Two summers ago, I was working as a raft guide on the Colorado River, and spent my days doing the best I could to keep myself covered and protected from the 100+ degree heat and sun. All of the river guides, male and female, would typically wear long board shorts, lightweight, long-sleeve button-up shirts, and big hats. I didn’t think much of it until one trip where a young woman from Salt Lake City approached one of our female guides. This particular guide was tall, slender, and had a great body, and the woman walked up and thanked her for dressing so modestly. “As someone whose husband is on this trip, I really appreciate that you girls keep covered up,” she said. “I think it’s a wonderful display of modesty and I just wanted to let you know that I think it’s wonderful.”
I remembered that conversation the other day at the beginning of a WOD, as I mentioned to a friend that I my new Lulu shorts were so short that I actually had to manage my bikini line before I could wear them. At the end of that same WOD, I pulled my shirt off and went for a walk around the block in the light drizzle, trying to cool down from a long chipper that had ended with 40 heavy Russian kettlebell swings.
When you’re in the box, it seems second nature for men to be walking around shirtless and women to be squatting and lunging in little more than their underwear. And most people in there put months and years into growing their muscles and reducing their body fat–they have earned the right to show off their bodies. And typically, it doesn’t bother me. I am the first one to admit that picking up a heavy bar makes me feel pretty hardcore, but wearing tiny shorts while doing it makes me feel, inexplicably, like even more of a badass. I am definitely proud of my body, and I am ok with other people paying attention to the way I look (just as long as they aren’t looking at my unibrow).
A few months ago, a girl joined the gym who would always wear spandex capris under her Nike running shorts (which are still a lot longer than most of the other shorts you see at the gym). I have to admit that I thought this was a little unusual, and wondered aloud with some other girls why she felt like she needed to be “so covered up.” As I got to know her a little better, I realized that she was a very dedicated Christian, and was maybe dressing modestly because of her religious beliefs. But why should someone have to have a “reason” to dress modestly at the gym?
Don’t get me wrong–if I walked into the gym tomorrow wearing long shorts and a loose-fitting t-shirt instead of my normal leggings and tank top or booty shorts, I doubt most people would notice, let alone care. But, they might. And here’s the kicker: I know that I would feel out of place.
When I worked on the river, being covered up was the norm. But obviously for the woman who went out of her way to comment on how impressed she was by our modesty, the norm was young women trying to get away with showing as much skin as possible just because they could. And that is definitely the culture I have noticed in the CrossFit world–almost every photo I’ve seen from Regionals this past weekend is of shirtless athletes doing muscle-ups or women in tiny spandex shorts doing deep squats. I have to imagine that they are able to do those movements wearing just about anything, so why did they pick those tight, revealing choices instead? Because they want to show off their bodies, but also because that is the norm. In fact, the competition uniform that The CrossFit Games distributed to last year’s female competitors were skin-tight performance t-shirts and tiny shorts with their competitor number on them. In some ways, it seems that if you want to be good at CrossFit, working out half-naked is something you need to be okay with.
I’m not really sure what conclusion I am trying to get at here, because honestly I believe that if you feel comfortable showing off your body by wearing tiny shorts or pulling your shirt off, then you should have the right to do so. And if you spend months and years eating healthfully and exercising regularly, you should be proud to show off the fruits of your labor. But for today, it’s just something to think about. Maybe it’s time to expand the culture a little bit.