When thinking about the fittest person you know or at least the one that thinks they are some of us are probably thinking of the person that cannot stop talking about Crossfit. It has been called many things but whatever you call it, it seems to be causing a large riot. I personally am not part of the sport and take on an outsider’s perspective but do hear a lot about it, like they will not stop talking about it. It seems to have done so much for the people I know and it has a lot of focus around creating a positive community around being a better person but as I have learned from my major nothing can be this good. CrossFit is focused on helping people improve their fitness in a way that is more holistic (CrossFit, 2018). So the question I want to ask want else is going on in this sport as it relates to image?
Spectacle of Human Performance
CrossFit has become more than just a work out regime or a religion as many of the people call it but also a massive event. The CrossFit Games as described on the website is,
The CrossFit Games are the world’s premier test to find the Fittest on Earth™. They are world-renowned as a grueling test for the toughest athletes on Earth as well as a thrilling experience for spectators. Since its inception in 2007, the CrossFit Games have become “one of the fastest growing sports in America,” according to Forbes(CrossFit Games, 2018).
The CrossFit Games has become a spectacle for human performance and naturally as it takes on a visual format it can invoke a perspective of a showing of the fittest looking people. This event as defined becomes the objectification of what human’s full potential can be (Compton, 2015). This puts these athletes on a pedal stool to all people and presents an idea of what people should look like. To show how much power this event has, it was able to sell bikes for $7,950 because of its association with activities in this game (Boly, 2017). The image gets further amplified as the camera objectifies the athletes with the way that it magnifies them in the spectacle (Doyle, 2012). This creates standards of what people should look like that are not reasonable for the average person to achieve as these athletes have state of the art training and experience that allow them to be in this event. This is also the top athletes from every country in the world competing for the title.
Another aspect of the game comes from the is the open in which people can get themselves timed to compete with every athlete in the game currently to see how they place. In this, they give up personal information about how they perform in a workout to be compared with different people. Their performance as an athlete gets datafied for them to be ranked amongst the best (Lupton, 2015). The people are being turned in to numbers and compared to other athletes. This is great in the way that you can compare yourself to the people that competing as well. It can create a friendly environment where people are able to work with each other and see how they place in the world rather than proximity but they are also being placed amongst fulltime athletes that have a lot more experience and time. This can be tough as it can demand people to be a certain way as they get drawn into the demand of what this company expects of people. This is hard as the sport is famously associated with high risk of injuries as athletes push themselves (Laneri, 2016).
By the way the sport is run there are natural aspects of the way people see themselves as compared to the people that are competing in the games and the members at their local gym. According to Kerry, CrossFit gyms are focused around creating a masculine space that magnifies the areas of muscle, pain, and grit, in constructed masculinity (2017). This constructs a very singular and hegemonic idea of what is ideal in the gym and focuses it on men. The journal talks about how they try to remove any ideas associated with femininity in order to create a place dominated by “masculine” traits. This firstly enforces images and standards as men being incredibly strong and muscular despite different types of bodies that exist. Despite this, it does have an emphasis on the application and lifestyle of being fit but it still creates a standard of the way that men should look. I feel like the performance-focused sport naturally also begins to value the physical aesthetic of the people that participate even though that is not the focus. This perpetuates the way that men have to present themselves as strong, brute, and emotionless. Another issue with this is how it can enforce gender binary beliefs and ideas. As this is a sport and holds all the gendered and masculine ideas that come with typical sports it can cause a rejection of un-masculine or non-gender binary ideas (Sloop, 2012). What has been interesting is the way that major athletes have dealt with this, recently famous CrossFit athlete Sam Dancer has focused on doing things a bit different by painting his nails in order to break stereotypes of masculinity in sport (Grid League, 2014). The athlete is trying to promote the breaking of stereotypes that come with the size he is and the sport, he has even gone out to get his nails painted with a female athlete to break the expectations and masculinity.
