Strong is the new Skinny: Part II

27 Apr

Some time ago, Tess posted a wonderful post on Strong being the new Skinny and the messaging that it inferred to her.   In the past few weeks there has been some controversy within the online healthy living community over whether this only feeds fuel to the body image fire.

Since we began this blog last November, we have always maintained we have different views on health and fitness.  We also acknowledge that regardless of our differences on these perspectives, we respect and value each other’s opinions.  So we’re sure it comes as no surprise that even in the face of this controversial topic, we have unique views on this subject and we thought we’d share these with you today.

Jess’ Take

I’d like to preface this by saying these words are meant as my opinion and only my opinion.  They are shared with an open heart and mind and I hope you will read them with equal openness.

I’ve wanted to share my opinion on this topic for a while now, but I’m glad I’ve finally worked up the courage to speak out. I’m also equally glad that Tess was willing to share her thoughts on this topic as well because not only do I know her arguments are sound, it will balance out what I have to say.

The inspiration behind this post comes from a post written by Gena from Choosing Raw.  Gena has been somewhat of a mentor to me in the past and I truly admire her for her views and opinions on feminism, health and veganism (among many other topics).  For those of you who haven’t checked out her blog, I really recommend you do.

Strong is the new skinny.  For me this phrase encompasses so many emotions and feelings; some uncomfortable, others empowering.   What I find empowering about this message is that it celebrates healthy living ideals- eating balanced meals, living a fit and active lifestyle.  It is a strong message that carries “weight” (sorry, had to) with many of the values Tess and I share as athletes and women.

I’m sure many of you have seen these photos or others similar to it circulating around the internet:

Or like this one:

Now, here is where I have some issues with these messages and ideals: these images, regardless of their intention as positive messaging, place an overwhelming importance on body image and appearance.  Now, for the sake of argument, I realize that our appearance and body image has been one that has been a part of every society and culture since the beginning of mankind. You can trace it back to the Paleolithic era where large and curvaceous women were valued for their ability to bear children.

"Venus of Willendorf", 24 000 - 22 000 B.C.E

The Egyptians placed a huge importance on aesthetic beauty, and so did the Greeks with idealized body compositions.

Ancient Egyptian mural

Greek statue

Fashion and body image have gone hand in hand since the beginning of time.  But, why in today’s advanced society do we continue to place so much of our personal value against it?

We measure, critique, and comment on a person’s shape and size before we so much as utter two words to them.  We see a person walking down the street and, based on their appearance, we say they’re too skinny, too fat, curvy, unhealthy, fit, etc…  Meanwhile, we know nothing of these people- their social habits, eating habits, exercise habits, personal health and yet we are so quick to pass judgment.

Through advertising and media, and now with the aid of social media, we place mass judgments on a collective people on these specific ideals as Strong being the new Skinny.  Or, real women have curves.   Why is it that if I’m “skinny”, I am not “strong”? I’m a runner clocking anywhere from 30-40 kilometers per week, eating a balanced diet of carbs, healthy fats and proteins, and I have naturally slim build.  Yet, because of my appearance, I am questioned on my strength, my diet and eating habits.  I have not been graced with the hour glass “womanly” curves that have been so celebrated as of late.  So does this mean that I am “less of a woman” or “fake”?

On the flip side, a larger woman will be critiqued about her diet choices or exercise habits before you have the opportunity to even get to know her. For all you know, she’s at the gym 5 times per week, eats a healthy balanced diet and lives a wonderful lifestyle.  How is she “unhealthy” or “fat”?

Or better yet, you see an unquestionably fit and muscular woman and wonder if she isn’t taking steroids or feel that she no longer appears feminine or womanly.

There has been so much debate over what is healthy: what is a measure of beauty, what is too thin, what is too fat, too muscular, curvy, not-curvy.  This fixation on ourselves as nothing more than a body image is one that needs to stop.  Who can tell you if you’re healthy or not? A licensed health-care practitioner, a registered dietician, and your doctor. Who can tell you if you’re fit? A certified personal trainer and again, your doctor. Who can tell you if you’re a real woman? You.

It is time to stop measuring ourselves against others and generic spouted ideals. “Strong is the new skinny” is a powerful message, but not powerful enough.

