Last night my daughter asked me the one question that I always refuse to answer when a friend or client asks me: am I fat? I replied do you think you’re fat? She pushed further asking me to choose between whether she was skinny or fat. I responded that I wouldn’t pick either, as those adjectives are negative labels cast about by a society obsessed with perfect bodies – something that doesn’t exist.
In my conversation with my daughter, I took it a step further and pointed out that there are a myriad of body descriptions (labels) in-between skinny and fat, and none of those might fit her body type either. But even still I was not going to be cornered into labeling my child. I said if you feel fat, we can talk about that and I can always instruct you in ways to change your body composition to be healthier. But if you’re just worried that compared to the next girl you’re “fat” then I’m not going to engage in that kind of labeling and neither should you. Remember, every BODY is different!
The idea of placing a descriptive label on a “body” lends itself towards negative views and feelings on the part of both the describer and the describee. Unless you’re giving an eye witness account to a crime where physical descriptions are necessary, I feel that we over-use these negative body labels all the time and this wide-spread habit is an assault on our self-esteem.
If I were to tell you fascinating a story about one woman’s journey, would it matter if she was skinny or fat? I suppose if it was about her climbing a mountain it might come into play about what kind of shape she’s in. But if I’m telling you about a woman confronting a governmental or societal obstacle or battling cancer, it doesn’t matter in the least what her physical shape is. Yet we always seem to embellish our stories with these details.
If I describe a woman as stocky and solid, you will most likely imagine someone akin to an Olympic gymnast or swimmer. But if she’s just an average girl, that description might make you think she was short with a thick torso, which society has labeled as less attractive. If I describe a woman as lean and ripped, most would imagine a track and field star or fitness model. As Society has deemed that body type as one to be coveted, are the rest of us then sub-par?
This matters to boys and men too as society’s labels have suggested that if they’re not “strong and buff” they can’t get the girl of their dreams. I find all these labels to be detrimental on the whole because it’s diminishing the importance of our character, habits, and manners thereby making how we look – or what shape/size our bodies are – the more important factor.
So I ask you now to note how many stories or incidents you tell throughout your week where you interject something about a person’s skin color, size, shape, age – and then assess if those descriptions (or adjectives) were necessary to the story. Also note how many times your children describe people or other children with labels that they either envy or disdain. Perhaps with more awareness we can move away from these labels and get down to the more important facts and issues of life.
Despite not enjoying the American past-time of watching any sport teams on TV, when it comes to the Olympics I’m obsessed. I DVR every single moment of coverage and for two-weeks every two years I’m glued to the set. As a personal trainer, it should not surprise you to know that I’m also addicted to the show American Ninja Warrior.
But lately, as I watch ANW and the Olympic trials I have noticed that comments to the likes of “that’s incredible for a woman” or “women can’t usually do that as well [fast or strong] as men” are thrown about constantly by commentators. At first I got my feminist panties in a bunch, until I remembered that they’re right. Even if you compare apples to apples – a professionally trained woman and man of equal size, weight and body composition percentages (muscle and fat), the men will still likely be a touch faster and stronger simply because of the difference in our physiology.
While there are always exceptions to every rule, the reality is that women’s bodies are not built the same as men’s and those differences come strongly into play where sports are concerned. Our pectorals (chest muscles), forearms, and grip strength, even on a superior female athlete, are never going to be stronger than most men’s.
Look at Olympic sprinters: men still hold faster world records – why? Well you take the length and girth of their leg muscles compared to a women of even the same height, and they will simply have more muscle strength to speed them down the track. It’s physiology, not sexism.
Olympic weight lifters have the same issue – the men constantly lift heavier than women. Again, that doesn’t mean that many women can’t lift more than many men, but it does mean pound for pound the men will always be able to lift past our strongest women.
As for ANW, clearly if you take an professional female rock climber and put her next to your average body builder, she can out maneuver him on any obstacle course. But put her next to the top male rock climber and the odds are against her being able to be as strong as him. (But it’s important to note that sometimes cleverness and agility wins out over strength in those areas women often prevail!)
On Monday night’s ANW episode Jessie Graff went farther than all but one man (out of 28 men and 2 women). She did this through strength, agility and using her brain to overcome an obstacle that scores of men had been defeated by. The commentators praised her though their voices held such shock: “Jessie just bested all those guys!” As annoying as that was, I full well that it is rare that a woman goes further than 99% of the men. Every year only one-to-three women even get to the finals in Las Vegas, and it’s not because of lack of training or trying.
When women’s inequality generalizations are bantered about we must also remember that often the women competing are not apples-to-apples to their male counterparts. Over 95% of the women who compete on AMW are under 5′ 7″ and weigh less than 125 lbs, while the average male competitor is 5′ 9″ and weights 155. It’s simple math to know that the men’s muscle weight will help them go further (endurance-wise) than the women, and their arm and leg length being longer also helps. Again, I am not saying a tiny woman can’t go far in this (or any) sport — look at 5′ 0″ 95 lb Kacy Catanzaro the first woman to beat the 14′ warped wall obstacle and earn a place in the Las Vegas finals. Take that men!
While it’s disheartening to my gender to hear constant quips of our inequality (which on all other issues is bull), on this issue I think it best that we continue striving to be better, faster, and stronger, but let go of the idea that we need to be equal to men.