Preslie Hirsch

"My legs are too big"

I am in third grade and I’m jeans shopping with my mom.

I am short. I have stocky legs and I can’t find any pants or shorts that fit me at any of the popular stores.

That just isn’t as flattering for you, my mom says as I’m trying on different types of clothes. 

I realize at that moment that I’m shaped differently than other girls my age. I am acutely aware that my legs are just too big. 

It’s a story that plays on repeat in my head for years. 

Until I get into the sixth grade and decide I am going to do something about it.

I start by eating as little as possible and swimming in our backyard pool. Until I can’t swim anymore. And then I do sit-ups. Until I can’t do sit-ups anymore.

Wow, you’re getting abs, people tell me. 

Yes, this is working. This is the ideal. 

The Fitness and Figure Days

The only thing that matters to me is what I look like. I live off fish and vegetables. Even fruit is to be avoided in my constantly dehydrated state.

I get excited when I see a new vein on my arm. I don’t care if I can do a strict pull-up or what I can squat. It matters more to me what I look like and what other people think of what I look like.

But I still hate my body. 

One day, my boyfriend shows me some videos of CrossFit women.

They look so strong, but I don’t want to look like that. Their stomachs look almost distended, and I look hungry. I’d rather look hungry, I think. 

But somewhere along the way, I decide to try CrossFit anyway and I quickly find myself getting stronger, building muscle.

And then you realized strong is beautiful, that performance matters more than aesthetics, and you immediately accepted, loved and embraced your stronger, more functional body? After all, that’s the story a lot of CrossFit women tell.

I wish it were that simple. 

A Baby-Step Journey

I have been a CrossFit Level 1 coach for seven years, and now a Level 2 coach, and I still struggle with the body image demons.

Sometimes, to mix up my training I go to SoulCycle classes. I usually feel like Shrek walking into the spin class amidst a sea of taller, skinnier women. 

I still compare myself to women at the gym everyday. Or on Instagram. Even though I know social media is a highlight reel (it is for me), I still assume it’s everyone else’s real life. 

Have I gotten better since starting CrossFit? 

Yes, I have, but it takes a deliberate effort. An intentional effort. A constant effort to break the thought patterns and the stories of my past. 

I remind myself that the women at spin class might have longer, thinner legs, but I can hold my own in squats when I leave.

Progress. Baby steps. 

I remind myself that just because I think something one day doesn’t make it true. It’s not who I am.

Progress. Baby steps. 

I remind myself that feelings are fleeting, that some days I feel awesome and some days I don’t, but none of it is permanent, just like my ever-changing body. 

Progress. Baby steps. 

Sometimes I think about the give and take, and what was required to be at the top of my game as a fitness and figure competitor, and I realize I don’t want that anymore. I get to travel a lot now, and I get to enjoy amazing food with friends at the food trucks in Austin. I know that I’m not willing to give up having that dessert with my friends, and I’m OK with that.

Progress. Baby steps. 

Today I weigh more than I ever have. I let it happen intentionally so I could compete in the heavier weightlifting class. My abs maybe don’t look as defined right now, but there are seasons for everything and I’m the strongest I have ever been. 

Progress. Baby steps.

I remind myself that I can’t hate my body into a place of loving it. The more I work against it, the more it will work against me. And I realize the most happy times have been the ones where I intentionally love my body. 

Progress. Baby steps.

And maybe most of all, I realize it’s OK to still be struggling, just like I still struggle with certain movements at CrossFit. It’s a beautiful journey of progress. 

And baby steps.