There is a specific body type I associate with CrossFit. All muscle, abs, zero fat, that V-cut thing that can happen to your groin area. I don't look like that. I have a belly and an ass that stick out no matter how I stand or what I wear — not to mention, I require three sports bras for even the most low-impact exercise. Let's be real. CrossFit is intimidating. It’s a bunch of confident people with the most jacked leg muscles you've ever seen lifting heavy shit very rapidly — yeah, I'm not trying to be the rookie in that group. If you're not athletic or in shape, or don't see your size represented in that community, why would you put yourself through that kind of program? That was my attitude until I saw something on Facebook that piqued my interest: CrossFit FiDi was looking for women to sign up for a six-week challenge dedicated to becoming stronger. The program was designed for beginners, non-athletes, and post-injury former athletes, and the site maintained a no-judgment vibe throughout the callout: "This is not a Biggest Loser-type challenge. Not everybody will be coming in with the goal of weight loss. All transformations are welcome." The program consisted of Monday, Wednesday, and Friday workouts with a group. Part of me wanted to give it a shot — but every possible kind of workout anxiety struck me as I tried to process how a plus-size body would navigate the CrossFit space. Even more than that, I was afraid my eating disorder would be triggered by the experience. I spent ages 12 through 24 as an on-again, off-again, mainly on-again bulimic with rampant body dysmorphia, and I've worked very hard to keep that unhealthy part of my life behind me. It's a constant battle to have a healthy exercise routine without falling back into that habit — particularly because a common motif around gym advertising is the need to work toward a smaller body, or a bikini body, or a "new year, new you" body. Basically, a body I've only mildly achieved through bulimia. With all of this in mind, and fully armed with every body-positive comeback in my arsenal, I decided to sign up. Most people who sign up for CrossFit likely do it to challenge themselves physically. My goal was all mental. I had to prove to myself that I could handle being in that environment as a representative of plus-size athleticism — as well as be able to accurately articulate the myths around any body-negative comments that might be thrown my way (spoiler: none were). Here’s what a CrossFit class is like: Each session, we do the workout of the day (WOD) — a training broken up by minute and typically in the 20-to-45-minute time range. It's intense, despite how short each routine is clocked, and you will feel it the moment you're finished, if not before. Before the workout, your trainer makes sure the group knows how to do the move safely and with good form — and if you can't do the move, there is always a way to scale back or modify the workout to what fits your abilities best. For example: While I cannot do a high box jump, I can do step-ups. I'm really good at kipping my knees to my chest, but you could do a dead hang instead. My size actually worked to my advantage when trying wall balls, push presses, back squats, and snatches (an actual term) because I was able to carry more weight.
Of course, there were days when I wanted to give up. It was either because the workout was too much, or because I was too tired to go out after work. But then, I would think: On day one, I could barely do a push-up and now I can do 10. That was a powerful thing — competing with myself instead of trying (and failing) to compete with the group. I’d initially been trying way too hard to prove that even though I was plus-size, I deserved to be there, but the way I went about it was to attempt movements I didn’t fully understand, with too much weight. I learned the hard way that if you’re not working with your body, it will give out, and you’ll be stuck all weekend with a heating pad on your back. That was my mistake. In reality, the only time my size was even an issue was when I was doing a snatch, because my breasts are too big for me to easily roll the bar up my torso, then lift it over my head! The trainer was wonderful, and we figured out how to do the move safely — sans chest injury. That almost felt too good to be true when you consider everything I was afraid might happen. And let’s be clear: My workout fears aren’t something that's just in my head. I've been called fat while jogging more times than I can count. I’ve had items thrown at me from cars while stretching in the park. I’ve been told that I shouldn’t run because my ass jiggles. I’ve been met with shock while checking into a Pilates class. I even once had a yoga instructor who singled me out in the middle of class because she thought I was too big to do a pose. Like, what the fuck?
That was a powerful thing — competing with myself instead of trying to compete with the group.
There is a very sad misconception that fat people aren't healthy or fit. The idea is, thin = healthy and fat = unhealthy. It's not accurate, and it’s just another way to exclude larger bodies from the fitness conversation. Sort of like the phrase "I feel fat," which I hate. Fat isn't a feeling — it's a descriptor. When you say that, you are putting your negative, internalized feelings of, I feel lazy, I feel guilty for eating a lot, I feel sad about the way I look, I feel shitty into a word that actually describes what I am — and I feel none of those things about being fat. Actually, I feel really great about what my large thighs and big arms are able to do. Thank goodness for workout modalities like CrossFit for creating environments where bodies like mine feel included. Thank goodness for companies like Rainbeau Curves, Torrid, and Lane Bryant that make workout clothes for bigger bodies, and gyms like Blink Fitness that show every body is a gym body. These places are making inclusivity part of a larger fitness conversation that needs to make its way to the rest of the industry. I don't have before-and-after pictures from the six-week program. For one thing, they are a tragic way we compare ourselves to others while reinforcing the idea that a better you is hidden underneath somewhere. And two, the better me is stronger and doesn't hate her size — and that's something only I can see. I still have the same belly and ass that stick out — but you know what did change? I listen to myself more. I trust myself with weight-lifting. I go to bed earlier. I’m more aware of my eating habits, but refuse to deprive myself. I know I can squat 75 pounds, and I can confidently say I'm in great shape: Yes, great shape at size 18. My size isn’t going to change, no matter what I do, and I don’t want it to. Especially now that I get to be the person I needed to see while searching for my place in fitness.