Monday, May 13, 2013

Psst: Strong is the New Skinny, Pass it On!

"This Trendy "Strong is the New Skinny" Thing (and what it could mean for the next generation of girls"

I just read the most badass article above and I have to share it with you. No really. It was ridonkulously amazing. If you are a woman, if you are a HUMAN, you should read this.

I feel that Sophie's message, besides being so entertainingly, yet poignantly written, is an important one to share. Important for the girl I was and the woman I am. For all my other girl-woman peeps who struggle with body image, disordered eating and self-esteem. So I'm sharing my perspective, my take, with you.

What if: "Strong is the new skinny"

Yes. Exactly. What if, when I was a girl, I was told to strive to be strong instead of thin. What if the message society gave me was that a strong woman was of ultimate value. Would my adolescence, my early twenties, have been different?

If you read my blog, you know that I've struggled with disordered body image and eating my entire life. Oh, it's not clinical- I've never demonstrated symptoms to the clinical level. But raise your hand (mentally) if you've: a) known someone who lost their period due to weight loss b) looked in the mirror and wailed internally over your fat-ugly______ c) felt proud that you skipped a meal d) felt happy that your jeans were loose e) gone on a fad diet, or any diet f) felt that your current weight or body shape, whatever it was, just needed a bit of improvement g) heard someone say that the best part of having the stomach flu was the weight that you lost....

Yup, yup, yep, been there for all of them.

After devouring countless books and research articles on feminism, body image, female health and our relationship historically and culturally with the media, I am a strong believer that this "body type ideal" of tall, thin and waif-like is enforced upon us artificially by the beauty, fashion and advertising industry along with a healthy dose of patriarchy valuing women for extrinsic qualities such as ideal beauty and as sexual objects.

In a way, this can be viewed as a positive thing. Unlike evolutionary psychological theory (which honestly I feel is a load of self serving, patriarchal, narrow-minded crap- we are not apes and behaviours that *may* have occurred a millennia ago can be explained by the-very different- social construct, brain and cognitive development and lifestyles homo sapiens led: ie social and culture and NOT irreversible genetics) our social mores and culture can CHANGE.

What if girls are told from a young age to be strong, intelligent, caring, courageous instead of thin, pretty, "nice" and gentle? My thinnest moments were when I was stressed and unhappy and I know for a fact I was not eating enough to nourish my brain- which obviously results in poor cognitive functioning, problem solving, emotional regulation and concentration.

You know what was my fucking unicorn moment? When my unflexibility forced me to improve significantly in my strength endurance in yoga. When I looked in the mirror and saw the gorgeous MUSCLES in my back and arms. When I could hold dolphin plank longer than my weight lifting husband. It was like suddenly the fear of 'bulking up' (which is a ridiculous myth btw) disappeared into the excitement of being fucking STRONG. 

Just last night I poked my belly to feel my awesome abdominal muscles I've been building. I may have even showed them off to Andrew. I am so excited with my body right now, and I am currently at my "heaviest" and highest dress size.

This is to say that I feel it's a bit DESPITE yoga. I know. But I feel the focus on yoga asana (for the most part) in popular western yoga is to be thin, lose weight, "toned". Even the examples of strong yoginis we have as famous role models are still (white) thin and strong. (Now, we know there are some strong fabulous yoginis who are bucking the system- I heart you! We need MORE of you!).

This is where Sadie's snarky post at Huffpo makes me cringe. Perhaps instead of making others feel like yoga is the ONLY solution to being strong and healthy, we should simply encourage women to be STRONG however best that works for them. Our bodies and selves do not fit in a cookie cutter mold, one size fits all model. So why assume yoga to be the panacea in this diverse reality?

Strong is the new Skinny- Pass it On.


  1. What's too bad is I thought the author of the strong vs skinny was talking about actual internal strength, not being able to lift stuff. If girls were taught to be strong mentally, to be independent thinkers, to be fearless adventurers - now that would be tremendous.

    Physical strength is each person's choice to pursue, but I don't see it as something we need to push girls towards and more than any other physical feat. I agree that it feels great in yoga to achieve new goals, but for me, yoga is about quieting my mind - everything else is secondary. Yet the beauty of yoga is it can be a tool for shaping your inside and outside.

    PS - the gal who wrote the HuffPost article? Snarky is an understatement, yikes she is seething!

