In Honor of Chyna And Selfies

I don’t know film. I don’t know how to describe why the image quality of a TV show looks different than that of a big budget movie looks different than that of a Hallmark channel miniseries–but I know they all have a different visual quality. I mean, I know HD exists, so there’s that. So when I see a clip of WWE’s former female fighter icon Chyna striding across the screen towards the ring, I recognize that clip as depicting a woman with actual muscle on what looks like an actual major television production. The color, the saturation of it, the sharpness, the frame rate. Something makes seeing Chyna’s broad frame captured forever on film a really big deal for me. And it was, years ago, when I saw clips of her in commercials as a child. That was all the exposure I ever remember getting to the WWE–in my household, we didn’t really “do” that. But I saw her, this not-frail, mean-looking, growling warrior of a woman. And something resonated very deep within me and settled in for a long ride up til yesterday, the day I learned Joanie Laurer had died. 

Because the thing is, very rarely are women with appreciable amounts of muscle like Chyna sported in her WWE career on TV or movies–period. In televised sports, maybe, although that is still a rarity because the number of sports where it make sense for a woman to either have an appreciable amount of lean mass or be exposed appreciably while having a lot of lean mass that are actually televised widely are few to none. Having crossed into territory where almost no strength sports classify me as a “lightweight” in the light, middle, or heavyweight scale, the amount I feel my body type or size is represented in media is basically zero. I have realized this before and silenced the realization before I really allowed it to take hold because how dare I suggest that I, a white woman, am underrepresented? Then I remembered–and it would be good for the reader to remember this too–there is a difference between representation and marginalization and discrimination. And I feel like I can make a pretty strong case that women REGARDLESS of ethnicity who have significant amounts of muscle–PARTICULARLY in their upper bodies–are very, very seldom represented much less idealized in media. I mean any media. Indie films? Lol no. Reality TV? No. Soap operas? No. Movies? Also no. 

And spare me the “well this one time Jessica Biel got a lot of press for having some muscle” because I remember this because I’m old and I went off on a Google search for this and searching through the “Jessica Biel arms” image bank I pulled really didn’t impress me. Like, if this is what I’m supposed to consider significant amounts of upper body muscle–and I chose this image because it appears to be a more candid/I’m a fan taking a candid picture of this chick while she’s autographing stuff and it’s not photoshopped–then I say we all pack it in with this argument now. 

  
Now, I feel like I shouldn’t have to make this disclaimer–I’M NOT DISPARAGING HOW BIEL LOOKS. Dude, she looks great, yay! Ok! Let’s move on. I’m saying that if this is the best we can do in terms of representing a female body that has SERIOUSLY developed muscle, then it is no wonder women are turning to the phenomenon of the selfie to create their own damned ideals. 

That’s right, I said it. I think selfies aren’t always just a sign that the people taking them are vain bored shitheads. My theory on The Selfie, and I think there are actual scholarly theories that champion roughly this same argument, is that a lot of us are just trying to depict ourselves in a way that creates the ideal we don’t see, well, anywhere. Sure, I see it in other selfies. I see women that sort of look like me in supplement advertisements, but not really, because haha I don’t have implants and I am not that lean right now and my shoulders are REALLY wide and my hips are REALLY narrow and I just don’t really ever see anyone who’s posed as an “ideal” who is proportioned like that. Well, I mean, I guess guys are. So I, a female human who definitely identifies as a woman on the gender as well as biological sex side of things, get a lot of feedback that the way my body is shaped aligns me closest to, uh, a guy. And I’m not a guy. I’m a woman and I have enormous shoulders and huge stupid biceps and it’s like I have to make a case for fitting into a female ideal that I don’t fit into by, I guess, shrinking? Or changing my bone lengths? Because I can put a dress on this shit and those things aren’t going to change and it’s just going to look like a woman who has more things going that fit into a male ideal than a popularized female ideal. So…I guess I’m going to take selfies so I can have a tiny little collection of images on my Instagram that show a world where someone other than Gal Gadot gets cast as Wonder Woman.  

