You see skinny, I see “damn you gotta hit the weights cos those bones are gonna break”

I was walking through an historic street in Granada, southern Spain, with a friend the other day and asked her what she thought of the bodies of the Spanish girls (yeah, I should’ve been admiring the 16th century cathedral but mine is a CrossFit experience as well as a travel one!).  “They’re all really skinny”, she replied, with admiration.

Skinny. Hmmmm.  I saw skinny-fat.  Little girls.  “Skinny” for sure, but with arms incapable of carrying a child for long, legs that would tire quickly when climbing a hill and saggy bums.

Go from saggy bum to perky bum with lots of squats.

Go from saggy bum to perky bum with lots of squats.

Later, I was giving my spiel on the benefits of CrossFit to a girl in Mallorca (Ibiza’s less crazy and potentially more beautiful neighbour) and she asked if CrossFit would help her lose weight because she wanted that “little gap at the top of (her) thighs”.  Sigh.  Yes, it will help you lose weight, but it will also make you healthier overall.

My friends and I clearly had very different perspectives.  The Argentine is from a country where disordered eating and eating disorders are rife.  The Spaniard is from a country where exercise consisting of more than a beach-side stroll is rarely on the agenda.  And I’m a Kiwi, first and foremost, from a country where kids grow up playing sport in bare feet, and I’m also a CrossFitter, from a world where healthy eating and healthy living are constantly promoted.

CrossFit will not only help you lose weight,
but it will also make you healthier overall.

I write this and their thinking sounds a little crazy but, unfortunately, I totally know where these girls are coming from.

I spent a year in Argentina at age 17.  Being out of my familiar environment and stopping a rigorous athletics training routine, along with the discovery of dulce de leche and Argentine BBQs, lead to a fast 10kg weight gain (I was shocked at how quickly it went on!).  Heavy, frustrated and tired of being the “big, stocky girl” (especially in comparison to the small girls around me), I put myself on an “Argentine diet” – I severely restricted my calories, often went to bed hungry and if I ate too much one day I’d eat less the next to “balance out” the calories.  A healthy approach? No.  But I did lose 6kg just in time for my graduation ball.  And my Argentine diet didn’t seem so extreme at the time because, in many ways, it was in line with how many females in the country approach weight management.

Of course, these perspectives are not held universally by everyone in these countries and there are people who appreciate the opposite.  But this attitude, of simply wanting to be skinny and doing what you can to achieve it, pervades many social groups and survives because it has become normal.  To someone who doesn’t think like this the attitude may seem ridiculous: “gosh, who’d want to have twig arms?”.  But the other side would be thinking “who’d want to have such a big ass?”.

So why do I feel confident in saying that the perspective that super skinny = super sexy, isn’t a good one?  Because it’s simply unhealthy.

Super Skinny doesn’t = Super Sexy

Have you ever heard of osteoporosis?  Ever seen a 70 year old woman hobbling along weakly, possibly having already suffered a broken bone or two?  If all you do is diet and do cardio for exercise, if you never lift weights or do weight-bearing exercise, then you won’t build muscle and the older you get the more your bone density will decrease.  And then your bones will break.  And then you’ll be that 70 year old hobbling along, complaining that everything hurts and that you need someone to drive you down to the shops because the 1km walk just hurts too much.

It’s a tough one, understanding that you have to look after yourself now to avoid illness further down the track.  It’s kind of like wearing sunblock to prevent skin cancer – you know you should look after your skin now to avoid problems later on but right now “I just look so much better tanned…”.

Lift weights.  Just do it.  More good reasons why you should:

  • stronger bones
  • increased metabolism (so increased fat loss)
  • increased strength (for picking up that baby or walking up that hill)
  • better body composition
  • reduced risk of injury (by strengthening connective tissue etc)
  • increased balance, flexibility, stability (so you don’t fall over quite so much when you’re 70)
  • decreased cellulite*
  • increased confidence
             *All women have cellulite to one extent or another.  It is natural.  It is ok.  (Sigh).
But you can decrease how much you have by lifting weights and increasing muscle density.

Read this in the Tabata Times by Joel Toledano which gives more info on why skinny-fat is bad, why weight lifting won’t make you bulky (even though you think it will) and it also contains some pretty good links.

Get It Out of Your Head

As for the unhealthy desire of choosing to be skinny rather than healthy, how do you change something, at both an individual and social level, that has become so normal? I’m sure there are proper answers to this question, but from my own experience the following can help at an individual level:

  • first, you need to inform yourself about why just being skinny is not healthy and what the long-term benefits of a healthy lifestyle are.
  • next, you need to recognise that you’re a bit messed up, that the way you constantly criticise yourself for being “overweight”, or praise others for being so skinny, is a waste of time and energy, and that you both need and want to change.
  • you need to surround yourself by people who are physically and mentally healthy.  Don’t join a CrossFit box that’s full of posers – although they look good in their fake tan and miniature spandex, their attitude probably won’t be a healthy one.  Look for one that promotes the core CrossFit values of nutrition and increased physical capacity.  The focus will be on how fit and healthy you are generally, and not on how you look.
  • follow good blogs like whole9life.com.  I find that the constant reinforcement of being told to not look at the number on the scale, to choose long-term health over size and to just eat real food, rather than follow fad diets, is helpful.
  • don’t fail your mother.  She created you, loved you, taught you all she could.  Don’t insult her by bowing to social superficialities.  She loves you as you are and you’ve got to learn to love yourself the same way.

Don’t fail your mother.

Changing attitudes at individual and social levels takes time and effort.  But change can happen.  Long gone are the days of stick thin models being the ideal, and there’s plenty of talk around now promoting health and strength.

CrossFit is in an ideal position to affect social change.  Boxes are everywhere, events are being run in the community and people can see stronger girls around and the awesome things they can do, while focusing on general health and fitness and not just on their size.

The more we all talk about and encourage it, the more normal being actually healthy will become.

About Josinta

I am passionate about travel, CrossFit and writing and have combined all three in my blog - boxjumping. A Level 1 certified CrossFit trainer, I am visiting as many CrossFit boxes as I can during my travels. This has opened many doors - I´ve been to random parts of cities, met awesome people and seen the myriad of ways a CrossFit box can be run. I also CouchSurf - another awesome way to meet locals and end up in areas you never expected. I like hidden corners, local flavours, sitting in a cosy café with my journal, lying on a hot beach with a book. I like flexibility. I like freedom. I like learning about myself, other people, about the world. Life is a journey, they say, but it is also short and full of the unexpected. I am making the most of mine.

Posted on 16/09/2013, in Bits´n´pieces and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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