Why “strong is the new skinny” is the most loathsome fitness catchphrase in history

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Good thing this not-at-all-skinny girl is telling me to be strong.

All right, all right, I get it. Alliteration is catchy. And I appreciate on some level what this phrase intends to communicate: that you don’t have to adhere to society’s definition of beauty and attractiveness (i.e. being cookie-cutter-size-0, 6-is-the-new-12 thin) and that you should be motivated to achieve a goal beyond the superficiality of appearance. Not only that, but the phrase opens up opportunities to empower women who up until now didn’t feel like they could love their bodies because they didn’t conform to the “skinny” beauty ideal.  I understand the intention. “Strong is the new skinny” is a very good idea.

But what is the reality?

The “Strong is the new skinny” ideology claims that, like the points in the “Whose Line is it Anyway?” show, physical ideals based on appearance don’t matter–they’re gone, they’re out the window because this is 2013 and aren’t we so lucky to be beyond all of that superficial nonsense?…but then its followers post pictures of their fit bodies to earn “likes” and encouragement and approval from others, and that, to me, just seems a little contradictory to the whole “appearances don’t matter” thing.

I mean, am I just missing the point, or are we simply trading His Lordship Sir Mix-a-Lot’s preferred 36-24-36 (only if she 5’3”) for a lady who’s built of muscle? This phrase embodies (pun intended) a new regime, except instead of being empowered to embrace their physical strength, women must now tick off yet another item–moderately (but not too big!!!) toned muscles–from the laundry list to qualify them as attractive. It’s not enough for us to just be a thin Victoria’s Secret supermodel with long flowing locks of blonde hair and all of your body fat concentrated in your chestal region. As a society, we’ve moved on from that–except that we haven’t rendered that paradigm redundant. We’ve just added muscles to it.

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And that’s a lot of fucking pressure.

Does “Strong is the new skinny” not also create an atmosphere where attaining muscles (a physical proxy for strength but not necessarily an indicator of it) is not only more attractive but is a more noble goal than simply trying to shed a few excess pounds? “Strong is the new skinny” has produced an environment where women not only evaluate other women based on what they look like but on their workout regimen. Oh, you only do cardio? You have to lift heavy if you want to see results. No, I’m not trying to lose weight; I’m trying to tone up.

Granted, you get the other side of it as well, with women wrinkling their noses at those lifting weights and demurring on strength-training altogether, as they don’t want to “get big.”

In this environment, it’s difficult to voice the goal of simple weight loss. After all, as everyone reminds me every five fucking seconds, muscle burns more Calories than fat, so if you want to burn a shit ton of Calories even just sitting around, you’d better lift heavy and build up your muscles. Now, I love that women are “allowed” to occupy the weight lifting section of the gym now, but that does not give gym-goers carte blanche to snub people who still rock the cardio, which is still an excellent way to lose weight.

This is probably too far into the post to make this distinction but I feel that it’s warranted. I am not decrying the fitness movement or what appears to me to be a recent resurgence of people taking an active interest in their fitness. I am just tired of the type of “encouragement” that seems to say one thing (e.g. it’s “okay” to have muscles now, ladies) but is actually saying another (e.g. you must now be skinny with muscles to be considered attractive).

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I promised I wouldn’t go off on this tangent but sometimes I see stuff like the images here and can’t help but get a little peeved. There’s nothing wrong with being skinny–or stocky or tall or short.  It’s possible to exercise or diet to change certain aspects of your body, sure, but railing on naturally (or maybe manually) skinny girls just because they’re skinny is just a teeeensy bit hypocritical, no?

Moral of the story: be honest with yourself and others about your fitness goals. It’s okay to be trying to lose weight to get healthy, it’s okay to want to become a bodybuilder, and it’s okay to be lifting weights to lose weight/fat.  It is not okay to make others feel like shit for their fitness goal. “Strong is the new skinny” has the potential to be empowering and yet it has become yet another vehicle through which women can judge and hate on other women, and I cannot tolerate it. So when you decide to blindly follow a mantra, think about what it’s saying and what that actually means.

I leave you now with a less rage-inducing barftastic quote:

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[…] have. If you don’t want to be “skinny”, sure, that’s fine, whatever, I’ve already put in my two cents about that. If before-and-afters pump you up, who am I to rain on your parade? When you’re proud […]

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