We were at dinner in Berkeley, my mom and I, when I noticed the television show that was playing behind the bar. The Reebok Women’s Crossfit Championship was playing on ESPN, displaying the athletic antics of a half-dozen or so incredibly toned and fit femmes as they did headstands, lifted weights and jumped rope. Amazed, I pointed out the lithe women on the screen to my mom.
“They are so ugly,” she responded.
I was confused. The women on TV were not bulked-up muscle builders. These ladies bore a stronger resemblance to marathon runners.
When I looked at the women, I appreciated the aesthetic beauty of the female form—the smooth curvature of their bodies—and the fact that they weren’t being sexualized or objectified.
What my mom saw stemmed from the aesthetic understandings of the pre-Title IX generation. Femininity for them connotes softness, delicacy and gentleness.
As a practitioner of yoga, I am grateful for my body when I gracefully and smoothly move from pose to pose, soft as a rose petal, but I am also grateful when my legs, sweaty and tanned, carry me up steep mountains and over rocks.
My body has not betrayed me, although I alternately layer my skin with mud and grime and carefully protect it with oils and scented salve. Which of these actions is more feminine?
Does pushing my body in the outdoors denigrate my femininity?
I first started hiking, trail running and doing yoga regularly when I was around 14 years old. Living in the mountains made it easy to be outside daily, but I resented when my calves and thighs began to muscle up.
I knew I was moving away from the sugarcoated smooth-as-silk bodies that filled the pages of Seventeen and Teen Vogue. It made me frustrated, but I worked through it slowly and surely.
I stopped to share gratitude with my body and my psyche.
I remind myself of how meaningful it is to shift your mental energy from focusing on the negative ego-self to the positive community.
Two and a half years later has me still working to practice radical self-love. Meditation and yoga gave me space to appreciate every aspect of myself. Unfortunately, the women (and men) around me aren’t always on the same page.
The impression is that as a young woman, I should have an internal dialogue of self-loathing and body insecurity, but why expect the lowest?
With Title IX—the pivotal legislation allowing for equality for women in athletics—celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, it’s an important conversation to be having with the women in our lives.
We need to think about a new understandings of femininity and womanhood that encompass more than aesthetic delicacy. We need to continue to encourage the young women of today to explore what their identity means to them.
The expectation that all teenage girls need to somehow be disappointed with (or even repulsed by) their beautiful bodies is a low standard.
Let’s set the bar higher together.
Avery Hardy is a yogini and permaculturist who digs the sunshine on her shoulders and the dirt under her feet. She lives in the mountains above Santa Barbara, CA and is starting her senior year in high school. She wants you to share your wisdom, insults, annoyances, and guidance with her by writing [email protected].
Editor: Carolyn Gilligan
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