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Marsha Tieken-Christensen Interview

Marsha and I met on Facebook. I live in Connecticut and she lives in Texas. Not much in common really. At least not on the surface. She’s a wife and mother of 3 and I’m a single guy with a dog and a bunch of cats. What we had in common initially is that we both knew Merle from CrossFit USA in Berlin, CT. I STILL don’t know how they know each other or how they got connected… The other thing we have in common is CrossFit. That’s not how we became friends though. REAL friends. We became REAL friends because we both LOVE to shop.

The turning point in our Facebook relationship came a few years ago when Marsha posted a pic of a pair of great brown boots she bought. She loved them but was thinking about returning them because she “didn’t know what to wear them with.” I loved them too and clicked over to Bluefly intent on finding a few examples of what kind of stuff she could wear them with so she’d keep them. And that was that. Facebook best friends from then on.

How “Strong is the New Skinny” Happened

For the most part, Strong is the New Skinny happened by accident. Obviously, it was something that Marsha and I – and a lot of other people – are passionate about. But the original thing just sort of happened. Marsha posted her now famous pic. Just a quick iPhone pic to show her Facebook friends her new shirt:

Strong is the New Skinny Tank Top

I saw the pic, thought the saying was cool and decided I’d write a blog post about the idea. I asked her if I could use the pic for a post I wanted to write, she said “yes” and that was that. You know the rest of the story…

But, enough about that. Here’s how Marsha answered a bunch of questions I asked her and plenty of great pics to go along with the Q&A.

So, we keep joking about your boobs being famous but, the truth is, you posted a pic of your shirt and it started a whole movement online. A lot of women are coming together and getting really excited about “Strong is the New Skinny.” It’s like that one iPhone pic you snapped brought a lot of women together on a topic that’s really important to them. What do you think about that?

I’ve been making tanks with sayings, quotes, or movie lines that I love for years. When I wear them out, people stop me and it always gives me a chance to talk to people about working out and what I do. Fortunately, when I put a picture of this particular tank top on my Facebook wall, it really struck a chord. I think it is amazing that one simple idea…stamped on a tank with stenciled letters and a pair of boobs inside it, could get 2,500 people this excited about something that I really believe in. There may be people that tease me or say that I’m using “sex appeal” to get attention, but if my boobs get people’s attention and lead them to read those words and change the way they think…then I’m happy to take the teasing in order to empower and educate other women.

Do you think cultural and media norms are shifting toward stronger, more muscular women in general? What can we do as individuals to make that happen?

I think programs like Crossfit are helping, but I think we still have a long way to go as a society. So many people associate strength with muscles and masculinity. The average woman is afraid of being too “bulky” or looking like a man, so she avoids barbells and spends hours on treadmills and in group classes at gyms where she uses very light weight (if any at all) and jumps around burning as many calories as possible for an hour. I want to see beautiful, STRONG women stand up and prove that strength is about more than muscles…that a woman can be strong and still be feminine. I think I am a perfect example of this.

Will we ever see a muscular woman on the cover of the Victoria’s Secret catalog? Would you do the cover if asked?

I hope so. Victoria’s Secret is the epitome of sexy and feminine in my mind, so I think having a strong woman represent that would go a long way towards changing the definition of what is sexy for both men and women. Women see those images and think that what they are seeing is what men want…what they are supposed to be. I wish it weren’t that way, but we all fall prey to the images we see day after day.

As for me…are you kiddin me?!?! OF COURSE! I don’t expect a call from Victoria’s Secret in my near future, but if they asked I would do it in a heartbeat!

We’ve known each other for a while on Facebook now. I know you’re a wife, mother, CrossFitter and “one of the gals” besides. And you still find time for shoe shopping and pedicures. How do you do it all?

I am very blessed. I have a part time nanny that comes for 3-4 hours in the afternoon and lots of family close by. I always hate to tell people that I have help, because I worry that somehow what I say will be discounted…that people will immediately think I have a “staff” of people taking care of everything for me and that it is easy for me or that all I do is work out and get my nails done. That is not the case. I still have days where making the time to get in the gym is a sacrifice. I try to get my workout in early in the day. If I have appointments or plans throughout the day, I get up at 5 or 6AM and get it done before my family is awake. All my kids are in school so I try to do a lot during school hours also. As for shopping, when all else fails…I shop online! Where there’s a will, there’s a way…especially when it comes to shoe shopping!

What are your biggest challenges when it comes to meeting all the demands and responsibilities you have with such a full life?

I think the biggest challenge I have is maintaining balance in my life. I made a decision years ago when I hired my first nanny that I wanted to raise my children…that I was not willing to hand that responsibility off to anyone else. It would be easy to let someone else do everything for me and spend all day in the gym or at the mall, but I can’t feel good about that.

