"And Though She Be Little, She Be Fierce." ~ Shakespere
A little over a month ago, I had the opportunity to climb with a girlfriend from out of town. As we were hiking down the path towards the base of the climb she said to me "Almine, I wish you were in the car with me last week. I was driving two teenage girls, one of them being my daughter, to school. In front of her friend my daughter said to me 'Mom, I wish you didn't have such big muscles. They're unfeminine.' I turned around, looked at her friend, and asked 'Do you think they're 'unfeminine'? She said 'No. I think they're cool.' I then looked at my daughter and said 'I've earned these muscles. I'm an ultra-runner and a rock climber, and frankly, your Mom's not too shabby at either sport. These muscles make me feel proud, and are evidence of a lot of hard work."
"Almine, I was stunned. It really drove home the fact that our young teenage girls are being influenced, not just from peers or the media, but from all sides as to what the definition of 'Feminine' is. She certainly didn't get her opinion on what a woman's body 'should' look like from me."
I was stunned too. With all the work that has been done, over the years, by the women's movement, you'd think that teen girls would feel free to think for themselves. Capability, self-esteem, confidence and empowerment are all words that come to my mind when I think of my body. Like my girlfriend, my muscle tone, flexibility, endurance and agility has come from years of hard work on many "playing fields." I've earned it. I feel healthy. I don't feel apologetic about it. So, why do young girls feel the need to apologize? Why are they being handed down "second rate" definitions of who they are, and what they're capable of? And more importantly, why are they embracing distorted views on definitions of "Feminine?"
I MAKE MY OWN RULES AS TO WHAT I FEEL "FEMININE" MEANS TO ME...ON ANY GIVEN DAY :)
YES. I BELLYDANCE. YES, I DO "CROSSFIT." YES, I ROCK & ICE CLIMB. WE'RE GIRLS. WE CAN DO IT ALL. :)
It is the age old answer to blame the media. Is this justified? Yes. Is this a bigger social dilemma than the media? Yes.
I had a conversation, the other day, with a beautiful 11-yr. old girl. She plays basketball. She's competitive in track. Our conversation began with me talking about pull-ups. She said "I don't know how to do a pull-up." I replied "No problem. I can teach you." She began to scroll through some photos on my phone. She looked at some of me climbing rock and ice. She also looked at some pictures of me Bellydancing. She said "You do both? Climb ice and Bellydance?" I said "Yes. Why not? They both represent aspects of who I am. Some days I feel tough. Some days I feel delicate. Both activities get me sweating, and appeal to differrent parts of my nature. My mother taught me how to Bellydance. Its a wonderful thing she and I share. I don't need to deny that part of myself because I like to get dirty too." Her eyes got big. "Wow!" she said under her breath. "I would've never thought of it like that" she said. She continued scrolling through the pictures. "And you run in a skirt too?" she asked. "Absolutely" I replied.
YUP, I TRAIL-RUN...IN SKIRTS (& FUN SOCKS) :)
What I'm proposing is that we begin a candid, honest, open dialogue of re-defining who we are as women. This starts from the "ground up," and that would begin with our middle school and high school tween/teen young women. The message I would like to see sent: You Can Define Who You Are (& Change This Definition) Daily. There Are No Confines Of Femininty. You Make Your Own Rules.
ME, INSPIRING YOUNG GIRLS TO CLIMB AT "THE GIRL EFFECT" FUNDRAISER
Want to be athletic? Guess what? You can wear anything you want to that makes you feel that way...on any given day...a skirt or sweatpants. You have the luxury to play with various aspects of who you are, as a woman, and teen girl, like a blank canvas. You have unlimited colors to paint your canvas with, and the process of splashing your canvas with the brightest, most vivid (or not) colors is what makes life beautiful.
Luckily, I was not alone when having the conversation with my girlfriend about her daughter. My pal, who I jokingly dubb "The Teen Tornado," Ms. Stephanie Jacobson, was with me. Stephanie is amazing. She is an inspiration to teen girls everywhere. She is a sponsored "POCKETFUEL" teen athlete, who relishes in a good "CrossFit" WOD as much as she does doing a 30-day "Bikram Yoga" challenge. She loves to trail-run, do charity relay/race events, and is now learning to rock climb. Our conversation peaked her interest. She said "You know, its tough out there for teen girls. We have so much pressure coming at us from all sides. I used to think muscles were 'unfeminine' too. That is, until I started 'CrossFit.' Now, everything has changed about my definition of 'feminine'."
