Too skinny, Too Strong

Life advice: trying to set your friends up with your friends will probably end badly.

Incredibly true. But totally not the moral of this story.

Anyway.

It started with a subtle name drop in a conversation with Him. Instead of mentioning how incredibly sweet, funny or intelligent She is, Her name prompted Him to talk about Her biceps. They were too big for him. Her traps scared Him, She was just too jacked for Him to find Her attractive.

Haha. Yeah… I could totally see that. I said, leaving the conversation with a forced smile. I’ll bet he never thought about that conversation again. I did. I looked down at my arms. They had seemed impressive earlier, but I wasn’t so keen to give the world tickets to the gun show anymore. I’ll bet He would have thought I was too muscular to seem attractive too…

“Body Image” is a health class term. I doubt anyone looks in the mirror and says “Wow, my body image is less than satisfactory today.” Fat and skinny are the most easily accessible words. They stand opposite to each other on the continuum of hot to not.

I’ve never had a problem with my body. I’ve almost always perceived myself as looking just as I wanted to. I’ve never felt I needed to change so other people could see me as I felt.

College shifted my perspective slightly. I’ve gained a lot of weight since I started rowing. I’ve been described as “a big girl who gets it done in the boat” and “a shaved gorilla in a rowing shell.” I’m an athlete. I am big. I’m hungry all the time. I eat a lot.  I get it.

The guys who lived in my dorm made fun of my eating habits for most of my freshman year. I would see them on my way to the dining hall and they would politely ask me to “save some food for the rest of us!” with a smile and a wink. That was part of being with the bros. You’ve gotta take a bit of sh*t to hang with them. Some days it would really bother me, but I was always able to brush it off eventually. I know I don’t have an eating problem. I eat a balanced and healthy diet. I am not fat.

But that’s not what clothes tell me.

The average pair of pants doesn’t make it past my knees and needs to be forced back over my massive calves to be taken off. If they manage to slide up my thighs, they’re almost guaranteed to be able to be pulled off of my waist three or four inches like Jared in those old Subway commercials. Dresses with sleeves get ripped at the seams when I lift my arms past parallel and dresses without sleeves just accentuate how hulking my upper body is. There’s no way to win.

I don’t mind that much. I don’t care much about clothes. I wear what comes closest to fitting and don’t pay much attention past that. I’m not fat.

My friends and I have pretty much the same problems. We all row and have similar body structures; muscular backs and massive quads. It’s really not a big deal and I don’t think it’s unattractive at all. We look strong, tough. I wouldn’t want to get in a bar fight and have the rowing team show up as back up. We’re badass. We’re not fat.

But that’s not always how it seems.

I listened to one team mate talk about how her traps were a bit too intense for her liking and another who decided not to tie her long sleeve around her waist during a run because her butt was too big for that. I’ve heard my friend talking about how big her biceps are and follow it up with something along the lines of “but the guys don’t like that.”

You know what I think? F*** WHAT THEY THINK. I’m not busting my ass for someone to tell me I’m too buff. That’s bullsh*t. I don’t need a man to get a lid off of a jar. I’m strong enough to do it myself thank you very much.

It hurts me to hear them talk like that. They’re not fat.

If a group of the strongest, fittest women on campus have a problem with how they look after working out twice a day, what are other groups thinking? Most rowers have nothing to be self-conscious about, but if we’re seeing ourselves as less than perfect there’s a bigger problem.

I see the distance runners pass by the weight room on their way back from a workout. I remember being a runner in high school and watching my teammates leave lunch after barely eating anything. They were on a diet or had become a vegetarian, but deep down I knew there was something bigger going on. I ran with them while they hobbled along on fractured feet and splintering shins. Time off is the only way to heal overuse injuries, but they couldn’t stop running. They wouldn’t stop running. I should have said something, but less weight meant faster times. I knew how important running was to them. They didn’t have an eating disorder. That doesn’t happen to people I know. They just wanted to run fast. Why would I interfere with their dedication?

I see pictures on Facebook and gasp at how little they weigh now. So skinny. I think to myself, but not in a good way: Unhealthy. I feel guilty. That they think they look “pretty.” “Hot.” No one told them they looked good before.

I see pictures on Facebook of girls posing for before and after shots of their weight room/crossfit/bulked up fitness life. One not that different from mine. They spend countless hours challenging themselves to make gains in the weight room, but my friends gasp when they see their pictures. “It’s too much muscle. They look kind of gross now, I think they looked better before.”

I hate that we all judge each other so critically. I hate that pop culture has set unattainable standards that the average female will spend their entire life  measuring themselves against.

I’m horrified that I live in a country where happiness can measured by the distance between a girl’s thighs. That girls sing along to Taylor Swift songs, idolizing her, wanting to be her, as she hangs out with Victoria’s Secret models while the circumference of her waist shrinks down to a very fashionable size zero. It makes me want to move to a remote island and binge eat Chipotle until I’ve cleansed myself of everything that’s wrong with our society.

There’s no way to win. Perceptions get warped, opinions vary, self esteem fluctuates. We’re all just trying to be “good enough.” For who? For what? Why? I don’t know but it’s not going away.

So.

Don’t try to change so that mean girls, men, or any judgmental mo-fos your life will think you’re “hotter” or “skinnier,” “swoll,” or “fit.” We’re all perfect just the way we are. This time it’s not even your mom telling you these things. I’m telling you. The world is telling you. You’re beautiful now and always will be.

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