I’m a shoe addict and I spend a lot of time working out, but I am a wife and mother first and foremost. I make mistakes, but who doesn’t? Sometimes I get overwhelmed. Sometimes, I forget appointments, and I am late…A LOT…but when it comes to the important stuff…I think I’m doing pretty well. I’m strong & healthy, my friends know that they can always count on me in a pinch, my children are happy, and my family knows that I love them.

What are the training accomplishments you’re most proud of? Weights, times, exercises, etc?

At 135 lbs, I was pretty excited when I dead lifted 260 lbs. The first time I did a pull up was HUGE for me personally because it took me a while to get it. The first time I was able to make it all the way to the top of a rope (without knots) was amazing. I was able to put the days of junior high PE and my inability to climb the rope back then to rest.

I’m not a superstar. There are LOTS of people that can lift more weight or finish a workout faster, but I think what makes me most proud is that I don’t quit. I won’t. Some days I’m off or I’m sore or I struggle, but I’ve learned to push through the pain and finish. And the days that I AM the fastest in the gym, make those tough days worth it. No matter what the outcome is, I try to leave everything I have on the floor when I’m done with a workout.

Marsha Overhead

Marsha Running

Marsha Running Uphill

This one will get me in trouble, but… You’re 40 years old and you have two(?) kids. You don’t look it or act it. You have even admitted to “stealing” your daughter’s clothes at times (Uggs last winter, remember?). What’s your attitude? How do you approach your life that you seem so happy and full of energy? I’m asking this because I want to know what you can tell the other moms who are reading this thinking you have something they don’t.

No, saying that won’t get you in trouble. I am 40 yrs old (soon to be 41) and I have 3 kids…one of which is a teenager. My attitude is this…I may be a Mom, but I don’t have to look like one. I am proud of what I do and how hard I work to look and feel my best. I’m not special or different. I’m just like everyone else. I think sometimes “Moms” feel selfish if they take time out for themselves. I disagree. I think women need to take care of themselves so that they are happy and can in turn take better care of their families. I always try to look my best…even if I’m just going to the grocery store. I feel better when I do. Not everyone has to wear tight jeans and 4 in heels like me, but I think when a woman feels good about herself…pretty…she will carry herself with more confidence.

As far as being happy goes…I think one of the most valuable things that I have learned over the past 5 yrs is to laugh at myself and not take myself so seriously. When I was younger I worried about everything. If I made a mistake or wasn’t perfect, I fell apart. My first personal trainer that eventually became one of my best friends really helped me change that. He forced me to try new things and taught me that just because you fail, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It means you keep trying until you succeed. Some days, you have to choose happiness. My life is so much better now that I’ve learned this!

What’s your CURRENT favorite pair of shoes? Do you have a pic?

Oh, it’s so hard to choose just ONE! It’s like asking a mother which child is her “favorite”. If I HAVE to choose, I’d say it’s the Calvin Klein booties my husband surprised me with a couple of weeks ago. I mentioned them one time about a month prior to him surprising me with them, so he got major points for that! They are really high and impractical, but they make me feel hot and sexy.

Why do you want to be strong? Why CrossFit and not Zumba or Hip Hop Abs? What does being strong and doing CrossFit give you?

There is something very empowering about being strong. I see it every day in the gym. When a person lifts something heavy, there’s a certain confidence that comes with that. CrossFit has given me so much. It has given me a community of friends and a second family of sorts. CrossFit has taught me that the only limits I have are the ones I place on myself. I am doing things that I never thought I could do 10 yrs ago. CrossFit has given me an appreciation for pain and suffering and how it can refine both my body and soul. I have a mental toughness that I never knew was there. I feel like the changes I have made and the things I have learned have helped me become the person that I was meant to be.

I know you’re also a CrossFit Coach. What’s a typical Marsha day like? What Affiliate do you train at?

I train at Crossfit Mansfield in Texas. I don’t train every day. My friend that owns the affiliate is a firefighter so I cover all the classes when he is on duty at the station. On the days I work, it goes a little something like this:

4:30 AM My alarm goes off and I get ready for work

5:30 AM I leave for the gym

6:00 AM Teach class

7:00 AM I drive home to take 3 kids to 3 different schools at 3 different times.

9:00 AM Teach class

10:30 AM I do my own workout

11:30 AM I head home to get ready

1:00 PM Go to lunch with my sister

2:30 PM Shop, get a pedicure, run errands, etc (depends on the day)

4:30 PM Talk to my kids about their day and get ready to go back to work

5:00 PM I leave for the gym

5:30 PM Teach the evening class

7:00 PM Either go home and cook or meet my family for dinner

8:30 PM Make sure kids have homework finished are showering and getting ready for bed

9:30 PM Tuck kids in and sit down to relax

Bedtime varies from 11-1AM depending on the night. It’s not a very glamorous or exciting life, but it’s my life and it’s always full of laughter and fun.

