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Hypocrisy and the Angry Bikini Model

December 7, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-12-06 at 7.54.28 AMI didn’t mean to pick a fight. I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, and saw that a friend had commented on a post from someone I’ve never heard of.  Her name, it turns out, is Arianna Hernandez, and she’s a “fitness model.” A term that I have huge issues with, but that’s not her fault. (I have no issue with her or her doing what she does, just to be clear. I just strenuously object to it being called “fitness.”)

I clicked because it was a comment on an article about how we need to stop sexualizing and commercializing fitness. Something I could not agree more strongly with. But it was posted by Arianna, wearing a tiny little red bikini, while leaning over a Coca-Cola display.

So I  mentioned the irony, because, um, obviously…..

1Our back and forth was short and telling. I pointed out the irony, and she got very upset. Which is fine. But what really got my ruffles up was her saying that although she posts pictures in little bikinis, they aren’t selfies, and it’s not like she does it for no reason. Which gets into seriously slut-shamey, body-shamey territory, and is yet another huge step removed from fitness.

And is really where this piece starts.

The sexualization of fitness is easily my biggest pet-peeve. Not because I have anything against sex, sexiness, sexy times or things that I think are sexy. Realistically speaking, I’d love to be living in sexy times all the time. But what does that mean for everyone else?

Nothing.

Because “sexy” is a totally subjective term, and that’s problem number 1. You can’t have a fitness program aimed at “being sexy” because that means different things to different people. So it’s not a thing you can train for. That part is simple.

But it also isn’t something that you should train for. Which is harder, because that gets into underlying motivations for training, and a whole host of body image issues, insecurities, fear and other crap that is almost entirely externally created through media and popular culture.

So yes, when I see an article that says we need to stop sexualizing fitness, I’m all excited, because, to me, I think “we need to get external messaging about what bodies should look like out of the media.” But when I see it from someone who is clearly marketing her mostly-naked body for profit and calling it “fitness,” I think, “pot, meet kettle.”

So let’s get a few things straight at the outset:

  1. Fitness is not, and never will be, about what you look like. There is virtually no causal or corollary relationship between physical appearance and fitness, unless you are at the ends of the spectrum that goes from anorexia to morbid obesity.
  2. When your body is performing optimally for you – meaning that you feel strong, empowered and able to do anything you want, including sleeping, athletic pursuits, life needs, recreational pursuits and general peace of mind – that’s fitness. When your body is performing optimally, it may or may not conform to what society, or you as a result of society, want it to look like. You may be bigger or smaller than you wish you were. To try and control your body beyond where it is naturally healthy no longer has anything to do with fitness. That’s about shape, what you look like.
  3. There is not anything wrong with showing your body however you want to, no matter what it looks like, for any reason. But that has nothing to do with fitness at all, that’s just reality. Your body, your choice, you should be allowed to feel good about your body and your choices, regardless of what you look like and whether or not random strangers think it’s “sexy.” Period.

With that in mind, I think it’s time that we parse the “Fitness Industry” into two distinct categories: Fitness and Shapeness.

Fitness is about how you feel. Shapeness is about how you look.

How can you tell if what you are doing is shapeness or fitness? Easy.

If your goals, or your program’s goals, or your trainer’s goals are anything like, “Achieve that long and lean look,” “get toned but not bulky,” “get yoked,” “get your hottest body ever…..” Then you are headed down the path to shapeness. Turn back now.

And if someone is telling you that they can help your body look a certain way, they are lying to you. They will also make a fortune, because they know it’s not possible, but if they can sell you on the idea, then you’ll keep paying them.

If your goals, or your program’s goals, or your trainers goals are anything like, “increase endurance,” “gain strength,” “get better at this thing that you enjoy doing,” “have more energy throughout the day,” then you’re probably heading down the path to fitness. Get ready, it’s a lifelong one.

Why do I sound so opposed to shapeness? Because I am. At its root, shapeness is about conforming to external ideas. Usually ideas that are attached to a very narrow definition of what is called “sexy” by whoever is in charge of marketing. Again, I have nothing against being sexy, in any way. What I object to is the idea that all bodies can or should conform to a very narrow definition.

The steps that are taken to contort your body to meet these expectations are never rooted in health, strength or fitness. They are rooted entirely in aesthetics.

Further, they are bad for everyone else as well. Because they perpetuate harmful myths. That if you just try hard enough, you too can look this way – and you should want to. When in reality, in order for the vast majority of people to achieve this, it involves doing things that are unhealthy for both your body and your mind.

And success is defined not by what you can do, but, literally, by how much a panel of judges likes your ass. That is the very definition of external validation, about what you look like. They don’t care what you did to your body to look that way, or what you do with your body, just what it looks like.

But the thing that really set me spinning was in both Arianna’s comment, and the article that she was linking to, was the slut-shaming. That because they were “fitness” people, it was okay for them to wear skimpy clothes. But the women who do it for any other reason? Not so much. “Those” women are, what? Tacky? Slutty? Needy?

Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 8.42.53 PMRemember how she said she never posted selfies of herself in a thong? Like this? She totally does. And guess what? That’s fine. It’s her body and she should do whatever she wants with it. For any reason or no reason at all. But by saying “I would never do this one thing that other girls do” she saying it’s wrong for them to do it. She saying she can do it because she’s a “fitness” model, and she only posts pro photos. (As if professional objectification of bodies is not a problem, only when people have personal agency is it an issue? I mean, what?) Not only is that a lie, it’s suggesting that only people like her have the right to show off their bodies.

