If you are on the internet at all and into fitness, you might have seen the phrase “Strong is the New Skinny” floating around. If you’re on tumblr, it’s been jammed down your throat. Usually it is accompanied by photos like the ones below:
Looking at those, you might notice something (something apart from how impressive that is). You might notice that those girls are not just strong. They are strong and skinny. Most of the photos look like that. So it sort of seems like maybe it’s not strong that is the new skinny, but strong and skinny that is the new skinny. A few people have been posting pictures like the one below as a counterpoint with that same tagline:
And she is, indeed strong, but not skinny. So now we are looking at two different ideas. Are people really promoting strength, or are they promoting being skinny but also strong, which at first sounds like more of the same, but now with even more requirements for girls?
I’m about to make the argument that n either is going on, and what’s more, I’m going ot argue that even though this might LOOK like more of the same (hell, it might even BE more of the same) it’s a good thing in the long run.
First, you need to understand the process. Let’s say you want to get “classically skinny”. Barbie skinny, or Paris Hilton skinny (or Lindsey Lohan after Mean Girls). You know this look. Your classic runway model/herion chic look. How do you attain it? Well, as the name implies, I hear hard drugs work, but most people are not down with that and for good reasons. So we look at the classic way that people try to do it: they starve themselves on a diet that lacks nutrition and do a lot of cardio. For the majority of people this doesn’t work because starving yourself just makes your body hang onto as much body fat as it can, fearing famine. And all that cardio just inflames your body and makes you look doughy. For a very few people though, this works.
If it doesn’t work for you, then maybe you look at memes and listen to come people that are also super skinny and learn that you need to be eating a lot of fresh vegetables and low fat protein. This is still not ideal, but it IS better than diet meals. You can eat a lot of veggies and calm your body down a bit and lose some fat. But the defining trait here is that you are also NOT STRONG. This diet/fitness regime that women have been spoon fed from birth results in women that are weaker, softer, and less capable than they could be. Also constantly starving yourself is bad for nutrition which is bad for the brain, and of course it creates stress and self loathing. Does this sound familiar? It should, it’s basically the diet industry. It’s the status quo right now. And it not only sucks, but actually makes things like gender inequality easier to accomplish. Women are being dieted and run out of the fitness that they deserve by birth and then people are validated when they make dumb assumptions about women being weaker and unable to do physical things. Anyone who has ever given any thought to the idea of childbirth should know this is complete crap.
So now let’s talk about what you have to do in order to accomplish EITHER of the looks above. First: you need to eat. 1200 calories of kale and water won’t get you there. You need lots of protein and fat for energy and enough carbs to run your glycogen stores (which is probably a lot for those women above). Also, you can’t just run or do hours on the treadmill and get there. You need to life big weights. For the first two women, you also need to sprint and do a lot of good work on non-lifting exercises (mobility, accessory work, etc). But, most importantly, you need to rest well, sleep right, and not overwork yourself. Those first two women? They probably work out four days a week. Maybe three. Much more and they can’t recover.
And they ARE strong. Nobody can tell them they need male assistance to lift things or that they aren’t capable. They’re more capable (much more) than most men I know.
So which is better? Honestly, I think they’re both fine. That third woman? She’s a Weightlifter, meaning that she rocks Olympic Lifting (that’s her at the Olympic trials, if I’m not mistaken). She looks like she’s pressing 285. I press like 135 on a good day. If you’re looking at her and thinking, “Yeah, but she’s so heavy,” then you’re missing the point. Her goal is not to be a lean pretty fitness model type. Her goal is to lift huge weights and in order to do that she eats a LOT of food to store a lot of energy. Her lifting regimen is more disciplined than anything you’ve ever done in your life, I promise. If she wanted to shed pounds she’d do it. She knows how. And let’s not forget that her goal is also not to be perfectly healthy. She’s an Olympic athlete. They are not, as a rule, striving for health and longevity. They’re just trying to push themselves to the limit in their sport. She does that.
I’ll probably get hate mail for this, but being overweight is not that healthy. Granted, it’s not as unhealthy as many people think and it doesn’t actually cause half the problems that people think it does, but intimately it’s not good. Why? Because it’s a symptom of a larger issue. You get fat by having hormonal issues, being insulin resistant, being leptin resistant, and so on and so on. The fat is just a symptom of those conditions and those conditions are unhealthy. That girl in the third picture? She had to throw those systems out of whack in order to eat enough food to grow huge strong muscles. It’s a trade off.
So …. why is this a good thing? Well, there will, I suspect, always be a physical ideal. Men have this as well. It’s the Superman, He-Man, male fitness model look. Lots of muscle, very little fat, six pack abs, etc. Most men will never attain that look, of course, but society still tells us that we should have it.
Women have, until lately, had a similar ideal that is that skinny, weak, heroin chic look we talked about above.
The act of a man trying to attain that ideal has him eating real food and working to build muscle. Even if he never gets there, he’s doing something good for himself.
The female ideal has a woman starving and doing chronic cardio. Even if she never gets there she’s doing something bad for her body.
But this new ideal that is being pushed for women …. that one will have them eating real food and lifting weights … things that ARE good for them and will make them strong.
The rest of it is just the great American beauty cult, which isn’t going anywhere and it isn’t really an issue for us to tackle here, but the end result here is that even if you don’t love that look for women and even if you don’t want to be that strong, this social construct is asking women to get healthy and strong and lean (rather than just skinny). It’s about the numbers you can pick up rather than just the numbers you see on the scale and I think that’s a much bigger step in the right direction than most people are giving it credit for. So don’t fret. Yes, people are still being judged based on their looks, but very soon, if this continues, we might see little girls who want to be able to press their bodyweight when they grow up. We might see teenage girls sad because they can’t deadlift as much as the popular girls. And while social pressures and inequality might never go away, at least nobody will be able to push those little girls around, because if they do those little girls will be strong enough and fast enough and clever enough to knock their lights out. And that will be a lovely thing to see.
for more info on strong women, check out Girls Gone Strong. They’re legit.