I am a big advocate of a fairly recent movement in the womanly world. There’s a saying floating about: Strong is the new skinny. Its association ranges from athletics to fitness programs to nutrition plans. You can find the quote on shirts and posters and Pinterest. It’s a refreshing perspective on the idealization of beauty. It emphasizes an individualized body image that focuses on fit rather than size-suggestive descriptors like “thin” or “fat.” Because “strong” comes in all shapes and sizes.
The foundation of our societal standards is built in large part by magazines and various media outlets. The appearance pressures society continuously places on women tend to breed eating disorders, dieting, pill popping, plastic surgery, weight obsession and more, all for the pursuit of what has been embedded in our minds as perfection — svelte bodies and gaunt figures that can hardly support the human heads sitting upon them, women whose legs parallel those of Salvador Dali’s famously creepy elephants, and celebrities who replace food with a pack of Marlboro lights and coffee to gain a frame unrealistically maintainable. These are the people youth aspire to become. And sadly, these are also the people many adult women emulate. But what an unbearable existence. Can you imagine never indulging in a cupcake? Having to ignore a growling stomach all the time? The smell of food inducing vampire-like cravings that your unhealthy mind will not allow to be satisfied? Brutal. No thanks.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s been a recent push for being comfortable in your skin. I’m a supporter of embracing all that you are, and I think the message is much-needed in a society that thrives on tearing people down. My concern lies with messaging that makes “unhealthy” okay. I realize self-acceptance is a big part of mental health, but true self-love seems difficult to achieve if you’re not making the best of the body you have. It’s easy to criticize an emaciated figure. But people are hesitant to shed any critical light on an Average Joe who may not be morbidly obese but who struggles with high blood pressure and cholesterol levels and joint problems because of an unhealthy lifestyle. This existence seems almost equally unbearable. Both ends of the spectrum represent a body that’s not being taken care of.
Fortunately, there is hope. In comes “Strong is the new skinny.” I preach everything in moderation, and I think this saying fits that mantra perfectly. Everybody (men and women alike) should be comfortable in their skin ... their healthy skin. Don’t aspire to have the body type of a starving prepubescent girl. It’s not natural, and it’s not good for you. Also don’t let yourself use the “self-love” crap as an excuse for sitting around and allowing your health to deteriorate until you’re so miserable that you can’t possibly love anything but Cheetos and recliners. A body that lacks functionality has lost its purpose. Working toward strong requires some activity and some basic nutritional common sense. I’m not suggesting that everybody aim for six-pack abs and a 300-pound back squat. What I am suggesting is taking the time and effort to give yourself the best quality of life you can, with a body that is healthy enough to ensure some longevity. Do a little workout here and there and challenge your body to develop. Eat fairly healthy most of the time with the simple knowledge that whole foods are the best options. Take control of your body rather than allowing it to control you. I think when your body is strong, your mind and spirit follow suit.
You may wonder why I seem so passionate about this movement. I’ll share. Personally, I’ve always had an athletic build. Growing up in gymnastics, I was thin but toned, and I maintained that physique throughout most of my teenage and adult life. I was always a little insecure though, as most girls are. In high school I grew fast. At 5’7”, I was too tall to be petite but not tall enough to be model-esque. I had muscle, so I was small enough to be thin, but not small enough to be super-skinny. I wasn’t comfortable with myself, and I wanted to identify with what I thought seemed like a more appealing body type. At some point in time, I found myself aching to lose a little weight. I wanted to be the kind of skinny that turned heads (even if it was in a bad way), and I didn’t care if it was at the cost of my health and sanity. So I took it upon myself to purge. For those unfamiliar, binging and purging are the hallmarks of bulimia. Between the end of high school and the end of college, I worked my way into a three- to five-times-per-day barfing cycle. I got good at it too. I had roommates, so I would plan showers or jogging around my purging schedule so I could avoid being caught ... cleaning the drain and taking desolate paths got me through a couple of years of a serious hidden disorder. I developed control over my gag reflex so I didn’t cough or make noise. I knew what foods came up more easily. I would eat things one at a time so I could determine when I’d actually emptied the entire contents of my stomach. Gross but true. The saddest part was that I didn’t know a single girl who didn’t at least TRY puking as a method of weight loss or weight control. I just happened to be more successful than most. Anyway ... I eventually got some help and worked through my issues. But being surrounded by tabloids and clothing sized for stick figures, the thoughts never totally went away.
Several years ago I began CrossFit, and both my physical and mental state have never been healthier. I feel good about a PR and worry less about my hips. I crack a massive smile over a great “Fran” time and ignore the subtle dimples on my ass. Because they don’t matter anymore. I know my body is healthy and strong and as wonderful, as I always wanted it to be. These days I ignore the unrealistic media portrayals of what’s beautiful and the assholes who just don’t acknowledge the sensitivity of the subject. And I maintain hope that someday the cover models will rock some shoulder definition and a slice of bacon between their teeth.
Skinny is no longer my focus, and for the sake of my daughter’s generation, I hope strong trumps skinny now and forever. So jump on board. Love yourself but don’t settle for your sedentary self. Pay attention to your food but don’t avoid it. Most will never have a shot at being a supermodel, but we all have a shot at being the best of ourselves. Cause strong is the new skinny. Fit is now fabulous. And healthy is hip. All the cool kids are doin’ it.