    1. I'm going to echo what EcoGirl has said a bit.

      As someone who actually likes to workout now and then, I do kinda like the whole "strong is the new skinny" mantra, BUT just google the phrase and see what images are associated with it. Skinny but muscular(i.e. hardly any body fat) females in revealing workout clothes feeling good about themselves because OF HOW THEY LOOK. Being strong is awesome. I like surprising people with what strength I do have (I'm petite) but I will most likely never have that flat, muscular abs or shoulders muscles that "pop". For me, skinny was never the ideal. I read Oxygen mag in my formative years--that was my goal and it caused me just as many obsessive problems as if I had just been trying to be skinny.

      If we can move away from putting the emphasis on a woman's physical appearence (strong, fat or skinny--who cares--sexy comes from within and we don't all have it--I don't--but so what, we all have something to offer) and encourage our girls to be intelluctally strong and fearless and healthy then that will be the day I feel like we are finally going to make a difference.

    2. I know eh?? ugh, I really could barely read her article, I felt it was so patronizing.

      re: physical strength. Honestly, I feel that each person should do what works best for their body to be healthy, but I do feel that having a strong healthy body is an important part of living healthy and happy. And... I feel that women are often discouraged from this at an early age. Which is a shame.

      But of course, as you know about the internal part- I agree with you 100%

    3. But, what of those of us with disabilities? My RA has ravaged my body, leaving me incredibly weak and always in pain. I will never be physically stong, so that means I cannot be happy or be living healthy? I guess, with my physical issues, and as a feminist, I wish the physical image weren't taken into account. I like the motto "being you is the new awesome", or some such thing. Because there are some women who are skinny because that is their natural weight, because they are sick, because they choose to be. I don't think putting them down helps anything either.

    4. Hi Pony- I agree with you 100%, and there are always exceptions. I think this post needs to be taken with a bit of moderation- as I've said in my comments and other various posts- being strong is NOT the end all, nor is it the FIRST important thing. It is A thing that can be helpful for female health in general.

      so no- I do not think that if you are unable to be physically strong due to a medical or health diagnosis that this means you are unable to be healthy and happy. Of course not- that would be ridiculous. I do like "being YOU is the new awesome" but I also like encouraging girls and women who are able to be strong physically, to do so... along with encouraging them and our society to value who we are as people.

      Again, I will say that this isn't an "either or" thing for me- for the general population, we should encourage internal attributes to be valued and physical health (which typically means strength).

      now- I'm going to disagree with your assumption that I am putting down "skinny" people. I'm not. In fact, I'm fairly certain that in my post I argue for society to value strength, no matter what that looks like, over simply being thin no matter what. Actually, I am a skinny person- because of health reasons actually- and I am still excited that I can be strong.
      Being strong has actually nothing to do with how your body looks. It has all to do with what you can do with your body.

  2. Great post! Strong is so much sexier than skinny any day...and when I say sexy I mean in how you feel and see yourself! To me having confidence in the way I look comes from the inside, but being able to hold a plank longer helps a little too:)

    1. definitely! I feel that my journey to self confidence about how I look has been a long one, and unfortunately (perhaps just my personality and experiences) has been more extrinsic in nature.

  3. I actually don't find the "Strong is the New Skinny" mantra that empowering. Is encouraging girls to be strong rather than skinny healthier? For sure. I'd rather see girls/people lifting weights or doing yoga than starving themselves.

    But defining people by their physical characteristics in general is problematic to me. What about girls/people that are sick or disabled or unable to get strong?

    Again, if it's between strong and skinny, yes, I think strong is probably a healthier bet. But that can encourage competition in its own way - who can lift more, whose muscles are bigger, etc. It's possible it could be just as skewed.

    I'm with EcoGrrl, let's encourage girls/people to be fearless thinkers - what a world we would have!!

    1. i agree! please check out my posts on the topic from less than a week ago :)

      my response to a comment:

      for those girls who are "sick or disabled" I would have to say that strength is relative. If the goal is "increase strength" it could mean anything from being able to lift a can of peas to active weightlifting (hence the "we are not cookie cutter bodies, so our health shouldn't be cookie cutter" in my post).

      I also feel that, although it is possible to be cynical and likely the 'strong' can be skewed, I feel that simply foregoing any sort of message around health that would help offset the current extremely UNHEALTHY messages isn't helpful either.

      I'm also a proponent that being physically healthy is an important part of living- so I would like to have a say in what type of "health" related message gets shared. :)

  4. Don't get me started on our culture's obsession with skinny. I really hope that we move away from fetishizing skinny so much. The skinny thing instead of being healthy drives me bonkers. I hate myself every time that I fall into the trap of skinny, every time I think that getting skinnier when I am sick is a bonus. Because health is apparently totally something to sacrifice for an arbitrary concept of beauty. The thing is, I worry that replacing skinny with strong is also something that will get distorted by society; with people obsessively working out and creating an unhealthy relationship with strength in lieu of skinny.

