This post has been edited as I’ve given the issue more thought.
I want to weigh in (no pun intended) on the Facebook phenomenon “Strong is the New Skinny.” I think there’s an angle that hasn’t been considered.
First, let me say – the idea is solid. It’s intended to be a statement made on behalf of ladies like me – ladies who were never quite able to force themselves to do chronic cardio or 3 light sets of 12 on the adductor machine for more than a week without wanting to blow our brains out. Ladies who TRIED to want that “Gwyneth Paltrow” look (because that’s what we were SUPPOSED to want, right?) when it wasn’t our natural body type, nor even a true measure of health – and we fell short of achieving it because, deep down, it wasn’t what we truly desired and we couldn’t delude (or deprive) ourselves long enough to get there.
I always found something lacking in the treadmill-pounding, elliptical-humping routines that so many women, including myself, default to at traditional gyms. Even my 3x12s on the weight machines felt pithy. But there was no other way for a girl to exercise – I needed to get skinny before adding muscle, right? I wanted to “tone,” not to “get bulky.” In the end, though, my halfhearted desire to emulate the Paltrows and the Giseles of the world just translated into half-assed “workouts” – and any excuse I could come up with to avoid them.
So what is “Skinny?” It’s that old mind-set. In this setup, it seems to represent everything that us Strong Women no longer accept for ourselves – body insecurity, chronic cardio, thighs that aren’t supposed to touch each other. It’s a future of osteoporosis, deprivation, and being unable to lift that bag of cat litter at the ripe old age of 85. (I credit Coach Rut for that image.) That concept of “Skinny,” to me, represents nothing but negativity. It’s worthless. And an obsession with leanness and the muscle striations of some (not all) professional athletes – “fitspiration” – has taken the place of “thinspiration.” Could this be the harbinger of a new neurosis?
This is why “Strong is the New Skinny” doesn’t entirely sit right with me.
When I found Coach Rut’s program, Crossfit, Olympic Lifting, and the Paleo lifestyle, everything came into perspective. I felt so healthy that I literally couldn’t force my brain to obsess about looking a certain way without wondering WHY THE HECK I EVEN CARED. I started wanting to talk about what insecurities in any direction – whether it be lack of sinewy-ness or lack of rippled eight-pack-ness or lack of skinny or lack of strong – were really about. (I still have insecurities. But rather than indulge them, I try to displace them. Often by yammering on about them on this very blog.)
Though I recognize not everyone thinks of it this way, and I’ve been told I’m “thinking too much,” I don’t believe that “Strong” is the new “Skinny.” I understand that the phrase means that “Strong” replaces “skinny” as our new “desired state of being,” or, “physical state to be appreciated,” or, “thing we think is attractive,” but I can’t help but take issue with the underpinnings of the phrase. The phrase still seems to give “skinny” the power. It seems to give physicality (as a marker of attractiveness) as much power as it’s always had. This is embedded in the concept with the unappreciated subtlety of our most powerful tool – words, and how we string them together.
Yes, strength is great. It’s functional. It’s protective. But it has nothing to do with the old issues that are irrevocably intertwined with that “skinny” word, and juxtaposing the two concepts only proves that, to many women, the motivations are derived from the same source. I don’t even want to associate myself with those old issues, because doing so would mean I still, in some small way, gave a shit. I’m done with that. I’m striving for freedom!
Many parents seem to appreciate the “SINS” mantra as a great example for their kids. I grew up with a strong, kick-ass mom (who, on her first date with my father, took him to task on the racquetball court) who never made me aware that there was anything but a Strong (as in, capable) Woman. Dad reinforced this constantly. Strong was it. It wasn’t our response to thinness or a less-popular, underdog alternative in need of validation. I’ve come up against some opposing influences along the way, but those qualities of a Strong Woman were always there, deep down, ready and waiting to be expressed.
Maybe I forgot about this for awhile, but I now understand that what “skinny” stands for was NEVER relevant. It was only as powerful as I allowed it to be, and the more I worried about standing opposed to it, the more power I gave it. “Strong” isn’t the “new” anything. It’s the ever-present ideal, the goal, the result of purposeful exercise (mental and physical) by an informed, health-dedicated woman. Hallelujah.