I feel bombarded lately by the neon reminders – as if to wake me back up — that a convoluted fight continues for women. Specific reminders, for me at least, have been within my own area of sports and fitness. The fact that the perception of female athletes is still so skewed makes my heart drop into my uterus out of embarrassment for our oft-times stalled progression. The most recent and glaring reminder was tennis’(now former) CEO Ray Moore’s comments about women players getting on their knees in thanks to men players and their coattails, which we’re apparently riding. But there is also this article reconfirming the financial disparity in endorsements for women athletes based on a very particular standard of looks. And then there is, somehow, the constant resurgence of Tracy Anderson as an authority in women’s fitness with her perplexing advice. All of this overwhelms and confuses me as it points to the stagnation of things; that though we have made much progress, antiquated standards and perceptions still exist even if they are, mostly, more disguised and tight-lipped, not dissimilar to race issues that also still arise from tired, lingering, and rotted perception.
The obvious fact that we have much more work to do has me reevaluating my own athletic journey and how I choose to participate in it.
I am a bucker of boundaries. And I’m drawn to contradiction. I like to elbow against clear-cut definitions especially when I feel corralled into a norm. That includes being a feminist who did a bikini bodybuilding competition. I enjoy the training and even certain ridiculous aspects of bikini bodybuilding, as I’ve written before, but I am also bothered by other aspects. It’s why I’ve been so conflicted with the sport as a whole. But bikini bodybuilding had been a complete contradiction to my own perception of athleticism, which intrigued me highly. It was fun and mysterious in its oddness and I was excited to crossover into that territory when really, I’m a street baller by nature, a sweaty, all-heart athlete. I will say, however, that the benefits gained from the level of discipline needed for bodybuilding have spilled advantageously into other aspects of my life.
But what I’m realizing is that if sexist perceptions are still so prevalent, even in the sports where we have won tremendous battles, maybe I don’t have the luxury of tooling around in a sport where the lines are so blurry; where aesthetics are the absolute priority, where it can be argued that the sport is more of a subjective, political pageant no matter how much physical dedication it takes to get to the stage. I am questioning if I need to stay fighting a clear fight instead of playing around freely with my own internal contradictions with this weird idea of a sport where looks are queen. The world is not ready for my subtle internal rebellion especially when I fit so squarely within the standards of cultural attractiveness, more so when I’m stage-ready lean. My bikini rebellion against my normal street-balling self is eluding everyone outside of my most inner circle. I appear to be just another cookie-cutter fitness girl on Instagram.
And I want it to be very clear which side of the fucking fight I’m on.
After hearing Moore’s comments, I’ve concluded that I don’t want my participation in the athletic world to be just about a frivolous experiment in what feels fun only to me. Women’s and girls’ sports and their participation in it mean too much to me. My role can’t be just about me. In the big-picture of things — and if ignorant comments are still revealed in national press conferences and Tracy Anderson is still very influentially advising women not to lift more than 3lbs so we can stay slim and more feminine, whatever that means– then I need to spend more time blowing up that model. And the reality is that I don’t feel I’m as part of the cause when I’m participating in a sport that is so glamour dependent. I wish I had the luxury to explore my quirks and contradictive lures, but as my clients and daughters look to me, it feels more important to stay in the fight as a sweaty, gritty, all-heart athlete. No matter how enticingly odd I think bikini bodybuilding is, the fact is that society more accepts my strength and muscles as long as I’m super lean, wearing heels and make up and a dazzlingly bikini and perfectly-done hair. And frankly, fuck that. I did not fight my way into games and sports my whole life to settle for that level of personal acceptance.
My tennis-playing daughter deserves more than Moore telling her to get on her knees to be thankful to men players. My rugby-playing older daughter deserves more than the comments about her looks as a player over her ability and sheer, badass toughness. My clients deserve more as I preach to the them every single day that it is their right to be empowered and strong no matter how it manifests naturally in terms of aesthetics; that we can reject the breath-taking pressure to fit into a mold of beauty and strength when often that mold is to stay weak and demure – or strong only if we look a certain way. If I slide into the accepted standards nicely and undetected, not bothering the norm, I want to be one of the loudest to buck against that “norm” in fairness and solidarity to all women.
To be clear: I praise all women expressing their strength and fitness and athleticism in any way that brings them health and joy. That includes bodybuilding competitors to ultra-marathoners and everything between. That includes women who wear big sweats to the gym and women who wear tiny booty shorts and a sports bra. Wear makeup to the gym – or don’t. I don’t care and neither should anyone else. I encourage all women to do whatever the fuck they like, how they want whether that’s loudly or quietly, strutting around or wanting to be alone in the corner of a weight room. God, be brave and true to yourself because there will be judgement on every side of the cause, coming out of every single crawl space. Buck the boundaries and elbow the corral – and push back any sentence that defines what you should be doing/acting/wearing. My particular calling is to blow up the “shoulds” and to keep exploring the crevices harboring fun and empowerment that fitness and athleticism have to offer not just me, but all women and every girl following us. And for now that means, personally, that I hang up my shiny, society-accepting bikini to hunt out other avenues of physical expression that clearly demonstrate how serious I am about this calling.