I invited Stephanie to share her thoughts with us in this blog. I'm grateful to young women like Stephanie. They are re-defining roles for young girls, and are working diligently to re-define themselves. This process, in turn, shines as an example to their peers. It IS slowly changing the face of what we call "feminine." One empowered, capable, strong young woman at a time... to check out Stephanie's blog you can go to: http://gtdcrossfitteen.blogspot.com/
STEPHANIE & I "HAMMING IT UP" AT THE ROCK GYM. 2 "POCKETFUEL" ATHLETE AMBASSADORS. 2 LADIES WHO LOVE TO CLIMB. :)
Your changing view of muscles as your fitness has increased:
As my fitness has increased, I've definitely gained a greater appreciation for my muscles. I have worked hard and dedicated myself to gain each and every one of them. They did not come easily, and for that reason, I am highly appreciative of them. Fitness is measurable in all sorts of ways though, so having muscles doesn't necessarily define your fitness, but I know for me, I have gained a lot of muscle mass from CrossFit! It makes me stronger, and faster, and I love it. Muscles are the prize for hard work and dedication.
Body Image issues for teens:
"Issues" and insecurities with body image in teens is not uncommon. I can honestly say, I am slightly insecure of my body image, but that just comes with the territory. Somehow, somewhere in our late elementary, and early teen ages, there is this "idea" of "perfect" bodies. The influence is everywhere, magazines, the internet, and TV. Young women are being objectified and capitalised, and adolescent girls are one of the market audiences. They may not be advertising "perfect" body image, but when that is all you see, it becomes the "ideal" body image, and adolescent girls start questioning their body image. There is a huge pressure in school that says if your not: Skinny, have long shiny hair, wear cool clothes, and date a football player, then you must not be a "cool" person. And somewhere along the lines, "skinny" became the "standard" that most girls thought they needed to be. With this, self esteem, and body image issues develop. Girls don't love themselves for who they are, or what they could become, because there is a social stigma that plagues this world. As a teen, I will admit that I fell "victim" to this. I never felt good enough. I always felt the need to "change" myself. I was constantly thinking "How can I be like this person", " Maybe if I stop eating, and get skinny, I will be good enough and someone will want to be my friend, or date me". Thats not to say I didn't have friends, but I felt very alienated by everyone. Felt like I wasn't cool enough to hang with those people because they were somehow better than I was. I hated my body. I thought I was fat, and ugly. I read magazines, and dreamed to be like the girls pictured. I watched digital media, and longed to be as beautiful as all the models, and actresses were. I honestly wanted to be anyone but me, because I was "insecure", and unhappy with who I was and what I looked like.
What "Strong is the new skinny" means to you:
Strong is not just skin deep. Strong means you have the drive and determination to be better than you were the day before. To push past all the negative, and overcome obstacles that not only you, but others, have set for you. Strong is physical, and mental. There are no limits when you choose to be strong! If you choose skinny, you are choosing to let others control you. You are following what society says is "right", and allowing social norms and pressures to overtake your mind. At this point, you are not thinking for yourself, or as psychologist refer to: Group Think. "Skinny" Means wanting to change yourself because an outside force told you that you are not "good" enough. You are extrinsically motivated by someone or something that could care less about who you are as a person, as long as you look "good" or skinny in this case. When you choose skinny, you hand over your right to think for yourself. You are now a puppet, and there is more than one puppeteer. When you are strong, you set the rules, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. You take ownership and pride in what you have worked for, and you respect the hard work and dedication it takes to reach goals, and strive for a life that's worth living. Strong girls, do things for themselves, they don't rely on others to get stuff done, because they are willing and capable. They forge their own way, and don't let anyone stop them. If someone doesn't like them because they won't "bow" down to what they want, they will keep on walking. Strong is empowered, skinny is weak.
STEPHANIE LIFTING UNDER THE WATCHFUL GUISE OF COACH TOM BENGE AT "CROSSFIT BREAKTHROUGH."
What your idea of exercise vs. Fitness is:
Exercise is buying a gym membership and walking on the treadmill for an hour everyday because you "have" to. Fitness is striving to reach goals. Being a well rounded "athlete". Mixing up your routine, and trying new things that get you active and moving! Fitness is defined however you choose it to be defined. Exercise is sounds like a death sentence. Fitness is a way of life. Fitness is for life. I workout to live, I don't live to workout. But when you start doing things like rock climbing, trail running, nordic and alpine skiing, cycling, and trail running, fitness is amazing! Everything I listed gets you outside and active, and creates a healthy lifestyle. Anyone can be physically fit doing something they love that gets them moving. Exercise is a confining term, but fitness is a infinitely broad term that can take you anywhere!
STEPHANIE & I AFTER "BIKRAM YOGA"
ME, WORKING WITH STEPHANIE ON TECHNIQUE AT THE ROCK GYM