9:06 pm

  8. Thank you Alexa G.! I really felt that I could relate to many of the things you mentioned. Feels good to know that there are more people out there that feel that “they know, but yet are a bit confused”. It was really interesting to read.

    Comment by Tandis Shams Fard — November 7, 2011 @ 6:42 pm

  9. Often, people mistake being healthy and fit for skinny and curvy. It’s hard to figure out whether the two factors are coexisting in a person’s body image. My mom constantly pushes me to exercise often just so I can have the physique so many women are striving for because of their influences from the mass media. There is however, one small difference. Achieving a good body image through exercising is definitely much healthier and more encouraged than starving yourself to death.

    Comment by Bridget T. — November 26, 2011 @ 11:56 am

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