Last question. When we talked about doing this interview, you said to me: “I want people to know that ANYONE who wants to can do the same as me!” My question is, how? What does a woman start doing TODAY to get moving toward doing what you’re doing. What’s her first step, next step, etc? What encouragement or advice would you give her?

Seven years ago, I weighed 200 lbs. I had 3 small children at the time (7, 4, and 2) and I was depressed. The day I stepped on the scale and saw that number…200…a switch flipped. I knew I had to do something.

Marsha at 200lbs:

Marsha Before

Marsha NOW!

I started slow and lost 70lbs over a year. It was after that that I met my friend, a personal trainer, and found CrossFit. I started getting strong rather than skinny. I had never played a team sport…ever in my life…and I had never lifted a weight before. I am awkward and compound movements didn’t come easy, but I never gave up. I faced my fears and came back day after day to try again.

I tell people that I treat my training like a job. It is not an option for me to go to the gym. I really find for me that going at the same time regularly helps. It’s part of my schedule and I don’t give that time up unless I absolutely HAVE to. I am not a naturally gifted athlete. I’ve had to work hard to get where I am. I realize I will never be amongst the best of the best, but that is no excuse. I go in everyday and try to do better.

My advice is to take it a step at a time. Start chipping away at those bad habits one at a time. Eat more of the “good stuff” and less of the “bad stuff”. Don’t be afraid to push yourself. When you have a bad day, know that tomorrow is a new day and do better. Most of all I say, make yourself a priority. It is not selfish to take time to better yourself. Not only will you benefit, but your loved ones will as well. I am a hotter wife and a happier mom, so my family does not complain.

If I can do it, ANYONE can do it. So, don’t wait. Get in the gym and get strong. You’ll be amazed at how much better your life will be!

AWESOME, Marsha! Thank you!

Marsha is blogging here and she’s on Facebook once in a while…

ttys

Adam

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About Adam

Adam Farrah has been studying and experimenting with Paleo approaches to health, eating, living and moving since 2005. Connect with Adam on Google+

Comments

  1. Great interview!! Hopefully los of women will read this and if they’re not already working out, it will inspire them to begin. That first step can be huge, if everyone would just TAKE IT, the satisfaction would be tremendous! I was that same fast food eating, car pool driving mom years ago……anyone can do it; It’s Never Too late!!!!!

  2. Thank you for posting this interview. I was introduced to crossfit by a girl I worked with. I tried it for about a week, but my work schedule has been so erratic since I tried it that I put it on the back burner. In a few months I have intended to come back to it and do Crossfit right. I’ve always worked out, but at 37 now and with 5 years of sloppy living and sloppy workout schedule because of my work behind me, I had worried that I wouldn’t be able to “hack it”. Thank you for posting this. I’m going to bookmark Marsha’s story as my inspiration for the coming months.

  3. Love it!! As a mom of 3, 40-something chick and former big girl myself it is so freakin fantastic to hear about someone as amazing as Marsha!!! It can be done and what a shinning example of strong and beautiful – inside and out =) I’m an at home CFr, so stories like this keep me inspired and motivated to always reach for more – in CF and in life. Thanks so much for sharing!

  4. This is fantastic, but I need to know one thing: WHERE CAN I BUY THAT TANK TOP????

  5. Adam,

    Another great post man!

    Marsha, I dig the “some days you have to choose happiness” statement. We choose our attitudes and being happy is at the top of my list too!

    All the best,

    Travis

Trackbacks

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Adam Farrah, Adam Farrah. Adam Farrah said: NEW BLOG POST: Interview with Marsha Tieken-Christensen! Great interview. Lot's of inspiration and cool stuff…… http://fb.me/FKbfTpSO [...]

  2. [...] women I’ve met through the “Strong is the New Skinny” movement, women like my great friend Marsha, being strong is about more than pushing or pulling big weight. It’s about staying strong and [...]

  3. [...] to say, Marsha Tieken Christensen and I are overwhelmed and thrilled at the success of “Strong is the New Skinny.” SO [...]

  4. [...] article: How “Strong is the New Skinny” Happened [...]

  5. [...] My interview with Marsha was anything but “another ‘I found a way to lose x pounds’ story.” I’m not really sure where you even got that. Marsha is a strong, genuine and REAL woman who lays her daily struggles out there for the world to read and many women are encouraged by her message. My ORIGINAL article – the one you didn’t mention – has now been shared over 4,700 times and inspired a lot of women (and men). [...]

  6. […] Is The New Skinny is a slogan that started gaining traction in 2010, when Adam Farrah wrote a blogpost about his friend Marsha’s slogan tank top. The phrase resonated with people, and today the […]

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