Dana – USA

I was 13 when “heroin chic” mainlined into popular culture.  This aesthetic exalted women for visible bones and total passivity.  My developing prefrontal cortex internalized that success as a female equaled emaciation and feigned cynicism, an anesthetized abstention from appetite.

But my body was young, curvaceous, and hungry.  I had ferocious adolescent emotions that ripped through me like hurricanes.  I couldn’t fabricate apathy, nor tolerate starvation.  I consumed my desires as dizzying relationships and late nights in the dorm with cheap pizza and Boone’s Farm.  But after I’d gorged on these sugary, intoxicating experiences, the tyrant of inadequacy hissed at me to reject them through self-loathing and self-induced vomiting.  I looked and felt nothing like Kate Moss.  I thought I had failed as a woman.

In my early 20s, heroin chic rehabbed and unrolled itself as the “yoga body”.  This was an upgraded version of Woman that admitted she needed to eat, but maintained ethereality through obsessive adherence to hot vinyasa flow.  While I floundered as emotionless anorectic, I dominated at vegan yoga girl.  I enthusiastically juiced and ate organic.  I didn’t just DO yoga, I taught it , vacationed with it, and sponged up my teachers’ cheerfully babbled, half-digested philosophy.

This satisfied for years.  I could make (and eat!) quinoa, stand on my head, and refer blithely to my “authentic self”.  But the more I listened to mid-20s girls from the midwest in $200 yoga outfits talk about how little they’d eaten, how much they’d practiced, and how few opinions they held, I realized that the apathetic drug addict of my adolescence hadn’t recovered after all.   She’d simply morphed into the docile yoga gazelle.

I was irate that nothing had actually changed.  What further provoked me was how thoroughly suckered I’d been by the hoax.  Just as no amount of willpower made starving a sustainable practice, no amount of platitudinous “shining my heart” could subdue the feral emotions and wild appetites that paced savagely just below my ujjayi breath.

It was CrossFit that let me embody that stalking lioness.

I was 31 when I found CrossFit, where women challenge the function of their bodies and size is meaningless.  Here, in a cinder block garage, women with thighs that would have been transparently judged in the mirrors of the yoga studio hefted hundreds of pounds and roared with effort.  They were solid, sinewy, and gorgeous.  The unapologetic three-dimensional vigor of their physiques was a revelation.

One workout later, I was hooked.  In three months, I was transformed.  CrossFit demanded a ravenous, robust embodiment.  There was no mental check-out while I squatted and jerked, no skipping meals if I wanted to perform.  Passivity was not acceptable.  I had to be fully present, deliberately focused, and I had to WANT it.  I cannonballed into myself.

So when I peeled off my leggings and shimmied out of my sports bra the night of my shoot, I wondered if the old demons of self-doubt would congregate, but they never did.  In the first moment of nakedness I felt astonishingly comfortable, and I bounced over to the Olympic bar to show off what my body was capable of doing.

With no place to hide, I had no secrets.  There was no posturing or veiling of perceived flaws, no false narrative of perfection.  There was nothing I could do but be exactly what I am.  So, I picked up the bar.  I snatched it overhead.  I dropped into a full overhead squat and pushed out my knees like my coaches taught me to do.  I drove my heels into the ground and stood, skimmed the bar down the front of my body until it kissed the floor.  I snatched it up again.

I used to think that my value was determined by how I looked. Now I know it is a function of what I do.  CrossFit is my training ground for life.  In that gym I prove to myself, with every lift, that I am fully authorized to establish my own self worth.  My feminine flexibility now sits where it belongs in a fluid duality opposite strength.  When I hurl that weight overhead, I am literally raising the bar of what it means to be a fully functional, emphatically embodied woman.