Trading Skinny for Strong: Alexa Fourlis

March 21, 2012

Melisa Angelone

CrossFit is designed to shift the focus from appearance-based measures of fitness to performance.   


It’s not easy to raise a healthy, self-confident, teen girl.

A recent report by the American Association of University Women found that teen girls tend to base their self-worth on their perception of how they look. “Physical appearance, fundamental to the self-esteem of all young people, is much more important to the self-image of girls than of boys. Girls are nearly twice as likely as boys to mention a physical characteristic as the thing they like most about themselves.”

Conversely, teen boys tend to base their self worth on what they can do.  

For decades, the fitness industry has offered women ways to alter how they look, but not what they can do. CrossFit is designed to shift the focus from appearance-based measures of fitness to performance —hopefully to the benefit of all people, particularly teen girls.

Sixteen-year-old high school junior, Alexa Fourlis, is one of the many inspiring CrossFit teens who are competing in the Open. Just two years ago, she admits she wasn’t in a good a place and struggled with low self-esteem.

At 14, Fourlis started going to the local globo gym on her own and dieting. As a high school freshman, she was worried about fitting in with her peers. She thought being pretty and skinny would help. “I started going to the gym, running on the treadmill,” she says. “I thought I knew what I was doing and that I was getting healthy.”

Lacking guidance on how to get healthy and fit, Fourlis started trying to control her appearance by restricting food. “I never starved myself, but I definitely restricted what I ate, eating low carb Atkins bars and processed foods,” she admits. “I ended up losing weight that I didn’t have to lose.”

Fortunately, Fourlis quickly realized that something was wrong. When her dad suggested she give CrossFit a try, she accepted.

“When I was introduced to CrossFit, everything changed,” Fourlis says. “I saw these girls lifting weights and I knew I wanted to gain muscle and get stronger and make that change in my life.”

Her coach at CrossFit Magna, Brian Kunitzer, has seen changes in Fourlis. CrossFit’s greatest benefit to teen girls, in Kunitzer’s opinion, is the community of healthy, supportive adults who focus on functional movements and workout times, rather than appearance.

“The CrossFit community has surrounded teenagers with positive role models, not anorexic bikini models,” Kunitzer says. “We preach healthy habits and give them an outlet for those habits. Alexa does not play organized sports and she's not a cheerleader. CrossFit provides the same sort of community that those things would provide without the stress associated with a ‘high school only’ environment. Even though Alexa is beautiful, we don't talk about what she wears or if her hair and make-up look good. We talk about how much she lifted and what her time for the WOD was.”

Now, rather than focusing on losing weight, Fourlis is eagerly adding weight—to her lifts. “I’m really working hard on PR’ing in my Olympic lifts,” she says.

A lot has changed for Fourlis, from when she goes to bed, to her thoughts on food, and what’s attractive and what to aim for while training.

“I am always the one that wants to go home early and get to bed at a good time, especially if I have a workout in the morning,” Fourlis says. “Strong is the new skinny. I keep that motto in my head and I think of food as fuel. What is going to make me stronger? What is going to make me faster?”

She hopes one day, she will qualify for the CrossFit Games and compete alongside Annie Thorisdottir. “I love Annie Thorisdottir. She’s competitive, but she always has a smile on her face,” Fourlis says. “She proves you can be tough and beautiful at the same time.” 

As undeniably positive as the physical benefits of CrossFit have been, it appears the mental aspects of the sport are what have truly made the most significant and lasting impact on Fourlis’s body image and overall feelings of self-confidence.

“I get emotional when I talk about CrossFit,” she says. “It has changed my whole outlook on my life. It pulled me out of a dark place and built me up. It has made me a better, more confident version of myself.”