In terms of femininity in the sport, there seems to be a more positive on effect on the acceptance of female athletes. CrossFit has been able to normalize and even promotes women with stronger physiques which have previously been looked down upon in society(Woolf & Lawrence, 2017). With CrossFit, there are many female athletes that are extremely strong and are not shamed for this because it is the pinnacle of the sport. It has now become a great thing for women to be extremely strong and to have physiques that are described as “masculine”. In a way, it seems to go above gender norms as everyone I accepted but it seems to do it in a different way. It promotes masculine traits amongst all its members which kind of removes the separation that typically happens. So it seems that the masculine traits that the sport advertises lose the association it has to men.
CrossFit often when described will not be thought of as a sport but more of a community of religion. It seems that the way that CrossFit gyms operate gives us lots to learn about ways of forming identity in community. Dawson (2017) talks about how the way that the gym operates as a community that reinvents institutions. They go further on to discuss how CrossFit allows people to volunteer their time and focuses around recreating your identity as you look to improve yourself in the community (Dawson, 2017). It seems like what the author gets at is that the community focuses on encouraging each other in working towards self-improvement in their physical bodies. They identify with communities that push them to be better in a way that they also want to. This causes the gym to be a healthier and more communal space rather than a typical gym which is often more isolated and independent. This is further supported with another study that had shown that CrossFit athletes felt much more a part of the community the more they participated which drew them in further (Whiteman-Sandland & Hawkins & Clayton, 2016). This shows that it is drawing a community of people and bring its members closer together and that the people that go feel a much more positive effect as they go more often.
Despite the fact that I will not be joining a CrossFit gym because of cost and the fact that I already participate in another injury-filled sport, this sport does have a lot to other. The way that it uses the spectacle can be problematic as it creates high expectations for the people that are a part of it, it only seems to be a problem as people start to expect more of themselves and start to overdo it. Aside from that, it has a lot more to offer than I expected. I honestly have stayed away from it as much as possible because of its corporate aspects but it has a lot to offer. It seems to be enforcing masculine standards but strangely as another article countered it is redefining concepts of masculinity and separating the characters of masculinity from only men. It also seems to understand how communities should be created and how to form them into ones that are productive as well as positive. I still can see how these communities can be dangerous as they could easily become cults but this does not seem to be an issue. Despite my negative intents in writing this, I think that the way that CrossFit operates contributes more than it takes and maybe should not be frowned down upon because of the snobby people we often associate with it
Boly, J. (2017, April 05). Would You Pay $7,950.00 for the New CrossFit® Bike? Retrieved from https://barbend.com/new-crossfit-bike/
Compton, J. (2015). Mega-events, media, and the integrated world of global spectacle. In R. Gruneau & J. Horne (eds.), Mega-Events and Globalization: Capital and spectacle in a changing world order (pp. 48-64). New York, NY: Routledge
CrossFit Games. (n.d.). About the Games. Retrieved 2018, from https://games.crossfit.com/about-the-games
CrossFit. (n.d.). What is CrossFit? Retrieved 2018, from https://www.crossfit.com/what-is-crossfit
Dawson, M. (2017). CrossFit: Fitness cult or reinventive institution? International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 52(3), 361-379.
Doyle, J. (2012). Media and Desire in the Sport Spectacle. In Resolutions 3: Global Networks of Video. UC Riverside. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/3dk2s7b6
GRID League. (2014, August 26). Sam Dancer, Defying Stereotypes. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MIS4gHUa-dk
Laneri, R. (2016, March 15). No one seems to care how dangerous CrossFit is. Retrieved from https://nypost.com/2016/03/15/is-this-nycs-most-dangerous-workout/
Lupton, D. (2015). Health Promotion in the Digital Era: A critical commentary. Health Promotion International, 30(1), 174-183.
Sloop, J.M. (2012). “This is Not Natural”: Caster Semenya’s Gender Threats. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 29(2), 81-96.
Washington, M., & Economides, M. (2016). Strong Is the New Sexy: Women, CrossFit, and the Postfeminist Ideal. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 40(2), 143-161.
Whiteman-Sandland, J., Hawkins, J., & Clayton, D. (2016). The role of social capital and community belongingness for exercise adherence: An exploratory study of the CrossFit gym model. Journal of Health Psychology, 1359105316664132.
Woolf, J., & Lawrence, H. (2017). Social identity and athlete identity among CrossFit members: An exploratory study on the CrossFit Open. Managing Sport and Leisure, 22(3), 166-180.