Gender and Sports: The War with My Body

Written by
Sanne

Gender and Sports: The War with My Body

Un article de
Sanne

When I was a kid, I was overweight, and I got bullied for it. Very early on, I started playing sports. I played everything from football to basketball and from floorball to Jiu-Jitsu. This quickly resulted in me losing weight. I still have a vivid memory of my teachers commenting on my weight loss and congratulating me with "Oh wow, good job, you look really nice now", which shocked me as I had never really reflected over my body before then. Since I started sports, I always stayed active. I biked to school, to practice, with my friends (we even started our own bike club...), to the lake, etc.

The weight that I had lost was quickly replaced with muscles. No clothes would fit me, just like when I was overweight, and the war against my body resumed.

However, the weight that I had lost was quickly replaced with muscles. No clothes would fit me, just like when I was overweight, and the war against my body resumed. It also didn't help that I grew up with a sister who had the same type of body I saw on TV, in magazines or that I heard about in my friends' discussions. All of this caused me to think that I was not enough, that I was ugly, and essentially, not a good person. I felt ashamed of my body. That same body that I was so proud of on the field and on the court, because of its capacity to outrun the boys in football (I played in an all-boys team), to easily score from half-way down the court in floorball and to lift someone twice my size with ease. My body had become my enemy.

On top of that, I later realized that I was somewhere on the LGBTIQ+ spectrum. This increased my feeling of being different and shook once again my self-confidence. I changed sports clubs often because I was bullied and didn’t feel included. For every new team I joined, I had a pit in my stomach as questions whirled around in my head: "Will I feel safe in this new club? Will I be bullied? Are there any homophobes there? Will I be accepted?". Eventually, it all became too much, and I quit team sports all together.

Instead, I started running a lot and doing weightlifting by myself. I enjoyed being able to keep my body active, but after a while I started to miss the team feeling. This is when CrossFit entered my life. Yes, you read that right, I am part of THAT “cult” ;-). The very first time I stepped into a CrossFit box (that's what we call the gym), I was scared because all I could see were very muscular shirtless people, doing things that seemed impossible for a "normal" human body. Luckily, I then noticed that there were also other people who didn't have as many muscles, but who were still shirtless and having impressive performances. On top of that, imagine my great surprise when I saw that they were surrounded by people cheering them on and congratulating them for their efforts. It went against all of my past experiences.

This surprise was even greater when I had my first CrossFit workout. I found myself in an environment where my body and strength were celebrated with applauses and where pictures were taken during workouts. At first, I was confused. Why would anyone want to take pictures of ”lifting faces" or of sweaty, out of breath people? It is not exactly what magazines would consider as pretty... But later, I learned that in CrossFit, pretty doesn’t matter. What matters is that you don’t quit, and that you keep pushing. If you struggle, the people around you will boost you, applaud you and cheer you on.

I found myself in an environment where my body and strength were celebrated.

However, even though I started to feel secure with my body again, I hadn't yet "tested" if I could fully be myself there. So, I decided to wear my rainbow-colored skull muscle tank top to the next workout. Nervous as hell, I walked into the box with my shirt, expecting some dirty looks.

I got no dirty looks. What I did get though were compliments like "that's such a cool shirt" and a bunch of high fives. Was this really happening? Was this a dream? No. It wasn't. This is just CrossFit, a discipline that promotes a healthy lifestyle and strong athletes, no matter who they are. Of course, out of the 13'000 CrossFit affiliated gyms throughout the world, you are bound to come across some close-minded ones, but the general supporting spirit is something inherent to this discipline. For example, CrossFit Headquarters (CFHQ) have recently stood up for LGBTIQ+ rights. In June 2018, the Chief Knowledge Officer of CrossFit was fired after having said on Twitter that LGBTIQ+ pride was a sin. Also, the founder has stated that he is "crazy proud of the gay community in CrossFit".

Finally, as of 2019, transgender people will be able to take part in CrossFit competitions in the gender that they identify with. This is huge step forward towards an even more inclusive CrossFit discipline.

In general, there have been amazing initiatives in other sports in order to create a more secure and inclusive environment for female and LGBTIQ+ athletes. For instance, the use of rainbow-colored captain armbands in handball, the NHL’s "Hockey is for Everyone" campaign, or the fight for equal pay within football. I hope that all these changes will help fight against the social norms that forget that we come in different shapes, sizes, gender expression, sexuality, culture, belief, ethnicity and so on.

At last, my war against my body has stopped. I do not hate it anymore, but instead, I love that I am strong. It is who I am. It never should have taken me over 20 years to love my body and feel secure around people. I realize now that my body is mine and mine alone. No one has the right to make me feel ashamed, uneasy or hatred towards myself. I should be able to feel secure regardless of where I am, in the box or outside of it.

It never should have taken me over 20 years to love my body and feel secure around people.

Of course, that love is still sometimes forgotten when I try on clothes for the 100th time that day and my butt, thighs, calves or shoulders don’t fit into anything. But now, instead of dwelling on it and closing up on myself, I go to my box, pick up some weights and the love is back again. In the end, loving and caring for yourself is what should be celebrated and everyone can change the current discourse relayed in our society. It could be as simple as giving someone a high five and saying: “cool shirt”.

Cover image: Tia-Clair Toomey who won the title « Fittest Woman on Earth »  in 2017 and 2018

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