I have a confession. I have become a fitness junkie. Or, more accurately, a CrossFit junkie.
Trust me when I tell you that I could never have predicted this turn of events. I never thought I would be the kind of person who would say things like, “I can’t wait to get back to the gym!” or have a dresser drawer overflowing with spandex. Even Eric, who has watched the evolution since its beginning, still raises his eyebrows at me when I mutter to myself, “God, I love weightlifting.”
But it is totally, 100 percent, completely true. I love weightlifting. And I love working out. And I love making it into the gym as often as I can. And it is CrossFit that made me this way.
I won’t get into the specifics of what CrossFit is (you can read about it here), but suffice it to say that it has turned me from someone who had to play mind games in order to slyly convince myself to get my heart rate up to someone who can’t stop thinking about when I’m going to get back in the gym. Sure, when I lived in Northern Virginia, I ran three-four times a week (it seemed like a prerequisite), and when I first moved to Portland, my roommates and I joined the grungy bodybuilding gym down the street, but CrossFit has taken it to another level entirely.
But my newfound obsession with fitness and nutrition has introduced me to the truly terrifying glut of body-shaming/fat-shaming/sexist photos, articles, and advice masquerading as information on how to be healthy. When I started a blog to log my progress at the gym, I was excited to see how many people “liked” my posts—until I realized that many of them were spammy blogs promoting extreme weight loss, food shame, and impossible standards of beauty.
Fitness is fraught, especially for women. Since I’ve joined Crossfit, I’ve been warned by people about bulking up, or—more often—reassured by them that as a woman, I won’t “bulk up too much,” regardless of the fact that I have never expressed a concern about it. In fact, I’d like to bulk up—it’s physical proof that I am getting stronger. I know they mean well, but those reassurances make me realize how truly ingrained our ideas about what bodies should look like are. It does not even occur to these people that maybe I want muscle-y shoulders or sturdy thighs.
On the other extreme, when I was on the East Coast visiting my office last week, I walked past a billboard-sized advertisement on the side of a building for the gym inside. In the ad, a (white, blond) rail-thin woman in a tiny, sparkly dress and high heels was crawling across a pool table, lining up her shot with her pool cue. What that has to do with fitness (flexibility? Agility?) is beyond me.
For me, being healthy is not about reaching a certain weight or counting calories (in fact, I would categorize these behaviors as unhealthy) but feeling good in my body and not feeling held back from the things I want to do because of it. Being healthy starts with accepting your body, not battling it. It has as much to do with how you feel about and treat your body as it does with how your body outwardly looks.
I am not doing CrossFit because I want to look a certain way. I do it because of the way I feel when I step up to the platform, grip my hands around the bar, and throw a bunch of weight up over my head. I do it because when I come to the gym with my head spinning with stress from work and my relationships and all the activities that I volunteer for, my coaches give me a concrete challenge that I know I can do (even though it might hurt), and I leave with a clear head and an exhausting but buzzing body. It’s not about getting my “summer body”—it’s about doing something hard but pushing through it anyway, the best you can, with all you’ve got, until you finish, let out a moan of relief, and pass out sprawled on the floor, red-faced and sweaty, waiting for your heaving chest to return to normal.