Wrong.

I would go so far as to argue that what we need is more selfies of women who are proud of their bodies. No matter what they’re shaped like, and no matter what other people think of them. You don’t need a reason. You don’t need an excuse. You need to find a look you love, rock it, and share it. You don’t need to earn the right to love your body. And no one else has the right to judge you.

You also need to understand that you can’t judge fitness using the standards of shapeness. Judging fitness by the standards of shapeness makes as much sense as judging a fish by its ability to ride a bicycle.

Fitness is about how you feel and what you can do. Shapeness is about having other people judge you as good enough or not.

I’m tired of defending the fitness industry. I shouldn’t have to, I don’t want to. I believe in fitness. I believe in it for everyone.

Fitness isn’t the problem. The problem is people who sell shapeness as fitness.

But when it’s those same people, posing in bikinis and complaining about the sexualization of fitness, that’s…..  Well, maybe that’s a gift, because it makes it really easy to see the difference.

Yes, we need to stop sexualizing fitness. Because it feeds the harmful myths that sexuality is standardized, that what other people think about your body matters and that if we work hard enough we can all achieve the same standard.

But we need to celebrate fitness, in all of its shapes and sizes.  And we need to finally learn that fitness doesn’t have a look. It has a feeling, and a power, and it’s every bit as personalized as our idea of “sexy.”

So ya, we need to stop sexualizing fitness. And we need to learn to see what part we’re playing in the problem. I’m sorry that Arianna got so upset when I pointed out that she was very much a part of the shapeness industry that conflates shape and fitness, and that sells products based on the false promises of idealized and sexualized bodies. But it is what it is.

It’s not fitness.

I’ve posted this picture before, but it never gets old.

athletes

It’s from the book Athlete by Howard Schatz, which will greet you on the front desk of Rocket CrossFit when you come in.

Because we don’t care about your shapeness. We care about your fitness. And we’re here to remind you that fitness comes in many forms, and the only person who matters on your fitness journey is you.

Exactly as you are. Which is different from who you were yesterday, and different from who you’ll be tomorrow, but is awesome in this moment.

I have no idea what fitness will look like for you, but it will feel really good.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. April 5, 2016 1:07 pm

    I agree with pretty much everything you say here. In fact, I wouldn’t mind quoting a few things on social media or in article that I right. The hypocrisy of the fitness industry knows no bounds, and I see it on a daily basis.

    The only thing that bothers me is your opposition to particular goals. It seems to me if it is okay for me to “show my body however I like” it should also be okay for me to choose to change my body in any way I like. The assumption that any goal as to shape means you are a victim of a broken fitness culture or you care too much about what other people think about your body, I think, is mistaken. This may be the case, but it is quite possible for someone to choose such a goal for many reasons, some of them intrinsic. In fact, it is more likely that those to stick to such a path for the long haul have quite a different behavioral determination than societal pressure to look a certain way. Behavioral motivation tends to exist on a continuum.

    I like the idea of separating fitness into “fitness” and “shapeness.” But I don’t like the idea of telling people they cannot choose both, or one or the other, and that either is a wrong choice. As well, while body shape in itself is not correlated with individual fitness, such traini does cross common parameters so they do not have to be mutually exclusive, any more than they have to be combined.

    Great article and lots of food for thought.

  2. Alyssa Royse permalink*
    April 5, 2016 1:13 pm

    Thanks. I hear what you’re saying, but I don’t think we’re likely to agree on this one. There is no way to control the shape of your body down to that level and have it be rooted in health or fitness. It just isn’t a thing. While “I just feel better when I’m a size or two smaller” is a totally legit thing, and I’m there as well, “I need to look like this external goal” isn’t. But even if there is some grey area there, building your entire sense of self around what you look like, as judged by other people, is just a recipe for disaster. Inside and out. Bikini modeling (I just can’t call it fitness modeling) is the far end of the spectrum, sure. But it’s a slippery slope. In my gym, if someone tells me they want to be X size or weight again, the first thing I tell them is that I can’t promise that will happen. But I hear what you’re saying. I do. I just draw a really hard line at people seeking the validation of others based on shape and external goals as “not healthy.” Losing a few pounds and gaining some strength? Awesome. Will your shape probably change as a result? Yup. But that’s a side-effect, not a goal. 😉

  3. April 7, 2016 1:47 pm

    Hi, I wasn’t suggesting that it could be rooted in health and fitness, only that the two need not be mutually exclusive. It is beginning to seem as if you cast any non-moderate goal, as to say performance, or shape as being unhealthy and a slippery slope. I do not think this is true. While extreme body-shaping goals are associated with body dysmorphia and disordered eating, etc. this does not mean that anything other than “losing a few pounds and gaining some strength” is inherently unhealthy. I think your hard line may be a little too hard. I actually coach people who want to train for advanced strength and I would not wish to be unfairly judged based on a performance goal that is seen as too extreme. The people I work with do it because they find intrinsic value in the pursuit and the challenge, not because they are over-concerned with validation from others. Is this always true? Of course not. But slippery-slope thinking is named thus for a reason.

    Given that, I still love the article and I appreciate you taking the time to discuss it with me!

  4. June 4, 2016 11:32 am

    The best kinds of posts are the ones that leave something to think over, to chew on a walk about the knots of society that should seem plain. And your’s asks “hm, yeah, why is that?” in many interesting directions.

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