    Ironically, on a yoga note, I actually found that when I did yoga 4-5 times a week in combination with biking everywhere, my muscles actually became rounder, longer and softer (though stronger at the same time). It was an unexpected lesson in body.

    Ok, I'm off to read the linked article now...

    1. i think that is a valid concern and most likely something that could (and perhaps IS) happen.

      that said- I do think it's important for women to build strength- and we're so often discouraged from doing so. I like the thought of how physical strength can also compliment the break from the "feminine" weak trope that we've been slotted into as women for the past few centuries.

  5. Wow what fantastic comments! Thank you all for weighing in! :)

    I agree with all of you (obviously from my post last week), as a society we focus way too much with women on the extrinsic and we need to encourage the intrinsic (I really like the word "fearless"!).

    That said, I do feel that girls and women are often discouraged from lifting weights and working out as a means to be healthy and are more encouraged to practice in damaging weight loss behaviours couched as "physical health" such as dieting, "toning", disordered eating= focus on skinny rather than the concept of "strong". There are many many reasons why building muscle strength (not the same as "getting ripped" or body building) is extremely important for women's health (for a fantastic review check out Natalie Angier's "Woman, An Intimate Geography").

    Further, I feel that there is a misconception with women that the word "strong" necessitates a certain physical ideal or appearance (which is one of the reasons I cringe at Sophie's post- some of her photos aren't ones I would choose- and honestly I didn't include any hear for that reason). Women (and men) will build muscle strength without bulking up or losing fat. As a result I really like the word "strong" because it doesn't imply a physical attribute (like skinny). I can be strong, like Grace mentioned, and not have big bulging muscles.

    I also feel that although my primary concern and wish would be to focus on intrinsic values for girls and women first, that encouraging and celebrating female strength and weight training can also be a fantastic addition. I don't see them as "either or" but as a complementary system.

    It's just that trying to combine both of my posts into one would have been a LONG post (and honestly, I'm a bit disappointed that my readers have forgotten my post on Intrinsic Love and my big eff- you to Dove AND The follow up post in the past week and a half.... and for my new readers you should check them out! :)
    and my response and further elaboration:

    1. I must confess, I didn't read those posts:(

      But an interesting conversation.

      As a freelance writer I write fitness articles sometimes (just finished one--it will be in a local newspaper somewhere in California not under my name!) and I try to be careful with my wording to make it about healthy living and feeling good about yourself. But the easiest ones to write are just the how to do certain exercises type posts because then you just stick to the mechanics.

  6. Wow. This is a great post and I agree with what you are saying 100%. I am a bit concerned about some of these comments though. I understand that we are trying to shift our focus to our intrinsic value but our bodies are what hold "us". We experience our entire lives *through* our bodies. Having a strong body should be everyone's goal otherwise we become unhealthy. Without putting the good kind of stress on our bodies (such as weight lifting, yoga, etc) our bodies start to decay. Weight lifting and yoga in particular are great as they also help with increasing our bone density, which is important for women since bone density starts to decrease after age 30 and drastically during menopause.

    I've also interpreted the strong rather than skinny as a message to women to start being proud of what our bodies can do and stop focusing on being some kind of "ideal" figure which the media has burned into our subconscious.

    There will always be people out there that live in extremes and don't know how to balance their life. They probably haven't heard of the word moderation. So I think the *real* key here will be to have a balance between creating a fierce mind and a fierce body. Focusing too much on one or the other will negatively influence our lives.

  7. Beautiful post! I loved the other one, about strong being the new skinny, too. I remember very distinctly when I was young, that's what I wanted - I didn't care about being skinny, I wanted to be strong. In preschool, we had a rickshaw tricycle and I would always run out to the playground first so I could pedal it and I'd scream, "More weight! More weight!" cuz I wanted to prove how many people I could tow at once! LOL. Then I turned 12 and it all went to hell. ;)

  8. The problem I have with "strong is the new skinny" is that it STILL glorifies "skinny". That is, "skinny" is still some kind of goal or brass ring. I am actually on a "campaign" now to rid people that I know and love of using "skinny" as any kind of compliment. In fact if someone tells me an article of clothing makes me look "skinny", or that I look "skinny" in any context, I tell them straight up that I do not consider that a compliment, and if they are trying to compliment me, that's not working. But if they are simply making an observation, along the lines of "Your hair looks red", I'm OK with it, sort of. Interestingly, when I was a kid (and this was a long time ago), to call someone "skinny" was NOT a compliment. It was actually a bit of a putdown. "Look at that skinny girl". "Joey is kind of cute but he's skinny", etc.


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