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BEAUTY REDEFINED. Challenging our perceptions of body image.

Posted 25th July 2016 by mtadmin


The saying that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ suggests subjectivity, yet there is a constant strive for ‘perfection’ when it comes to our bodies.  Society has always portrayed an ideal aesthetic among females and today more than ever we are drenched by this image through magazines, advertisements, TV, billboards, fashion shows etc.  What it is to be “feminine” has changed so drastically over time, and continues to change.  For example in the 1880’s it was idealised to be plump, curvy and voluptuous which was a sign of indulgence and a higher socio economic status; 1920’s adopted a slender, flat chested boyish look while the 1940’s & 50s focused on a curvy, tight waisted, big busted figure (Marilyn Monroe).  In the 1960s an adolescent, rail thin look was desired (Twiggy) and it wasn’t until the 90’s where perhaps the unhealthy obsession for thinness crept in on the catwalk with a new wave of models.  If the perception of external beauty and what it is to be feminine differs between era-to-era, person-to-person, how on earth are we ever to be satisfied with the way we look?


Coming from a background of working within the fashion industry in my early 20’s, studying my psychology degree and later joining the fitness industry, this topic has always been prevalent and of interest.  I have often heard conversations around the design office, the gym, the coffee shop and amongst friends of body comparison and dissatisfaction; she’s got smaller thighs, I wish I had larger thighs, my arms are too bulky, I’m not toned enough, she’s lean and I’m curvy, her back is defined, mine isn’t, my bust is too big, my bust is too small…..this commentary consumes so many of us and these desires never seem to be satisfied…which has inspired me to ask the question: how can we redefine our perception of beauty and the way we feel about our body?

Through my teens and early 20s I was always lean, flat chested, broad shoulders and taller than everyone including all the boys!  I’ll be honest that I too would often be caught up in discussions like these, always managing to find a ‘fault’ with my body compared to others.  This obsession with chasing an ideal aesthetic naturally faded away once I started Crossfit.  As I started practicing new skills and movements, building strength and stamina in ways I had never experienced before, my body began to change, but more importantly so did my mentality.  The training developed a mind set of perseverance through some of the grimmest WOD’s, courage to snatch a bar overhead with a weight you’ve never dreamt of even deadlifting and the acceptance of failure on attempting a new skill.  My body was achieving things I never imagined, along with feeling and functioning the best it has ever been.  I’ve moved house 5 times in 10 months since I’ve been in London and let’s just say it’s been a breeze!

Which leads me to this next idea, that rather than judging the way we feel about our bodies based on pure aesthetics, lets focus more on function.  Appreciate and respect your functional abilities, the hard earned skills you are able to perform and the strength you build upon each day.  And not just your own, but each others!  Do what makes you feel strong, because this will then project from the inside out.  Let’s face it, there’s nothing sexier than a healthy confident woman comfortable in her own skin, regardless of shape or size.  Fit and strong IS confidence and this shows that you take care of yourself.  Crossfit Games athlete Christmas Abbott brilliantly reflected “Ultimately, my intention is to work out to the fullest of my capability to be fit and strong throughout my entire life, so I can take care of myself and maintain a super-high quality of life. The way my body looks is just a product of my work. You have to mentally train how you feel about your body the same way you physically train for your sport.

Therefore we redefine our perception of beauty by appreciating functional ability and embracing healthy fit bodies, no matter what shape.  I’m not saying here “strong is the new skinny,” this statement frustrates me as it is deceiving and ultimately promoting yet another idealised physique to women. When the focus shifts from appearance to function, we can move on from this obsession of the feminine ideal and love what our bodies are made of!  Whether you are a Crossfit athlete, a Yoga guru, triathlete, dancer, gymnast, martial arts fighter, rock climber, skater, surfer, skier, be proud and surround yourself with positive people that celebrate each other’s capabilities.  Meanwhile, steer clear of those who cannot yet seem to appreciate beauty in athletic and fit females– it is likely that their negative commentary stems from insecurity within themselves.


I feel so grateful each day to be surrounded by so many strong, empowered women at Crossfit Hackney, all with varying strengths and weaknesses.  One will be Clean & Jerk-ing 75kg+, another achieving their first bodyweight pull up, holding a handstand, performing a strict muscle up, deadlifting twice bodyweight, smashing out 10 push ups when initially couldn’t do 1, out running all the boys on a gassy WOD, alternating pistol squats while holding a baby and even attending a 7am Crossfit class the day due to give birth!  It is a haven of inspiration.  Keep kicking ass ladies and celebrate your bodies through what they can do!  Rather than focusing on what you DON’T have, spend some time appreciating the things you DO have, whilst embracing those around you.

‘The mold is starting to be broken up right now, there is a new generation of women who favour being healthy and fit over super skinny and unhealthy. For me, this happens when the focus shifts from appearance to function.’ – Camille Leblanc Bazinet.


Maayan & Ethan – 8 Alternating Weighted Pistol Squats in PT session.

Further watching and reading on topic:


Letting Beauty Speak- An athlete’s perspective


Christmas Abbott talks Body Image (a light read)


What can you do about a poor body image? Box Rox Magazine


The Female/Athlete Paradox – for the psychology nerds!