I have always, always felt like a freak. When I was younger, I had a condition that basically resulted in my bones growing much slower than the rest of my body developed, which meant that for a few years during elementary and middle school I was extremely short. Short to the point where my parents took me to the doctor to see what was wrong with me. People would toss me around for fun on the playground–I remember being unceremoniously dropped on the pavement during more than one of these “Janis is a rag doll, let’s play with her” episodes. In high school, I developed severe anorexia and walked around looking like Golem AKA the freak from Lord of the Rings. I started lifting later in college and transitioned into this brand of freak. I have never not been a freak, I have never seen myself echoed in some ideal in a movie or a show or an album cover or an advertisement–ANYWHERE. Well, actually, there was the time with the one boyfriend where he told deeply anorexic Janis that I had this “eating disorder physique” a lot of girls would kill [themselves] for.” That was a pretty concrete message that I refer back to periodically today. 

So sometimes I take selfies and marvel at how I’m the only person who can take a photograph of me that I don’t hate. I used to think this was some sort of sorcery, like I was picking the parts of reality I liked best and pastiching them together into a fragile delusional world where just one ugly image in some party candid would have me facing the actual reality of my looks–and I was at least somewhat right about that. But I now think that selfies might be one of few ways I have of taking how I look and forcing my own ideal into being with it. I own the content. I place the content where I choose. I understand that once an image is online it is there for people to repost, reuse, pick apart, link to, save, jack off to, whatever. But I put it there first. And I PUT IT THERE. That image of broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped, breastless, monster-backed Janis is adding yet another dimension to the overwhelming fray of visual culture. And if I knew that doing so would have the same kind of impact as seeing Chyna, way back at something like eight years old on a television screen and then seeing her again yesterday would have on someone else who feels lack of representation as it had on me, being accused of vanity and narcissism and whatever else would be worth it. RIP Chyna, and here is my fucking huge bicep. 

  

Advertisements

Who Should Sponsor Me: A Definitive Guide

I’ve been a little too entertained by insisting that one of my hobbies within the sport of powerlifting–if it were possible to have a hobby within a hobby, and if it were possible to do so without asking oneself WHY one needs to have a hobby within the original hobby–is “not being sponsored.” Whenever I take the opportunity to declare this, it is obvious that I have something of a chip on my shoulder over it, and I’m entirely aware of that and ok with it because I am ok with looking a little pathetic. As for the chip in question, I’m not entirely sure why I want to be sponsored aside from having the distinct sense that being sponsored proves something. Indeed, I’m not really interested in adding more crap to the already cluttered confines of my apartment. I don’t need to add more shirts to the laundry that only intermittently gets done, and I don’t need the limited counter space in my kitchen any more devoted to unused bottles and tubs of whatever supplement than it already is. No, I just want to feel like one of the cool kids. Having realized that the likelihood that I will be welcomed into the “sponsored cool kids clique,” however, is somewhere in the 40-50% range, my next best option is to insist that I am above all that shit and feign coolness by feigning disinterest, but being really obvious in my feigning so people actually think that it’s slightly endearing how much I don’t believe my own bullshit. So in that spirit, yes, one of my favorite hobbies is not being sponsored.

   

The deadlift face that launched a thousand ships. Who WOULDN’T want to sponsor this sexiness?
 But if I WERE to be sponsored, of course I’d only want to be sponsored by businesses that produce things I actually use consistently in efforts to better my powerlifting career. A career that, although short, should be fleshed out a bit here so the reader doesn’t think I’m some one-meet newbie insisting they have done enough to deserve sponsorship. See, I haven’t done enough, but let’s also not forget that “enough” doesn’t actually have to be done if one can just fall back on sex appeal–and that’s heteronormative sex appeal to you, with only slight emphasis on the stuff muscle fetishists message me about somewhat regularly–to be “saleable.” I’m too much of a bitch for that, so let’s return to why me writing this isn’t a complete mockery of the concept of sponsoring athletes: I have earned elite totals in four weight classes, been nationally ranked in the top fifteen in five, been ranked in the top five in four weight classes in either total or single lifts or both, and have broken two all-time world records in the no wraps total at 123 as well as the deadlift at 123. Needless to say, I currently hold the #1 national ranking in the 123 weight class raw no wraps. I am not, in other words, without some accomplishment in under four years of powerlifting and something like six years of touching weights (although the first two of those years were pretty sketchy, non-barbell lifting self-lead wastes of time). So, like, damnit, someone should fucking sponsor me. Jesus. 

