I had the honor of being the guest speaker for an incredible organization called Sacred Cycle, https://thesacredcycle.org/ which focuses on therapy and mountain biking as a path to healing for victims of sexual trauma. We have set up complex parameters socially that can create a polarizing reality for men and women. For women, one of the best ways to find their power and confidence is to play. I’ve talked about the theme of play before, but, now I want to illustrate how playing can be a deeper form of liberation.
Prior to mountain biking, I was an exchange student when I was 18 in Chile for a year. It took me about 3 months before I realized that my host mother was being verbally and emotionally abused by my host father. At one point, I walked in between them, putting dishes away, while they were arguing, unknowingly, interrupting a fight that had escalated to the point where my host father stepped in to hit my host mom, and he, thankfully, came to his senses as I passed in between them.
Over the course of my stay, my host mother gained the strength to separate from my host father (which was a huge deal for anyone in this position, but divorce had been legalized in Chile only 2 years prior to my visit).
My parents back in the U.S. were extremely concerned when they learned the details of my situation and wanted me to find another family, but I had become deeply connected to my Chilean mom and sister and I played a crucial support role for my host mom. We talked about everything.
I came back with a passion for connecting with victims of domestic violence and I worked for a domestic violence hotline for 4 years in Durango, CO. I also began majoring in gender studies because I was so fascinated by the social construction and underpinning of what shapes femininity and masculinity and can lead them to be at such odds with each other.
Truthfully, I continue to use my degree every day. I operate within a completely male dominated sphere in the cycling world and there is always something to learn. I am constantly analyzing why people behave the way they do and I am constantly striving for my own self-improvement, experimenting with ways to find my own power and voice. I’m excited to share my most recent epiphany with you.
Women need to play, and we need to give ourselves permission to play. The times when I am the happiest are when I’m outside, in my own element, doing something active or adventurous without rhyme or reason. The reason why I do what I do is because of these moments, when I am centered and completely unhindered by limitations or self doubt.
It takes me back to my 4 or 5 year-old self. When I was a kid, I played all the time, it was so natural and easy and it was always the true expression of myself. Think back on a time when you were playing as a kid, I’m sure there are some joyful vivid memories.
As girls, we are quickly taught to move past that. Boys get to play into adulthood. Of course, they have obligations and life responsibilities too, but they are still “given permission” to go let loose with friends and adventure or be weekend warriors. Stereotypically, women are more inclined to have cocktails with the girls and talk, it’s not a bad thing, it’s just different. But why, and how is it different?
I remember specifically in 4th grade when I was labeled a “Tom Boy”, even just that label says a lot about not adhering to the role I was supposed to play as a girl. I hung out with the boys because they played soccer, and tag, and wrestled, and inspected ant hills. I remember one of the “popular” girls telling me, “well, the boys are never going to like you more than just a friend, you need to start wearing girl clothes, tight “baby-doll” shirts, if you ever want to be attractive.” This marked a pivotal moment my life. In a subtle way, from that point moving forward, I felt the power of society shaping me into being a self-conscious female, where I was taught that it was more important to be than to do. And, I’m lucky, I lived in a small mountain town with progressive parents and was more sheltered from the mainstream pressures.
Of course, my experiences of being molded ramped up even more in middle-school and high school. For whatever reason, this reality never fit me well and, instead, lite a fire in me to get to the bottom of this conundrum.
I’ve constantly been striving to find a way to not be a victim of the social pressures and obligations that are projected onto me. How can I be a mold breaker? Sometimes the answer is simpler than single-handedly trying to force an entire cultural change or making an aggressive, bold statement. Maybe, it’s as simple as playing.
Playing, takes us back to the place where we are who we are and so many of those social expectations and judgments fall away and, most importantly, our self-judgment because it’s okay to be goofy and clumsy and dirty and let it all hang out.
Playing, teaches us how to be “in” our bodies instead of being “a” body. Focus is on the internal needs instead of the external approval.
Women are not taught or encouraged to exist in this paradigm enough because, appearance and aesthetics often rule the life approach for many women
Being active, is the first step but, intention is everything. Doing something active and challenging because it sets you free is different than doing it for the specific purpose of “getting fit”.
Through personal experience and conversations, women are very often active to accomplish fitness. Men workout for fitness too, but they also often are active for the simple joy of having an adventure.
Yes, you can begin to be “in” your body by being active for fitness, but this is just the first step. You can feel the hard work you put in, your lungs working, your strong muscles propelling you forward. You notice the nuances of small things in your body that are sharp and functioning and pains and discomfort in other areas as you push yourself. The next step is to change to intention behind the action.
Doing exercise, and being active for the sole purpose of “getting fit” makes you passive to your own activity by fulfilling the expectations of “being a body” with aesthetics as a focus.
Fitness, wellness, and an active lifestyle are a wonderful benefit and side-effect, but it’s different to set your intentions on playing.
Feeling the power of your active body teaches you to recognize your physical strength but being active for the pure intention of playing, teaches you the strength of being yourself and living your truth, free from judgment.