My elementary school’s cross country coach used to emphasize one phrase to us as we prepared for our next race: that we cross the finish line “happy and healthy”.  It didn’t matter if we were first, middle of the pack, or dead last.  If we crossed the finish line “happily and healthfully” that was all that was important.

So really, it shouldn’t matter what size you are; so long as we’re healthy- both mentally and physically, we should be happy with who we are.

Healthy is the new happy.


Tess’ Take

“Strong is the new Skinny”

My first translation of this sentence is that muscular is sexy.  My personal preference has always been towards athletic bodies. I love the look of a muscular woman; I revere the bodies of women like Erin Stern and Jamie Eason and have sought to build myself a similar physique (though I know I am still, and will always be, a work in progress).  And ever since I can remember, I’ve been attracted to big, strong, muscled men.  Not like the Calvin Klein models – I mean the pro athletes and bodybuilders.  But that’s just me.

The issues that arise from this sentence “Strong is the new Skinny”, I believe, stem from differences in interpretation.  More specifically, our individual views of beauty.

For men, there has long been an agreement that “bigger is better”.  For men, broad shoulders and a V taper are what’s commonly accepted as the archetype for the male structure.  For women, on the other hand, there is little consensus on what is globally accepted as beautiful.  As Jess pointed out, beauty ideals vary culturally and historically – West Africa prefers their women to be overweight, Brazilians like a guitar shape, and Chinese would rather be tall and thin.   Now, as Western culture reaches obesity rates of unprecedented proportions, there seems to be a shift towards lean, athletic bodies.

I think that in a globalized world of such varying beliefs, backgrounds, cultures, timelines, history, and views it is nearly impossible to find one all-encompassing ideal of beauty.  In that case, why not decide what YOU think is most beautiful and work towards that?

Although I realize that the muscular look, whether it be on a man or woman, is just not everybody’s cup of tea, I’ve decided to treat other people’s opinions as just that – their own personal opinions and preferences.  I will continue to work towards what I consider “beautiful”, regardless of what others may think.

To me, the word “strong” means to be healthy, capable, and empowered.  It does not mean being muscular like an athlete, nor curvy like Marilyn Monroe, or thin like a Hollywood actress.  To be strong means loving your body by treating it well with sound diet, daily exercise, and positive thoughts.  There are so many ways to be healthy and fit and still achieve the body of your dreams.  Just because you are active does not mean your body will look a certain way.  YOU have the control over how your body looks.  So find what you believe to be beautiful, and then find a way to healthfully work towards becoming that.

This word, “strong”, is meant to conjure feelings of empowerment in who you are… not to make you feel as though you should now be fitting into a different box as determined by the media.  When your body is healthy and happy, it will be beautiful.  And when you feel beautiful, you will also feel strong.




4 Responses to “Strong is the new Skinny: Part II”

  1. Tenecia April 29, 2012 at 2:35 pm #

    I agree with portions of both of your opinions! This was a great post! Thanks for posting & giving us something to think about 🙂


    • Tess and Jess April 30, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

      (Jess)- Thanks Tenecia, glad you enjoyed reading it 🙂

  2. Mandy May 2, 2012 at 5:43 pm #

    Ok girls, I read this the day it was posted and it’s been rolling around in my mind non-stop since then.

    As someone who has felt the pressure to be ‘skinnier’ my knee jerk reaction is to say, ‘yes, strong SHOULD be the new skinny.” however, I also see Jess’ point of view and that’s what’s been bothering me.

    Perhaps the slogan should read ‘HEALTHY is the new skinny’ after all, isnt it all about getting to your ideal weight in a healthy way????

    If you are skinny because you are a vegan runner, that’s sexy as hell!!! If you are skinny because you starve yourself daily, that’s not sexy by any means of the word.

    I guess we all need to stop focusing on the number on the scale and instead focus on health. In this day and age you can’t win. People are criticized for being too big, OR too skinny.

    Maybe one day we’ll focus on how healthy we are instead of how much we weigh.

    • Tess and Jess May 2, 2012 at 11:29 pm #

      (Tess) It’s amazing thatnthisnsentence invokes such strong emotions in all of us. Just goes to show that it’s time for some kind of change! I like your slogan 😉

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