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In CrossFit, Women Can Be the Beauty and the Beast

As a young girl, it was known that you either like Barbies or you like sports. You're a "girlie girl" or a "tomboy." As we grew up, beauty usually meant falling within the cultural norms of femininity established by magazines, movie stars, and the girls on television. Beauty usually meant thin. Beauty usually meant safe. Well, times are a changing, and so is the way we see beauty.

Throughout adolescence and college, I struggled with the vision of beauty. I knew that through sports I felt vibrant, strong and beautiful. That said, magazines, movie stars and television always portrayed a different view of beauty, and that was difficult to understand. As a collegiate track athlete, I wasn't tall and thin. I was short and muscular. How could that be beautiful?

Lauren Conner, a mother of one and former police officer struggled with the same feelings growing up as a competitive mid-distance runner at track and field powerhouse, University of Arkansas. After years of competition at the national level, she was told that it would be a "scientific anomaly" for her to achieve the running speeds she needed to move up to running at a professional level due to her body size. She saw that she had two options: "not eating or moving on."

Today, as female CrossFit athletes, Conner and I don't have to choose between femininity and sport. I still get to flex my femininity as a beauty and a beast, inside and out of the gym. CrossFit is helping reshape the traditional perception of beauty, making strong a part of beautiful. Beauty shouldn't be measured by size, weight, or symmetry. CrossFit, like many sports, has taken the focus away from outer beauty and turned the focus to inner strength and beauty. (The six pack abs that often result from all this hard work are an added bonus!)

Photo Courtesy of Collette Stohler

When Conner started focusing on CrossFit, she realized that the rail thin "track body" she had been told that she needed to achieve to become a professional mid-distance runner would not be as advantageous in CrossFit. It is the strong, well-nourished body that is best equipped for the humbling sport. Conner was so inspired by CrossFit that she opened up her own CrossFit affiliate named CrossFit Arx in Toms River, New Jersey where she aims to inspire other women (and men as well!) to feel what she did.

CrossFit is a results-based fitness program that consists of constantly-varied movements performed at a high intensity. These workouts include running, rowing, gymnastics, general metabolic conditioning, and weightlifting. Every workout is called a WOD, or Workout of the Day, and these vary every day from box to box ("box" is CrossFit's term for each individual gym). There are also staple WODs, workouts to gauge and test your performance and fitness level: here’s an example.

With over 7,000 affiliates worldwide and growing, CrossFit is spreading rapidly around the globe. Every year, CrossFit hosts a worldwide competition called “The CrossFit Games Open,” in which individuals from around the world compete in events in order to qualify for the CrossFit Games Regionals and then eventually, the Olympics of CrossFit, The CrossFit Games. According to The Tabata Times, over 69,000 people signed up to compete in the 2012 CrossFit Games Open. In 2013, that number doubled to 138,000. Not only is CrossFit growing, but the number of women participating in CrossFit has rapidly increased in recent  years, even outpacing its growth among men –129% to 109%.

This new cohort of CrossFit women are not only influencing one another, but they're influencing a future generation.  In 2013, I competed at the Southern California CrossFit Games Regionals in Del Mar, CA. I had the privilege of competing with the best athletes in Southern California. While it was an amazing weekend, the moment that inspired me the most was during the finals of the individual women. There were a bunch of little girls, ages 7-11, behind me, screaming for the strong women out on the field. These women were their idols. They were setting the stage for little girls. Strong was their new beautiful. I may have sweat through WODs that weekend, but those little girls brought me to tears. Scarlett Harris, a Los Angeles-based actress and mother of one, is grateful that her daughter will always see her as a strong, beautiful and capable example of what a woman can be.

Photo Courtesy of John Moery

Why does CrossFit make me feel sexy? Because it's not how I look — it's how I perform. I think about myself as an athlete, not an object. I have goals — real goals that no one else can define but me. When I go to the gym, it's not about how I look, it's about how I perform. My goals are measured by how much weight I can lift over my head, not how much weight is on the scale. It's not about how thin I am, it's about knowing that I pushed myself beyond self-made boundaries.

Emma Black, a Forensic Accountant from London, UK thinks said that, "CrossFit is positively changing the body image of women - not defining an 'ideal' but emphasizing and promoting confidence in what you have." Harris added that CrossFit is a place where, as a woman, she's appreciated for her strength, her accomplishments, and her abilities, and not just what she looks like. The stronger she became physically, the stronger she became mentally. "The more powerful I became as an athlete, the more I realized that I am capable of so much more as a human being," said Harris.

Another benefit of CrossFit is its community support system. Instead of complaining about waistlines or hips, my girlfriends and I focus on bettering one another and setting positive goals. I have dozens of friends that suffer during a WOD with me, and laugh with me when it's over — it's the ultimate bonding experience! Harris, who is one of my fellow female CrossFitters at our Hermosa Beach, CA CrossFit South Bay said that "It's because we're going through the same thing, the same pain, the same challenge, that allows us to cheer for each other at the same time. The experience of becoming a CrossFit athlete is humbling because of the constant hard work that is involved, so there is nothing better than seeing my fellow female CrossFitters, accomplish their goals."

We laugh with each other, we cry with each other, but at the end of the day, we CrossFitters have a worldwide support group that doesn't impose limits on weight, measurements, or beauty. We encourage one another, we support one another, and we redefine beauty, one WOD at a time.

Photo Courtesy of Collette Stohler

– Collette S.

As The Intuitive Athlete, Collette combines her All-American and Olympic-level insights to bring fitness and nutrition to athletes of all ages, shapes, and aptitudes. Her fitness expertise and writing centers on making lifting and power training more user-friendly for the average guy and gal. A lifelong athlete, she's well versed in the everyday challenges of staying in shape and looks to empower others through her personal learning's and passion. She’s a fitness writer, expert, on-camera host, and producer with degrees from the prestigious Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania and Masters of Fine Arts from The University of Miami. Collette currently resides in Manhattan Beach, CA with her husband and continues to enjoy traveling the world, lifting more weight than guys (while keeping her manicure intact), and eating Paleo.

Find more from Collette on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or read her latest insights on The Intuitive Athlete.

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