A few weeks ago I took my car to get my oil changed. I was supposed to go to a barre class with a girl friend of mine and was wearing the expected yoga pant and tank top attire when I walked up to the register. At some point, between rummaging through my purse and paying the cashier, the man ringing me up blurted out, “Dang girl, you got guns!” I immediately dropped whatever I was holding and got very excited, it was the nicest compliment I’d ever received from a complete stranger, especially a man.
More often than not the “compliments” I receive from strangers do not revolve around my muscles or fitness, they involve catcalling or weird behaviors while leering out of a car at me or walking by me on public transit. Only the week before my oil change, a police officer leaned out of his car to yell at me that he liked my dress. I mumbled a polite and clearly uncomfortable “thanks”, smiled like you’re supposed to, and hurried the rest of the way to my car. Since I was thirteen, this has been the majority of my interactions with men. They yell at me from cars, and I pretend like I don’t feel violated for being yelled at while minding my own business.
As women, we are told that our appearance has more value than our intelligence. We are constantly battling over body image versus fitness versus confidence (none of which are guaranteed to go hand in hand). As someone who has been climbing for nearly five years and focusing relatively serious on my health and fitness for the last year- fitness, body image and confidence are not mutually exclusive. The compliment from the cashier at my local Havoline, was more than just a comment on my physical appearance. It had surpassed simply telling me that I am subjectively attractive. The compliment told me that something I had worked to achieve was a success. I have biceps, defined shoulders and back muscles. I still have hips and a feminine figure (thanks mom), I’m not magically going to lose those, but being defined by attributes that say more about my character than my appearance are what make compliments complimentary to me.
As I watched the Wonder Woman movie this past weekend (twice). I saw a woman who, while beautiful, fought against corruption in the world, threw cars over her head, punched through walls, and loved fiercely. Sure it had it’s typical superhero movie cheesiness, but it had a woman that was unapologetically strong, whose physical appearance was subtly domineering and often over powered by her intelligence and physical strength, characteristics I think deserve shouting over instead of attractiveness.
If you see me at a boulder field, you’ll see my Wonder Woman chalk pot and crash pad. When I started with this theme, it wasn’t because I was a huge Wonder Woman fan, in all honestly I probably love the unapologetic Tank Girl more than any other superheroine, and Batgirl will always have a soft spot in my heart, but surrounding myself with the symbolism of Wonder Woman reminds me of my own strength. I’ve worked hard to have the muscles I have. I’ve worked hard to stay informed on issues, and to learn new things, to turn myself into a well rounded person with a multitude of different characteristics that make me who I am. Complimenting me based on how you perceive my appearance (i.e. pretty, beautiful, or any other adjective that is not associated with my character as a person) is not a compliment. I promise, your opinion is not wanted or cared for. Tell me I’m strong. Tell me I’m smart. Tell me I’m determined, passionate, or a million other adjectives that do not pertain to standards of beauty, but rather the characteristics I have worked hard to instill in myself. Tell me that I am also wonder woman.