In this guest article, Alissa Hanan shares a personal article about the body society told her to have, and the body she later found was more suited to her goals.
Alissa is a personal friend, coach and co-owner at SuMMit Crossfit. There, you’ll find her working with every type of athlete, whether a person new to a gym setting, competitive athletes and everyone in between. I always see her giving equal parts encouragement, progression tips, and silly jokes to all her athletes.
This is a great conversation starter for you to consider why you want the body you want. Is it because you want it, or because someone else is dictating how you should look.
We live in a culture of media – smartphones, TV, social media, magazines – and we are surrounded by what we interpret we “should” be doing, want, and look like. This applies to everyone. But, for young girls, this can be an especially impressionable subject.
Media dictates how girls are supposed to behave, and what they should look like. Body image and beauty are ingrained into our culture – how we talk to women, how we advertise to women, and what opportunities we provide to women.
In middle school, I started noticing girls around me talk about starving themselves. I knew girls who ran religiously just to be smaller. My friends and I used to read teen magazines together to learn how to do hair, nails, skin, fashion, and “abs in 2 weeks” routines. I grew self-conscious about how I looked, and so tried sports, not for enjoyment, but rather hoping to be “smaller.” I felt shame over eating, and would save sweets under my bed to eat when nobody was watching.
My story around this subject is not unique – girls all around me were working hard to look a particular way from a very young age, only because society demanded a certain look in order to be considered beautiful. At least that’s how we interpreted our world at the time.
I thought the gym was supposed to make me thinner
I have always had a gym membership, but for many years, I did not know how to use it. Mostly, I trotted endlessly on the elliptical machine. I knew I was “supposed” to work out, and the longer I was on the machine, the “better” the workout was. It’s what all the small girls around me were doing. While “small” or “lean” was not my body type, it seemed like being a slave to the elliptical would be the fastest way for me to get there. Worse, I thought I was doing something wrong the the longer I was not there, or not “small” yet.
It wasn’t until I was 20 that I found the right environment for me. I found a gym that challenged me. I was running, jumping, moving, forcing my body to do things that it didn’t know it could do. I finally began to lift weights, which is not the expectation society has on women [mind explodes!]
Started working out for my own reasons
People work out for all sorts of reasons – to look a certain way, to feel better, to train for a competition, accountability, routine, or to make friends. It wasn’t until I learned to be strong that I truly learned the functions of my body. The stronger I became, the more functionality I had around moving something on my own or trying a new activity. I live in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the stronger my legs became, the more capable I was able to hike long stretches of mountains without fatigue. Slowly, I became less aware of what I looked like in response to my workouts, and much more aware of how much more functional my muscles became. Suddenly, my body served me for my reasons, and not society’s irrational demands. I began living the life that I wanted.
The gift of strength
Strength has gifted me with so many things, but most notably, the confidence to take over my own life. Learning to approach an intimidating exercise — like the seemingly impossible, terrifying pull-up — and working through the difficulty showed me that I could transform the impossible into the very doable. My formula became: practice, practice, and practice some more; accomplish it once, gain confidence, then accomplish it many times over. This lesson spilled over into every other portion of my life. This same formula I can now apply to my professional and personal life. Better yet, I can teach others the same approach, and is one of the passions I exercise daily at SuMMit.
Strength as a path to equality?
Watching girls who grew up believing their bodies to be “wrong,” later transforming into women who became strong and now crave strength, has been one of my greatest revelations. We are in the presence of a movement where women are claiming their power and place at the table. We are in a movement where women are rightfully demanding equal opportunity. Let us prioritize turning girls into strong, capable, fit women. Let us teach our sons AND our daughters to climb mountains, and then move them. Let us acknowledge that every body is unique and capable, and every body can learn its function. Let us embrace our own bodies and our strength, claim our confidence, and create a culture that embraces EVERY body.
About the Author
Alissa, originally from the countryside of North East Oregon, currently lives and works in Asheville, North Carolina. She co-owns Summit CrossFit where she coaches and co-runs operations with her partner, Aaron. When she’s not working or training in the gym, she’s with her two pups, adventuring in the woods, serving (or drinking) at Hillman Beer, reading, or traveling. She is currently working on a project to bring greater balance and coaching skills to those seeking to be fitness professionals – stay tuned! Learn more about Summit at summitcrossfit.com or follow her adventures on Instagram @adhanan