So let’s talk about who that should be. A supplement company? Nope, not a single supplement was ingested that day, or any day, because I just don’t really use supplements. But I still buy things, and some of those things support my powerlifting. A list of potential sponsors:

1. Hyvee: I go to this grocery store literally just about every single day. Dude! Shut up! I live near it and I don’t like making big grocery trips, it makes me anxious. And I don’t preplan my stupid meals right now, which, if social media is any indicator, is an extreme anomaly in the lifting world. What will I eat next? I DON’T KNOW. I actually deeply enjoy going over to Hyvee, being all “what do I feel like eating next?” buying the thing, and then eating it. I feel like Hyvee not only literally fuels me as an athlete, it serves as a sort of refuge, because walking its aisles and staring at food is very soothing. Get off your damn “I prepped these veggies five days ago, YUM” high horse and buy some chocolate that has brandy inside of it that I saw in the candy aisle with me.
2. Jethro’s Barbecue, either the Johnston, IA or Altoona, IA locations. Doesn’t it just make SENSE that a powerlifter would be sponsored by a barbecue place? I am very honestly surprised that this does not happen more often if ever. Also, this place is home of this fried apple pie monstrosity that I am really hungry just thinking about right now but also a bit sickened by. Gross, Janis. Let’s move on….

3. …To Sakura Sushi’s all you can eat sushi night, which is on Mondays. Speaking of being a bit sickened by myself, the amount I am able to ingest on these nights is disturbing. The fact that I can eat two deep fried rolls as part of that amount should ring some serious concern bells in someone, because I’m too far gone into the land of gluttony for them to be ringing inside of me anymore. The only thing that rings inside of me these days is the amount of tums I ingest to ward off the impact of Jethro’s and Sakura. 

4. Tums. Because of 2 and 3. 

5. Covergirl. No, seriously, makeup is deeply important to my existence as a powerlifter. Want to know how I prep for a lifting session? I put on makeup. I mean, I have to or people see me and throw up, but it’s also highly important for me to apply eyeliner, think about the lifts I will do in the next few hours, apply more eyeliner, think about whether or not I’m going to be pushing the weight on the top set or holding off today, apply more eyeliner, think about how I look like a whore now but it’s too late to go back, makeup remover is going to turn everything into a liquid black mess, apply mascara, go to the gym. I use a lot of different makeup brands but I figure my best shot is with a cheaper drugstore brand. I mean, if Rihanna is good enough to be a Covergirl representative, I have to be able to get in there. I bet I deadlift more than her. 

6. Unknown Brand: if a company ever manages to make a sports bra that fits me perfectly, I will hawk the shit out of it. So this is a hypothetical relationship, but I’m dead serious. Someone make a sports bra that doesn’t squish my back around in unattractive ways and I will be your athlete–good incentive to take the 50% risk of failure in starting a small business, right?  

  
So that’s about it. Until I pick up a contract with one of these, I’m going to continue to sponsor myself. It’s pretty great. 

The Wrong Ideal

I was going to make a bunch of red X's everywhere on this image Nip/Tuck style but my graphics program has possibly bitten the dust so you can just imagine all of them for yourself.
I was going to make a bunch of red X’s everywhere on this image Nip/Tuck style but my graphics program has possibly bitten the dust so you can just imagine all of them for yourself.

Let me tell you exactly what is wrong with me.

That sentence is sitting there, and staring it is like standing at one of those weird five-way intersections in a city that isn’t laid out in a grid, dense buildings convulsing around streets that run towards each other at odd angles. There are a few options, a few paths you can take, and those paths might cross and get you to the same place even if you choose this one or that one or that one. It’s all the same, but the ways to get there are not.

I’m 28 now, and I can truncate my life into little sections and big ones. The theme that stands out among at least two thirds of these sections is the inability to fully appreciate myself, and I am endlessly apologizing and explaining and fucking up and comforting and writing and reading and watching and discussing and bottling up and breaking down and rising up because of it. There has been an evolution from the self-erasure of anorexia to the self-betrayal of bulimia mixed into the erasure that preceded it to the hollow sorting out of the damages left behind.

In case you need a reminder, here is how I looked when I was eating disordered up to my eyeballs.
In case you need a reminder, here is how I looked when I was eating disordered up to my eyeballs.

