“Strong Is the New Skinny?” How About “Body Appreciation Is the New…Everything?”

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.

 

Comments

  1. says

    Love this, and so true! I actually grew up athletic and quite fit. That strength started fading in my mid-20’s and all of the “strong” photos just leave me feeling guilty that I’m not striving to be that fit again. The funny thing is, I’m pretty darn fit and strong, and deep down, don’t really find that ultra-ripped look appealing at all! Of course, I never thought the Kate Moss look was great either. It is so hard to stop comparing or trying to live up to a standard to just be happy with what we’ve got.

    • altawrites says

      Alisa – It is hard to stop comparing. But we do it – and not just with weight and fitness appearance, but every other facet of appearance as well! We can’t change who we are, so why not try to be happy with what we have?

      Amy – I can imagine it’s a big shift once you have a baby – but just think about how AMAZING your body is…you just created the most beautiful baby boy! Your body is beautiful, awesome, and strong because of that miracle. :)

      Alison – I can imagine it’s somewhat tough adjusting to a 20 lb weight gain, but congratulations on feeling good and going through your healing process on a gluten-free diet!

      Ricki – Agreed!

      Janae – You should totally put that on your fridge!

  2. says

    It’s amazing that no matter what society is trying to push women to ‘be’ something other than they are. I have a little frame and my body (before baby!!) was happy being thin. My body is making the transition back there. It’s been a big shift for me because I’m used to having my body feel a certain way. The interesting part is that I don’t feel bad about who I am because of the extra weight. It’s just part of how my body does pregnancy. That is huge for me. I don’t like the extra weight because I know it’s not healthy but I don’t beat myself up either.

  3. says

    I just posted about body image recently too. I’ve gained about 20 pounds since being diagnosed with celiac disease and going gluten free. I was too thin before…but now none of my clothes fit and I’m feeling very chubby. But I also feel GOOD, my husband thinks I’m sexy–and I have less wrinkles. LOL! So, it’s an adjustment, but I’m never going to be ripped or super thin. I simply don’t want to work that hard. I love food and drink…and have far too much to do besides devoting every waking hour to pumping iron.

  4. says

    I agree, that’s just trading one impossible body image for another. You are so right–maybe not anything should be the new. . . anything! Just love ourselves the way we are. :D

  5. says

    I want to have a magnet of your photo that says, “What’s wrong with just being you?” and put it on my fridge.

    In an age of self-help frenzy, there’s always something to change about ourselves, but thanks for reminding us, that sometimes we need to step back & appreciate just being. Refreshing message, thank you.

  6. says

    Wonderful post! I admit, I beat myself up if I miss a workout. Though, to be fair, my workout is only 15 minutes of intense cross training some days, and I totally count it! With the constant barrage of “beauty and perfection” we encounter on a daily basis, it is any wonder we don’t all have the self esteem of a slug!

    • altawrites says

      Katrina – I think you SHOULD totally count that. Anything that gets you moving is positive. We don’t have to beat ourselves up because we don’t spend hours at the gym or do formal “work outs” as they are labeled by the fitness world. I do “workouts” in my living room a lot. Don’t have a gym membership. You have to do what works for you – and be proud of yourself!

      Meister – Thank YOU!

      Kalinda – Thank you. I struggle with it too sometimes – and sharing my thoughts here (even though it might not be a gluten-free topic specifically) definitely helps. I’m glad it helps you as well! That makes my heart warm.

  7. says

    “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.”

    This. Right here.

    Also? Thank you.

  8. says

    Thanks Alta, this debate between being strong vs. being OK with being me runs through my head a lot. It’s hard to escape it sometimes. I try to surround myself with lots of positive inputs about being happy with being yourself. It’s lovely to have one pop up in an unexpected place.

  9. says

    Alta, this is so perfectly said. Even though I am, at times, guilty of beating myself up over missing a workout or eating something I normally wouldn’t, I know that this is what I really need to remember. Being happy with ourselves opens us up to so many other amazing things in our lives. Beautiful post, Alta!

  10. says

    Alta,
    You (and Katrina, for that matter) are an athlete. Everyone who moves their body with the intent of anything-being stronger, healthier, fitter, whatever…is an athlete. There you go, you just made me create my definition of an athlete. Athlete= one who moves their body with intent.

    Don’t sell yourself short.

    And, I think “healthy is the new skinny” is a pretty good one. As much as I do agree that we should be happy with where and who we are, I do not think that extends to willfully doing yourself harm (ie the woman who is trying to become the fattest person alive.) I know that was not your point, but it comes to mind whenever I hear “accept for who you are.” I think just as in everything, there are extremes and somewhere, there is that elusive balance.

    Wonderful post, Alta. I wish you peace with your body. It’s something most, if not all, of us struggle with from time to time.

  11. altawrites says

    Kim – Thank you! :)

    Erin – I like your definition! And I did toss that thought about for awhile. Health is a good goal to have. People definitely shouldn’t misplace their goals to do something harmful, and if they can make healthy changes to their lifestyle to better their health, wellbeing, and quality of life, of COURSE they should work towards health as a goal. It should be a priority for a lot of people. And as you said, it’s about balance – there are also some people that get a little extreme about health to the point of detriment as well. Thanks for bringing this up – it’s a good topic of conversation!

  12. says

    Love this post, Alta! I’ve been doing the “get strong not skinny” thing for a while but I agree that those body types used to demonstrate this movement are just as unattainable as the skinny body types. I’d just like to see more women doing squats and deadlifts and chinups, no matter what shape or size they are :)

  13. says

    My daily goal is “happy.” Enjoy who you are today, where you are today, what you get to experience today, and all of the good in your life today. Enjoy the anticipation of the happiness that tomorrow will bring and smile as you remember the joys of yesterday.

    Thank you for sharing this post and the encouragement you’ve given to all of your readers.

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