Nahdeen Hassanain: How Lifting Weight Taught Me That Feminine and Strong Do Coexist

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You wake up one day bright-eyed and bushy tailed and there isn’t a thing in the world that can stop you. You already promised yourself that last night’s meal was the last cheat meal and that the month ahead was going to be free of refined and processed foods. Your morning begins with an egg-white spinach omelet, a slice of whole wheat toast with a tbs. of peanut butter you measured to be exact (nobody does that), and a cup of coffee with skimmed milk. Your day is officially set for success. You thought some motivation wouldn’t be harmful (pfft as if you needed any extra), so you open Instagram and Pinterest and search through hashtags like #fitnessmotivation #fitspo #bodygoals just waiting for that one quote or picture you’ll put as your phone’s wallpaper that’s going to change your life every time you look at it. Instead, you find shit like:

● “Be a lady in the streets, a freak in the gym”

● “Muscles are Sexy”

● “Weights won’t make you bulky”

● The famous circulating picture of Ryan Gosling:

● “Every woman needs a beast, be one” (I kid you not this is actually painted on the walls of a big fitness center in Egypt but #thisisEgypt so why am I even surprised)

Stop. This is when you put down your phone and question what century we’re in. This is where I personally believe my conflict started. Always having to find a balance between somehow being feminine and strong, because apparently they can’t coexist. Trying to build muscles because they are sexually appealing, God forbid they serve any actual purpose than to please the opposite sex. Not fearing weights because I’m told they won’t make you look bulky … but when was bulky bad? Is bulky bad? Eating and not eating, to Paleo or not to Paleo? Making sure my self-worth isn’t defined by the amount of calories in that cupcake. And of course, finding the man that trains to be a beast, for me, because I’m a woman, and every woman needs a beast.

To be honest though, what’s new? I mean search synonyms for both feminine and masculine and you’ll find the following; Synonyms for masculine; muscular, muscly, strong, strapping, well built, rugged, robust, brawny, powerful, red-blooded, vigorous. Synonyms for feminine; soft, delicate, gentle, tender, graceful, refined, modest.

Shit hits the fan when traits begin to overlap. When you find a well built muscular woman, or a delicate man for example. Unfortunately, we live in a society were traits and qualities for the genders are clear cut.

I say unfortunately because it happens to be crippling in so many ways. In my case, it completely ruined my self-esteem.

I started CrossFit just about two years ago, and ever since then, there is this imaginary #ma3roofa (It’s well known) that haunts me. When an elder family member was told that CrossFit includes weight lifting, I was told that “El hadeed beyl3ab f hormonat el set” (Lifting changes the woman’s hormones) and that its #ma3roofa (well known). Besides that you get the “Why can’t you play something feminine like Zumba?” every once in a while.

Despite the comments, these two years have given me the chance to appreciate the essence of the sport. Many could argue and say that we’ve taken the sport and turned it into a trendy industry, and I couldn’t agree more, but when you look at CrossFit in its most humble forms, it’s hard to deny the empowerment behind it. At this point, I’m stringing two things together, the nature of the sport and how the nature eliminates the concept of gender that’s quite restrictive. Consequently, these two helped me with how I view myself.

The nature of the sport can be summed up in one word, functionality. CrossFit is functional fitness which means your full thighs or thigh-gap won’t really matter. If you can squat properly, great, if not, you work on it. The sport takes the body and looks at it terms of what it can do and should do as opposed to what it can’t. Basically if you can leg press 200 kilos, but can’t perfect your squat technique with an empty barbell, you should reconsider your definition of fitness. No hate though, I’m definitely for whatever people like to do, I’m just saying my take on things.

What I find quite beautiful if you ask me is that in CrossFit boxes around the world, mirrors are absent. And this isn’t their way on saving money. The idea here is that you really don’t need to be looking at yourself while training. The accuracy of the movement should be felt not seen because once again performance topples appearance. Besides, mirrors are no doubt distracting. Who wants to know that all their hair pins have fallen out mid workout and that they look like a complete wreck. When the nature of the sport stresses on performance as opposed to appearance, it’s hard to stress over those stubborn few pounds you’ve not been able to lose because you’re now able to back squat body weight so who really cares.

I could go on forever, but by now, I hope you get the point I’m trying to make. When you focus so much on what your body can do, you completely forget about what it can’t. You stop eating for a number on a scale but rather eating to perform.

How does the sport eliminate the societal limitations of gender? Workouts are set according to one’s level of performance and capability, not one’s gender. Weights might be set differently for both men and women but they are never limited by them. Workouts are scaled according to one’s level. There is nothing called men’s push-ups and women’s push-ups. You either have your knees elevated above the ground because you can or you have them on the ground because your upper body can’t yet support a full push-up.

Fun fact: The basic benchmarks workouts which are also some of the toughest are all named after women!

Together, both ideas together give you a platform where you can grow without feeling completely out of place. A platform where women are recognized for their strength instead of shamed by it. A CrossFit box allows both men and women to compete side by side without the gender based barriers they might find in other places. The number on my scale doesn’t mean a thing because I’m surrounded with a community that values the number on my barbell.

I mean if it’s a fact that we live in an age where we will always be consumed by numbers, then I believe we should put more effort into focusing on the numbers we can control. The weight on a barbell, the reps in a workout, the time on a stopwatch. The numbers that bring out the best in us.

If we just focus on whatever health looks like , I think we’d all be in a better place. I think it’s all about reaching your body’s full potential, CrossFit does exactly that. It puts all socially constructed barriers aside allowing you to focus on the pursuit of health.

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