Strong Is the New Skinny. It’s the latest meme out there, and it can be seen everywhere – Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and a great many fitness and healthy living blogs. It usually accompanies a photo of some insanely ripped, ultra-muscular woman, meant to inspire the masses of women to not strive for Kate Moss-esque thinness, but instead work towards fitness and strength as a goal.
But after seeing this for a few weeks, it just doesn’t resonate with me. Sure, the intention is there, and I have no doubt that those responsible for making “strong is the new skinny” popular had the female population’s best interests at heart. Yes, fitness and strength are great things to strive for. But when they are accompanied by yet another impossibly idealistic photo of a woman with muscle definition that most of us could not attain, or maintain without intense dedication? For the majority, this makes for yet another ideal that we cannot achieve, causing dissatisfaction at falling short of what is “in”. Basically, unattainable one body image has been traded for another.
About a month ago, I ditched my scale in an effort to work towards a healthier relationship with my body. Until that point in time, I’d been weighing myself several times a week and counting calories almost daily, which was only succeeding in driving myself a little bit mad. Even though I knew I needed to work on appreciating my body (and myself) for what it is and what it can do, my actions were preventing me from moving forward.
It wasn’t just the scale, either. In the past few years, I’ve started to really focus on fitness as well, making sure I do something just about every day. Now, I don’t by any means consider myself an athlete, and the idea of referring to myself as “fit” even sounds strange to me. (I didn’t grow up doing anything athletic, unless you count choir a sport.) But I’ve started to push myself in various new ways – running, learning how to strength train, practicing yoga, participating in events like JailBreak and Warrior Dash, and of course, soccer. For the most part, this process has been great – I’ve learned that my body is stronger and more capable of things than I ever gave it credit for, and it’s exciting to see progress (and I’ve had a lot of fun!). But even fitness can get out of hand. There were times when I’d beat myself up for missing a workout (or not allowing myself to miss a workout, even if I was exhausted or feeling ill), because that meant I was weak or lazy or somehow didn’t meet the ideal “fit” image. Even if I ran a 5K without walking, and ran a great time, there were times I would still beat myself up for not running harder/faster. In yoga, I’d be frustrated if I couldn’t perform the more advanced variations of a pose, instead of realizing how much stronger I’d become or how I could maintain my balance more than I could a month prior. And even if I felt fit and strong one day, if I looked in the mirror and didn’t see that ripped, buff image in my reflection, that feeling of strength lessened. Whether it was the “skinny” image or the “strong” image, I wasn’t fitting either.
In short, I was missing the point.
Since I ditched the scale and have made a “pact” with myself to work towards a healthier image, I’ve felt a bit freer. A bit more in tune with what my body wants and needs. Does this mean I don’t fall into old habits or old ways of thinking? Of course not. It’s a process. And judging by the responses I received on my blog post about this topic, I’m not alone. A great many of us struggle with what we think is our “ideal” body, whether that’s “skinny” or “strong” or whatever, and some of us beat ourselves up about it all too much.
So what should be the new “skinny”? “Strong” has its shortcomings. “Healthy”? Health is an excellent goal, and heck, Tasty Eats At Home is more or less a healthy eating/living blog. But I think even then, that can cause trouble, as not everyone is in perfect health (some have chronic diseases that, while they can be managed, could prevent them from achieving an ideal of “health”), and constantly striving for perfect health can cause that same mental anguish as any of the other “images”. I’m not sure anything should be the “new”…anything, truthfully. I’d rather we forego the “new skinny” thing entirely. Body image shouldn’t be a trend. Instead, why not strive for appreciation?
Instead of trying to be the “new” anything, appreciate your body for what it is. Be okay with who you are, and love that you are unique. Strong is a good attribute, but don’t measure it against an image. Be strong in your convictions, and be strong in your confidence. Be strong in your sense of self. And be appreciative of what your body can do. Set goals, but also be accepting of where you are today. You may not run the fastest 5K, but at least you can run or walk. You may not be able to do a pull-up (I can’t), but at least you are trying and working at it. Some people are simply working to recover from serious illness, so being able to make it through the day is enough. Most of us can hear music, feel the warmth of the sun on our face, walk unassisted, love friends and family, and have the ability to pursue our dreams and happiness. These are gifts. Be thankful for them, and be thankful that you have the ability to challenge your mind and body. Allow yourself to just “be”.
There is not a more beautiful image than someone who is appreciative and respectful of his/her body, and that image is as unique as every one of us. If we were to treat ourselves and one another with that in mind, health, strength, and so much more would just fall into place.