Let’s stop dancing around the fact that this blog has turned into one mostly about body image. Well, you haven’t been dancing around it, but I have–mostly in the form of “well, what non-body image topic can I write about for my next post? Nothing? You’re not coming up with anything? Okay, we’ll try again later, after I come up with four new body image-related ideas.” So today I’m going to stop with the self-suppression and write a little about something that’s going to earn me probably more than a few mental “sour grapes! Sour graaaaapes!” dismissals.
So there’s this thing right now in the fitness industry that is “jeans made for people who lift,” although it’s not always phrased like that. After attempting to procure links on google related to this topic and running into pages of “diet down to skinny jeans” and similar, the most successful search for jeans made for people who perform compound lifts was “crossfit jeans.” That lead me to CocaBang, a label that just got some free publicity from me as well as targets “CrossFit Trainers, Fitness Competitors, Physique Models, Naturally Muscular and Athletic Women.” The schtick from companies like CocaBang is that it provides a product to women whose posterior chain as well as quads have reached epic proportions because she goes and puts her hands on a barbell sometimes–but she still has an itty bitty waist to go with that round thing in your–okay, no, I can’t.
I’ve had a few women post about these jeans in my feed. One posted a video that spent seven minutes portraying the special jeans-wearing people first stuffing their faces with some sort of Sonic-looking milkshake and then performing squats, sprints, and a bunch of things that are more crossfit-y and have names that I just don’t care to remember. Like Double Unders. Seriously, I thought Double Unders were some sort of complicated plyometric sort of thing until I realized through constant exposure to the term that they reference the act of getting a jump rope you’re jumping to pass beneath your feet twice between jumps as opposed to once. Seriously, why is this something that keeps coming up on my social media lifting feeds? It’s like obsessing over Bulgarian split squats, which are mundane to the point of turning ridiculous were a trend championing them to arise.
So anyway, back to this whole thing about needing special jeans because you lift. I feel like there’s such a massive humblebragging undercurrent to all of this, and that it’s resting on the paper-thin supports of “celebrating ourselves as chicks (and actually, there’s also a movement to make jeans for men who lift) who lift heavy shit sometimes.” While I’m all for celebrating yourself, because I’m really bad at it and I recognize that it’s an excellent thing to be able to do, I also get annoyed when it’s based on obsessing over one body type and one set of skeletal proportions to the exclusion of others who also do the thing where you touch a barbell sometimes. Ah yes, there’s that “skeletal proportion” reference–and you know I’m obsessed with it. And if you’re in the business of strength sports, you should be too.
Because not all of us have manlet or womanlet proportions. While people with short femurs and longer torsos and short humeri tend to be efficient and excellent benchers and squatters, these are only body types that can perform those movements at world-class levels. And when you’re competing in a relatively light weight class–read: anything 165 and under for both men and women–and you do NOT have short femurs or short humeri, there is only so much weight you can pack on a frame and between hip joints and knee joints that will result in appreciable amounts of mass in the thigh region. Which leads me to reference two exceedingly awesome lifters, both in the 132-pound class. The first, Richard Hawthorne, is lanky as all get-out. While everyone obsesses over his deadlift, which, at 600 pounds in competition, holds the current number one ranking in his weight class in the country, the fact remains that Hawthorne’s squat is also flipping fantastic. In August of 2013, Hawthorne squatted a wrapped 562 pounds, and it remains the number one squat in the men’s 132 weight class in the country–and it is a good 60 pounds above the number two squat. Hawthorne’s proportions are more in line for massive deadlifting, but he has developed strength through a movement that he is not built for to a degree that many of us would be lucky to ever reach. In terms of muscular development, Hawthorne is well-proportioned. His leg development is proportionate to his back development is proportionate to his chest development, etc. At 132 pounds, nothing on him is “huge.” Including his legs. And yet, he holds the number one squat (and also the number one bench, while we’re at it) in his weight class.
