A myriad of female athletes and Coaches across various strength and conditioning pedigrees have applauded CrossFit for emphasizing strength as a virtue and de-emphasizing the focus of body image as a reason for training. Countless blogs have been written about CrossFit helping women overcome their desire to deprive and punish themselves in the sake of a convoluted image of beauty. CrossFit has helped women appreciate the number on the barbell and the finishing time of a WOD, not the readout on a scale. Women are empowering each other to love themselves more openly.
But, as a male Coach, how do we broach the topic of body image with female members so that it’s not taken negatively? How do we broach a topic covered in barbed wire, dangling over an alligator-filled swamp, located next to an active volcano? Or do we even attempt it?
The topic can be too tender for the male Coach to address head-on. Instead, we might consider looking for those athletes who regularly criticize their own appearance, those that don’t show any improvement over months or years of consistent attendance, or those that frequently compare themselves against others, instead of their past performances. Then, it is our job to communicate indirectly about the concepts of a healthier body-image.
Indirectly? Yes, indirectly. Alright, first let me say that movement therapy is often used as a treatment for eating disorders. It looks to develop a greater understanding and appreciation of one’s body through physical experiences, rather than purely its aesthetics. So, CrossFit is movement therapy, in a sense. It allows us to appreciate what our bodies are capable of rather than obsessing over how they appear in a mirror. And we can use discussions through our whiteboards, on our blogs and via our social media platforms to indirectly focus on the value of what these bodies are doing, using these mediums as cognitive behavioral therapy to facilitate rational self-talk. Our bodies squat, deadlift, pull, push, sprint and jump; those features are more important to focus on than what size jeans we wear.
Also, posture has a direct correlation to self-image. In fact, look to the TED Talk “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are.” These whiteboard discussions and blog posts emphasize the importance of posture for the purposes of improving athletic performance. Externally rotating our shoulders, and keeping our ears in line with our shoulders, hips and ankles helps our bodies move more efficiently. Meanwhile, you’re actually improving the self-confidence and reducing the stress levels of athletes at risk of negative body-image. People will hold these athletes in higher regard when they hold themselves well via better posture. Therefore, they positively shape their perception of themselves unconsciously.
Lastly, we can use our social media platforms to showcase images of these athletes in workouts, describing them as strong, powerful role-models to indirectly help them change the way they perceive themselves. By helping these athletes recognize a positive message, we can help them choose a better path for personal growth, so that they can develop strategies on their own to transform their negative attitudes. We are not professional psychotherapists, so attacking the issue of negative body image head-on might be a fool’s errand and completely backfire. But, by indirectly identifying strengths and emphasizing the importance of what our bodies can do for us, rather than how they look compared to an unrealistic expectation, we can help female athletes feel empowered. Ideally, we help them question their perceptions so they can seek professional help, or ask their male Coaches for help.