My friend, Ellie, shared this video of herself accidentally head-butting a bar to a Crossfit group yesterday.
Watch with sound on.
My first thoughts on watching the video were:
- Ouch! That was a big whack.
- Well done on not crying
My emotions were sympathy and respect.
Shortly after her sharing it, the video was re-shared on another page called ‘Gymfuckery’, where – up to press- it has attracted over 400,000 views and over 2000 comments.
Some of the comments were supportive, some light-hearted.
Sadly but perhaps not surprisingly, A significant percentage were negative, callous or outright vicious.
In this article Im going to analyse some of these comments and try to understand why they were made.
What’s the beef?
There are multiple comments focussing on the notion that the movement Ellie is performing isn’t a ‘real’ pull-up, and that she would have been fine if she was performing the movement in the ‘correct’ fashion.
There is no such thing as a ‘real’ pull up. The lift she is performing is a kipping chest-to-bar pull up. She is performing this as part of her gymnastics program, in a quest to become proficient at certain gymnastics movements that are done in Crossfit. The people writing about ‘real’ pullups are presumably referring to ‘strict’ pull ups. These pull-ups may be done for a variety of reasons, but will not have the same results Ellie is seeking.
Issue number 1: People pushing their own belief systems onto others.
These comments frequently reference how the kipping pull-up wont build muscle. I would dispute that. I built very strong/muscular lats doing almost exclusively kipping pull-ups for very high reps during my rugby career, but that’s not the point.
The point is: she isn’t trying to build muscle. At least, that isn’t the primary aim here. The primary aim is working on a specific gymnastic weakness.
These commenters are presuming that everyone has the same goals as them, without bothering to do even the tiniest bit of homework first.
Not everyone has the same goals. Criticising others because they are doing something that doesn’t meet your projection of their goals is a curious act. I mean, criticising someone who has is doing no harm/ has no bearing on your life is odd, anyway, but we’ll overlook that for now.
There are two main faults here: ignorance and arrogance.
Ignorant of the different goals people may have, and arrogant enough to presume you can know the reasons anyone wants to do anything.
What makes this more bizarre is that there is an abundance of information about Crossfit out there, and it is very clear that the primary aim of crossfit is to be a maximally well-rounded athlete, not to ‘build muscle’ or ‘get swole’.
There are also people presuming what Ellie’s capabilities are. See comment below.
Again, this smacks of lazy thinking. ‘lorzenolynn’ has seen one video of one movement Ellie is performing. Using this to assess her capabilities is bizarre. If someone attempts to climb Everest and fails, it would be a rather silly comment to say “well, you should be able to walk up Ben Nevis first”. How do you know they haven’t?!
Again, the level of presumption is bizarre.
(For the record, Ellie has several videos of her doing full-range pull-ups on her profile).
Not even thicc
Moving into darker territory, there are also comments insulting her appearance and calling her names.
We see a two things here:
- A man trying to impose his standard of beauty on a woman. “You ain’t even thicc” seems to presume Ellie wants to be ‘thicc’ – and that this is why she is doing crossfit.
- People being deliberately malicious: calling her names, wishing bad things on her, taking glee in the suffering of others.
Tripping, falling and other minor accidents are a fairly common feature of life. I knock my elbows all the time. When such things occur, the common reaction is one of sympathy at best, or mere indifference at worst. Most people try to help. The only period I can remember being mocked for my misfortune was during bullying in primary school. Even then, this was carried out by a tiny minority and largely outlawed by the rest of the populace – it simply wasn’t on.
Given that even young children can self-regulate their communities against bullying and meanness towards people experiencing misfortune, I have been thinking hard about why this is perpetrated and supported by a significant number of adults. (Some of the abusive comments have several hundred likes).
Where does the motivation come from?
To answer this question, i’d first like to consider in which circumstances it is generally considered acceptable to mock, berate or attack someone.
There is a rather simple answer: when they deserve it.
Most people are fairly nice to most people.
Just look at the way people behave in pubs or supermarkets.
The order of service is generally given to those who were there first, who may pass it up to an older person, or someone in need. Queues are followed. People smile and let others pass.
Contrast this to the things people say about pedophiles, or the way they are treated by online vigilante groups.
“They deserve to be shot”
“I wouldn’t piss on them if they were on fire”
When people feel the target deserves it, they feel justified – and perhaps more importantly, enjoy – dishing out righteous condemnation that ranges from pretty intense to full-on-old-testament-biblical stuff.
So to return to our question, why the beef with Ellie?
- People may think that by posting the video online, this makes her a free target for ridicule.
- They may also think that by doing Crossfit, she opens herself up to it.
- They may think that by attempting to do something ‘the wrong way’, she is stupid and thus deserves to be taught a lesson.
All of the above may be accurate, but sadly I think the full explanation is much deeper and much darker than that.
All of the people making these comments are men.
Fear and loathing
My hypothesis is this:
By focussing on performance over appearance, Crossfit does several things:
- Empowers women to value themselves based on qualities that are independent of, and at times clash with, historical male-dominated beauty standards.
- Does not value muscle size or strength more highly than a variety of attributes. This challenges male-dominated notions of ‘fitness’ that centre primarily on strength and muscularity. By valuing many different attributes, Crossfit also makes the stereotypical ‘muscle bro’ less exceptional.
- The Crossfit community provides a stable base for men and women alike, further boosting their confidence.
- The sharing of fitness exploits is encouraged for critique and motivational purposes. This fosters further empowerment.
The end result here is we have groups of men who are threatened.
They are threatened because Crossfit has created a generation of women who have found confidence in their hard-earned, independent achievements. These women do not need men for security or self-esteem. They are strong and they know it. Their success is measured by expanding their physical capabilities, by hitting PRs, by mastering new movements. No man can give this or take it away.
These women often differ from western male-dominated beauty standards and are still happy, confident and willing to tell us about it. These women have rejected standards that value them for what they were born with. They gain value from what they have worked for.
These women have self-esteem that is not founded on male approval.
They are happy, healthy, and give less f*cks.
They are powerful.
And this – above and beneath everything else – is the reason some men hate Crossfit. This is why Ellie got bashed.
Fear, and resentment.
This has been one of my most read/ shared articles so far, and the response has generally been one of agreement. That said, having discussed this topic further with some friends, I think this article neglects the context of these comments, and in doing so, may overstate the role gender has to play in this situation to some degree.
What I mean by ‘context’ is the way people interact with each other/ comment online generally. Often online interactions are mean and critical. Furthermore, often ‘fitness’ figures are subject to particularly mean and critical comments, regardless of gender.
The reasons people behave this way online are worthy of a serious discussion in themselves, but I would tentatively suggest the following:
1) Jealousy/ feelings of threat. Other people being fit/healthy/happy makes some people feel bad about their own lives/ inferior. They respond by tearing down the idol, so to speak.
2) Some sense that since the person is sharing images of their body online, criticising them is ‘fair game’.
3) A lack of consideration for the person as a human being, with feelings.
This of course is facilitated in the online sphere by a lack of real accountability for our words. We aren’t forced to deal with an upset person or a bloody nose as we might be forced to in real life. The checking effects of seeing other people upset or them responding with violence are removed. (Read my article on the second point here).
As one friend commented ‘People are just d*cks online’.
As true as that may be, and as much as that does weaken my argument, there still seems to be a particular issue with regards women in fitness/Crossfit being attacked by men, so the thrust of this piece still holds weight, I think.