5 Little Ways Feminism Makes Me A Better Athlete

Committing to feminism (or as some of us like to call it, equality) means letting it seep into every aspect of you life. It makes taking feminism into the workplace, out with your friends, into your sheets, and even to the gym. In fact, I can think of several little ways feminism makes me a better athlete. When you clean off the lens through which you see the entire world, you might be surprised to find a life that is friendlier, more positive, and full of wonderful people. You'll see beyond clothes, faces, paychecks, and cars, and look instead at the things that really matter. You won't just hope for equality and fairness; you'll passionately demand it.

When I finally realized what it meant to be a feminist, I put it in my purse, and now it goes wherever I go. If I'm not home working, there's a good chance I'm at the gym lifting weights, and feminism has bettered me in this environment in so many ways. Women in the gym are different. They have different goals, different lifestyles, different bodies. If you walk in with a closed mind, you're in big trouble. Here are some of the ways feminism has helped me become a better athlete.

1. I've Come To Appreciate All Bodies

As a feminist, I expect myself to look beyond another's outward appearance. I must absolutely understand that society's expectations placed on women (and men, and all people) are often unreasonable, unfair, and unnecessary. Society would have me walk into my gym and frown upon the strong quads, bigger behinds, flatter chests, sweaty faces, and dirty hands.

Feminism, however, has me walk into my gym and stare in admiration at the strong, healthy, happy, smiling athletes. We come in all shapes and sizes, and the only person whose approval you need is your own. All bodies are good bodies. End of story.

2. I've Learned That It's OK For Women To Be Competitive

Our culture has some pretty weird views on competition in relation to women. On the one hand, it's unacceptable for women to be competitive with men; when they are, it's desperate, unattractive, bossy. On the other hand, though, our society pits women against each other all the time — in really, incredibly unhealthy ways.

But there are ways to be competitive and supportive, and it's OK to fight for what you want or need. Feminism has helped me understand this in every facet of my life, including my athletic pursuits. I know that I can treat competition as a way to motivate myself. I find an athlete better than me, and I strive to follow her, to catch up with her. She inspires me, pushes me. But at the end of the day, I'm still her cheerleader, and I can find happiness in her own successes. You can compete with another woman while simultaneously rooting for her.

And on a similar note...

3. I've Made Peace With Not Being The Best

In everything I've pursued — whether it be academic, athletic, or otherwise — I've worked my tail off and strived to be the best. Sometimes, I got there. But it just doesn't happen anymore: It doesn't matter how hard I train in the gym, there are still women better than me, and there always will be. Does this mean I have to dislike them? No. In fact, they're amazing beyond words.

4. Men Who Don't Fit Our Culture's "Masculine" Ideal Are Anything But "Unmasculine"

As we already know (or at least, we should) that feminism includes men, and for countless good reasons — and feminism certainly comes in handy for guys who don't fit society's arbitrary masculine ideal. Feminism has taught me that no person is to be judged in any way, and especially not for their body. It's not your job to "size up" your fellow gym-goers, just as it's not their job to "size up" you.

5. All Kinds Of Emotions Belong In The Gym — And Everywhere Else

I've seen athletes — men and women — totally let loose, both in moments of triumph and moments of frustration. Whether it was a woman who jumped in the air screaming after finally nailing a new movement, or a man that got choked up after missing a lift for the fifth time, these expressions are normal, necessary, and not to be critiqued. Women hate being judged for having emotions, so why would we do the same to others?

Images: Andrew Zaeh for Bustle; Megan Grant/Instagram (2)