I’ve blogged before about how I think “strong is the new skinny” has replaced one (unrealistic for many people) ideal—skinny–with a new one—strong—and how this isn’t really a solution for changing the way women think about their bodies. Especially if we assume that “strong” involves looking like the magazine covers and women who tell us that this is the new way to shape our bodies, going into a gym and trying to make our bodies look strong and match that new ideal is not so different from going into the gym and trying to make them look thin and toned.
Or is it?
As time has gone on, I’ve started to wonder if the “strong is the new skinny” message might not be at least partially a win for women (and the men who admire them). I’ve come to realize that just like a personal training client who comes in wanting to lose weight but then starts to fall in love with exercising and eating real food because of the way it makes them feel, women who start off trying to build a strong-looking body will (hopefully) end up in a situation where they can amaze themselves with their bodies and can build physical strength–both big wins I’ve had in my march towards loving my own body. Whether or not they are lean and mean and look like the images of strength that are typically associated with the motto, women getting stronger is, in my opinion, a good thing.
I’d be lying if I said that part of what drew me to CrossFit way back (prebok days) when wasn’t hoping that I would look a little more like one of those “strong” girls. In the process, I realized that regardless of what happens with my body, there are successes and strengths that come from working out in a way that focuses more on what I can do than on how I look because of it—I’m not perfect, but I certainly have an appreciation for what I’m capable of that I didn’t have before. At the risk of missing out on an opportunity to get into a kind of working out that just might leave women feeling like badasses and leave them physically and mentally stronger, I think we need to be careful not to dismiss “strong is the new skinny” as another way that someone is trying to trick us into driving ourselves batty chasing a new ideal. Maybe “strong” is a better ideal to go after because it can carry meaning beyond just an appearance or even beyond the physical—something skinny could never do. Am I strong enough to carry that weight? Am I mentally strong enough to talk myself into doing it? Am I strong enough to appreciate and maybe even love my body despite it’s cellulite, it’s flab, it’s whatever I think is “wrong” with it?
Having strength as a goal, aesthetically and physically and mentally, has been empowering for me. Instead of focusing on what’s wrong with my body or what I needed to get rid of (as was the case when I just wanted to be thinner), it’s been a great opportunity to think about what I want to create and cultivate. Even if many of us are working out because we want to look a certain way, I think that the pursuit of that “ideal” might as well have positive side effects. My experience of trying to look skinny was undoubtedly unhealthy; my experience of wanting to look strong has been quite the opposite. Aiming for something instead of trying to fix something is probably the most powerful switch I’ve made in terms of my own health–and while I might not think that all of the things that go along with “strong is the new skinny” are necessarily in line with that I think the switch to focusing on strength is all about, I hope the women who are in it for the aesthetic reason and end up frustrated at not looking like an Oxygen magazine model are strong enough to see that they still rock.
What’s your take on “Strong is the new skinny”?
Do you work out mainly for aesthetic reasons?
What else do you get from working out?