So it’s hard to choose what to tell you is wrong with me, but there has been and continues to be a lot. And I’ll admit it here because this is one of few venues I have in which I’m not either enjoying the respite of being a blank, anonymous face to people I don’t know or dredging through the overexposure of myself to the few people I trust and love–it’s another purgatory. My audience is faceless and mostly nameless and, in my mind, hypothetical as much as it is real. This isn’t as brave, although it is possibly as questionable, as standing out in the middle of the street and screaming my shortcomings and my fears and my struggles, but writing in a publicly-accessible format is my best current attempt at extending myself enough to be voluntarily vulnerable. So let’s get to the catharsis, because that’s the juice you should be rewarded with if you’ve actually managed to read the block of text preceding the next paragraph.

Here is what is wrong with me–with my body. My legs are not elegant and long enough and they’re not thick and muscular enough. My ass is either not perky enough or it’s not large enough, or maybe both, or maybe it’s not small enough. My chest is probably too small although it’s too wide (because of the colar bones, you see, although for a while those were en vogue), I have too much body fat but I also may have too little and my pectoral muscles are making the whole thing a lot more awkward so I should make sure I either build those up or I get rid of them entirely. My back is far too muscular, although I could have a better lat taper and actually, I could stand to build a better trap/rear delt setup and my shoulders are certainly, absolutely too big but they’re also not really capped in appearance so, I don’t know, I should probably fix both of those things. My torso is ridiculously short and my waist-to-hip ratio horrendously poor; science says it is a miracle that I’ve ever managed to be found attractive by a member of my species in my life. My arms are definitely too large in proportion to the rest of me and they’re throwing the rest of my proportions into an uglier tailspin, two great jointed pillars drifting along in time with the rest of my body as I move from one point to another.

Once again, you're going to have to throw in some x's on my body here because GIMP and my computer are no longer friends.
Once again, you’re going to have to throw in some x’s on my body here because GIMP and my computer are no longer friends.

I cannot tell you how ridiculous it is to type that paragraph–how much indignation rises as I summarize the contradictions I now spend a fair amount of time trying to sort out for myself–contradictions that arose from what was originally a sincere attempt to subvert one set of ideals. Here’s the lesson for today–you cannot subvert one set of ideals by implanting another next to it. It doesn’t work. It’s why saying “strong is the new skinny” is bullshit and so is “real women have curves” and so is “all bass no treble” and whatever the fuck else we’re coming up with today to box everyone into meeting one ideal and saying “fuck you mate, you’re screwed” to those who don’t. Nothing human is ever ideal. To those of us predisposed to thinking things are black and white polarized boxes of good and bad, ideals are fantastic and we try to fit into them so people will call us “good” and we will be loved and fucked and respected and obeyed and saved. Because that is what makes sense. Failing an ideal means loss, dismissal, contempt, repulsion. I self-enslave over ideals because, in part, our very culture loves ideals. Because I grew up in a house steeped in judgment and dated men who built their identities out of the judgment of others–I loved and sought love from a those who took comfort in the predictability of the ideal.

I’m not blaming anybody here. My history is really not the point. What’s most striking to me is how much the act of reflecting on the convolution of two particular ideals–the female physical ideal championed by white Western culture and the female physical ideal coveted by the lifting and strength world–leaves me shaking my head in absolute disbelief. You don’t fix generations of body image issues by introducing new ideals. Sure, the new ideals are going to exist and the trends are going to come and go–I swear the flapper flat-chested elongated body of the 1920’s which is itself a nod to the far older Mannerist trend is going to rear its head out of a decades-old grave one of these days–but if we’re going to address the reparation of how we’ve talked about women’s bodies, trying to take the body that strength training might build and elevate it as the answer to all our eating disordered, body dysmorphic, image-obsessed issues amounts to shooting ourselves in our feet. It looks like a good answer, but when we embrace it we end up preventing ourselves from moving forward. You’ve read this before, but I’ll write it again: we’re not going to fix skinny worship by supplanting it with a singular worship of another type. Singular is not inclusive; whatever ideal you choose as the next skinny, you are right back to a focus that is as misdirected as it is narrow-minded. 

So out of all of this, here is my suggestion: if you struggle with a sense of how much you don’t measure up at a physical level, make a list of everything that’s wrong with you. The absurdity of the contradictions that will stare back at you should you cross-check your list with several sets of ideals beloved by this culture or that subculture is kind of great. Doing this exercise might not solve all of your problems, but it will have you peeking out of your box a little bit more.