In the past, I’ve talked (a lot) about my thoughts on the whole “strong is the new skinny” idea. This morning, as I was swimming before the sun rose, I let my mind wander. Watching all the swimmers come in and out of the pool, I noticed how different their bodies are then those that I’m used to seeing at CrossFit.
Because I’ve been in the CrossFit world and the realm of barbells for a few years now, I don’t think twice when I see a woman with big biceps and even bigger traps. Hell, I’ll even celebrate them for being willing to go against the idea that women should be small.
But I started to think about the way that we celebrate strong women but seem to pick on small men. All the talk of “gainz” (best spelt with a “z”) and the jokes about skipping leg day, for instance, directed at men who don’t make muscle their priority are actually kind of hurting us all.
People love that I am a strong woman. Taking up space physically for women is a sort of statement that goes beyond the physical and our bodies. But while the space women have to be strong is certainly demonstrative of the way in which we’ve expanded on the possibilities of gender, we’re not doing such a great job on the flip side. I’m afraid this does more than just keep men in a space that’s too narrowly-defined—it affects the way we look at femininity and women, too.
Consider a man who wants to take up synchronized swimming, knitting, raising a child, or any other traditionally feminine pursuit. We think twice before celebrating him, while we immediately applaud the women who choose bodybuilding, woodworking, or careers over kids for being leaders. What does that say about the way we think about those traditionally feminine pursuits? Traits? About women more generally?
The “Like a girl” ad that was floating around the interwebs last year comes to mind….
I’m afraid that in celebrating the masculine qualities that women can now embody without also working on expanding the possibilities for men worth celebrating, we are reinforcing that what is feminine is somehow inferior, or less than, or not worthy of praise. Consider staying home to raise kids. In my mind, there is nothing more important than taking time to properly raise a family. But also in my mind are all the ideas I have about the freedom I’ve got to have a career and the obligations I feel to do it all with a smile on my face someday.
So to bring it back to that “strong is the new skinny” idea, I think we should at least consider what we’re saying. Beyond the issues that I see with replacing one body ideal with another, both of which are largely unattainable, let’s take a second and consider that even skinny women, or women who choose to do “girly” things, are also of value. Men too.
What do you think?