Like a Girl

“A boy at school challenged Sydney to a pullup contest the other day. Results: Sydney 14, boy 0. Thank you gymnastics!”


Miss Sydney Barfield, 7-year-old rock star.

This was a Facebook post today from a friend of mine, Luke Barfield. Luke and his wife, Trisha, own Colorado Aerials East gym, and watching them cultivate their own club, sharing their special brand of positivity with new generations of gymnasts has been amazing to watch. But this post isn’t about that. Sydney is Luke’s daughter, a bright 7-year-old who will be competing her first gymnastics season next spring on their Xcel team. And this day, the day she crushed some over-confident boy at school who assumed she wouldn’t be stronger than him by virtue of the fact that she’s a girl, will stay with her forever.

One of the greatest gifts gymnastics gave me was a supreme confidence in my abilities as a girl. Having talked about this topic with several of my girlfriends who were also gymnasts, I know they feel the same. Being a girl is hard, and to me it feels like only recently have we tried to look at why.

Always, a company that certainly knows a thing or two about being a girl, recently started a campaign to turn the tables on the age-old insult “like a girl,” hoping to show girls that doing something like a girl is empowering, not demeaning. When I was in elementary school (and middle school, actually) the Presidential Fitness Test was still the yearly bane of most kids’ existence. I, on the other hand, loved the day we had to do this dreaded test. Sit-ups, shuttle run, a pike reach, mile run, and pull-ups. Every year, without fail, a boy in my class would bet me I couldn’t do more pull-ups than him. Every year, that boy was put to shame. Thank you gymnastics, indeed.

As far as I know, they no longer keep track of these things at schools, but as of high school, I still held the record for pull-ups at my elementary school. I set that record in first grade. It gave me a confidence in my abilities that has yet to leave me. (I also have an absurdly competitive nature, so thanks for that, too, Dad.) My husband is a bit of a fitness buff himself, has been his whole life, and he still recalls being beat by Jamie McCalley at pull-ups in elementary school. She was the only person, and a girl to boot, who could beat him (ironically, Jamie was a teammate of mine at the time). As a boy, it taught him not to underestimate a girl’s strength just because she looks a certain way, or just because she’s a girl.

My mom was recently working with a group of high school boys on acrobatics for a stage production she helps to produce. They were at the gym, training to do aerial straps, and the boys couldn’t help but watch the tiny, little team girls climbing the rope all the way up to the ceiling while holding their legs in a pike to the side of the rope. None of them could do it even using their feet.

Girls are fierce and girls are capable and girls are strong. Gymnastics teaches its participants these facts at an early age, simply because it’s a requirement. You can’t physically do gymnastics without being able to hold your own body weight on your hands, or pull it up to a bar, or whip it over your head. If you are a gymnast, you are strong, and you know it. That knowledge, especially as an adolescent girl, makes you carry yourself differently. It helps you hold your head a little higher in the halls at school, it makes you grin at the thought of any strength challenge in P.E., it gives you the absolute knowledge that you are just as capable as any boy your age. It’s priceless and that knowledge of what you’re capable of never leaves you.

Recently Kacy Catanzaro made headlines across the country for being the first woman to complete the qualifying round of American Ninja Warrior, a physical fitness challenge that undeniably favors tall men with superior upper body strength. She wanted to prove to everyone that women shouldn’t be counted out of a challenge that clearly isn’t in their favor. Unsurprisingly, Kacy used to be a gymnast.

Gymnastics gives you a physical and mental strength that will give you confidence in the years when it’s hardest to find. It will teach you that being a girl means being fast, being strong, being capable of any challenge. So yes, thank you, gymnastics.

Tell me, what are you proud of doing like a girl?