Let’s look at our other 132 lifter–Jennifer Thompson. So let me say right now I am so star-struck in awe of Thompson that I’m going to have to work really hard not to figuratively salivate all over the place here as I discuss her lifting as it relates to her proportions. Jennifer is among the best benchers in the world–male or female–and she is, like Hawthorne, lanky. Her long arms are not in line with the stereotypical bencher’s build, yet she has benched 331 pounds, a staggering number when put in context with her weight. She has also squatted her way into the top rankings in her weight class numerous times, as well as in the next weight class up. At her most recent meet, Jennifer squatted an unwrapped 325 pounds at 148, and that squat ranks at number five in the country for that weight class. Thompson’s skeleton is proportioned to be lengthy, complete with long femurs. She is also one of the best female lifters in the country.
I’m not trying to say that mass and muscle are overrated, nor am I ridiculously trying to claim that mass does not move mass. I have chosen to put on thirty pounds in a year because I believe the opposite. But the fact that is ignored in all the “quadisaurus” crowing and the humblebragging over “not being able to find jeans that fit” is misguided navel-gazing. Guess what–it’s hard for everyone, no matter their build, to find jeans that truly fit. And here is exactly why: every company has what are called “fit models.” Fit models are not people who are really in shape who model stuff. Fit models are what companies use to understand how their designs will or won’t fit average bodies. People who are size 14’s are fit models. Most companies have fit models for every single size of clothing they produce, and that model is paid to stay at his or her size, whatever that is, so the company can evaluate prospective product. Now, because we know that not everyone has the same skeletal proportions, if Company A chooses a fit model with average femurs or even long femurs to test out their size seven jeans, and Customer Tinyfemur goes to try on size seven jeans at Company A’s store, that shit isn’t going to fit very well. But maybe Customer Tinyfemur will head over to Old Navy, which seems to work with fit models with manlet/womanlet proportions, or at least it used to, and find something that works reasonably well for him or her.
Another variable that we need to keep in mind when pondering the question of “why don’t any jeans fit anybody?” is that everyone stores fat differently. So if you store all of your fat underneath your ass and on the sides off your ass, you’re going to have a different time with the same pair of jeans that someone who may weigh the same as you but stores the majority of their fat through their stomach and back is.
My entirely unscientific data collection is that the majority of women store more fat dominantly through the hips and thighs. This isn’t remotely an across-the-board reality, but I’ve done enough reading regarding hormonal influence on body fat storage as well as paid attention to this shit for over a decade to say that it’s not absolutely outrageous to say that there are more women who will store a majority of their fat through the hip and thigh region than their are who store it more like men seem to store it–predominately through the midsection. Please don’t jump down my throat for this observation. Their are all matter of variations on the spectrum of where fat is stored. I fall pretty strongly towards one end of that spectrum, but not everyone does. I’m basically built like a short lanky man, but that’s a discussion for another day.
I’m not saying there shouldn’t be a market for enterprises that want to make jeans for people who work out–and market them that way. I am saying that there continues to exist a mass set of blinders most people wear to the fact that differently proportioned bodies exist, and differences at a skeletal level can influence how the same amount of muscle looks when distributed along different lengths of bone. I can’t say I’m not guilty of a little bit of the humblebragging the “quadzilla cult” has generated–a few months ago, I was stunned to find myself in the “the length is okay but these are way too tight in my legs and way too big in the waist” situation that so many of us lifters like to exult over. I posted about it on instagram, thrilled I could finally be a part of the cult. The thrill was short-lived, because I don’t like cults, and because I don’t like anything that celebrates one body type. And yeah, to be totally honest, I kind of feel like my sport does celebrate one body type, even though what it SHOULD be celebrating is the fact that anyone of any body type can successfully compete–even us lanky freaks.
The above picture is of me being a hypocrite. Kind of. Because yeah, that day I went shopping and this particular brand of pants fit me like the quadzilla cult claims all pants fit its members–pretty damn snug in the leg and crazy loose around the waist–and I posted about it on Instagram. But objectively, look at my quads. They’re not huge. Sure, they’ve gotten bigger–in proportion to the rest of me. I can see it. But I’m always going to have long, gangly legs attached to an an extremely short torso. I’m always going to have an easier time deadlifting because of it. And that will make my total, and I’ll have a competitive total based on proportions that don’t really fit me into cult quadzilla. So I’m making my own cult, the one you fit into based on the fact that you don’t fit into the confines of a subculture that doesn’t fit into the confines of a larger culture. Join me, we have cookies.