Meet the CrossFit athletes who’s taking on the TikTok body-shaming trolls once and for all…
When personal trainer and CrossFit athlete Beth Robinson uploaded a video of herself doing a butterfly pull-up, she had no idea it’d go viral. It’s not a very common exercise – it’s an impressive-looking sport-specific CrossFit drill that allows momentum to help move your body through the pull-up motion. I certainly didn’t know what it was when I saw Robinson posting it… but then again, I’m not a CrossFitter.
But that didn’t stop millions of people – largely men and fitness professionals – from commenting on the post. Most of them called Robinson out for failing to do a ‘proper’ pull-up, while others went after her weight.
“I’m aware it’s not a strict pull-up – it’s a sports-specific movement,” she tells Stylist. “But what made it worse was when they started to comment on my body.”
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Three days on, the comments are still rolling in; at the time of writing, the video has over 3.2 million views and nearly 7,000 comments. “Yesterday I was looking at the hours they’ve spent watching that video and, collectively, it’s a year of time. A year spent watching that one video.”
The comments are mind-numbingly pathetic, but clearly, if they’re directed at you, they might get you down. But Robinson says she knows why so many gym bros are willing to dedicate their free time to commenting ‘cow’ on a stranger’s TikTok. “The fitness industry thinks that athletes have a certain look and that we should all look like fitness models.
“That’s obviously not the case; a lot of us do have body fat because it’s functional to have body fat. We need that to perform. Also, athletes come in all different shapes and sizes.
“These trolls have seen me doing something they don’t believe I should be able to do because I don’t look how they expect me to look.”
Robinson is keen to stress that CrossFit is an incredibly diverse community that prioritises performance above all else. “In CrossFit, you’ve got three different categories: gymnastics, weightlifting and cardio. You tend to get athletes who fit into each different box, especially at amateur level.”
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There tends to be more bigger bodies at the intermediate-advanced level, like Robinson. “I’m a weightlifting specialist, so I’m quite big. I’m also 5’9”, so I’m tall, but I can lift a lot more than the average CrossFitter because my body’s adapted to being bigger.”
She’s also recovered from an eating disorder. “When I first started, I was 18 stone but had no muscle at all. And that’s the point: CrossFit is for all different shapes and sizes, and you’ll find that at any box. It attracts people from all walks of life.”
So, who’s to blame? Is it that we’ve been forced to think that the kinds of fitness models we see advertising brands are actual athletes? Or is this a gym industry issue?
In the case of her own trolling, Robinson says that people are triggered by seeing her do something they can’t potentially do themselves. In her opinion, those accounts with profile pictures of male bodybuilders “posing with overinflated biceps” think they’re super-fit and can’t stand to see someone else who doesn’t fit their idea of strength doing something they don’t necessarily understand. “I get the hate because they’re fully aware they can’t do the things I’m doing.”
“I think strong women generally make some men feel like their masculinity is threatened.”
No doubt having to deal with this kind of trolling is exhausting, and Robinson’s been super-open about the impact it’s had on her mental health. But she’s determined to keep fighting the good fight. “I’ve been through worse in my life, but it still makes me angry because I think of the impact it might have on beginner athletes, the people who want to get into fitness. I know they get similar comments, so that’s why I’m going to continue fighting against it to prove that athletes come in all shapes and sizes.”
How to cope with body shaming from men and/or fitness professionals
What’s her advice to women who might receive patronising looks or comments? “Remind yourself that it’s more about that person and their insecurities. It’s nothing to do with us. In fact, often, it comes from people who have disordered eating habits or body issues who only value themselves based off their appearance. That’s why they see someone like me, living a healthy, happy life – and that angers them.
“They’re like, ‘How could you be happy?’ We just need to focus on how we feel. That’s easier said than done though.”
It’s interesting that when we talk about body image and hang-ups, all too often, we’re talking about women. But, of course, men have suffered from unrealistic body standards too – it might just metabolise in a different way. Robinson says that many are in “complete denial” when it comes to things like body dysmorphia: “We’ve had quite a few people in the CrossFit space recently talk about their experience with orthorexia. There was a guy who did a podcast on it and then a few people came forward saying, ‘Oh, I definitely had those behaviours or that kind of obsession’.
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“There’s a hustle culture that’s really present with men, like they need to grind harder, eat better – their worth is valued by how early they get up, how few carbs they eat and how big their biceps are.
“That only plays into this issue of body dysmorphia, self-hatred and self-punishment. That’s why they look at women – especially those of us are the front of the body positivity movement who are all about looking after yourself – and it’s the polar opposite of what they believe makes sense.”
Robinson calls out the PTs and brands who mask diet culture and aesthetics under the guise of fitness. “A lot of PTs claim to be fitness professionals, but a lot of their brand isn’t about fitness. It’s about how they look – how to get the best booty or best abs. It’s not about getting fit and healthy – like improving lung capacity or resting heart rate.
“PTs who offer six-week shred programmes – that’s problematic and needs to stop. But it’s also perpetuated by brands who employ fitness models to wear clothing that’s made for athletes. News flash: professional athletes don’t have 8% body fat, because that’s not optimal for performance.”
She wants to see more ads like the recent Sure deodorant campaign, which showed athletes of all sizes getting really sweaty and having fun. “We need to see more of that. I think we need to see more representation of people who just do fitness for fun.
“A lot of the fitness models out there are paid to look good but they aren’t necessarily fit. They wouldn’t pass a military fitness test.”
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