Strong is the new skinny: Just another form of body shaming?

I really don’t like the language used in fitnesses classes, on gym posters, in “health” magazines, by people talking about getting “healthy” by cutting carbs, etc. I think it’s counterproductive.

Why? Because like the unattainable images of beauty we hold up as goals, working out to “be hot for swimsuit season” is also an unrealistic goal. It’s not specific. It doesn’t actually have anything to do with health. We’ve done a great job of equating weight loss to health and it provides a really good cover for people who have unrealistic ideas of beauty to say they’re losing weight for health reasons.

Sure, for people who are truly overweight, weight loss will likely make them healthier. I’m not denying this. But being skinny doesn’t mean being healthy. People with eating disorders may be very skinny at the same time their bodies are shutting down. Some people may eat complete junk all the time and never exercise but for whatever reason are super skinny. Neither of these are healthy ways of living but the way we talk about being skinny and healthy interchangeably, we’d think they were the same!

So, if gyms are places to exercise and be healthy, why is there so much focus on being skinny? Or looking hot in your jeans? Wouldn’t it be better if there were more emphasis on measurable signs like increased fitness (or, hey, health)? How about a focus on goals that encourage increased mileage or more days at the gym?

Being hot in a swimsuit is so unclear and unspecific that there is no way to ever get to that point. Who gets to decide if you’re hot for swimsuit season?

I must make an embarrassing confession: I have Jillian Michaels DVDs and I use them regularly. Those workouts are so hard and so good, but Jillian is so annoying! She spends so much time focusing on how those of us who do the workouts will look if we do her workouts and so little time focusing on any other possible benefit of doing them that I am often tempted to watch on mute.

When I first saw articles and memes saying “Strong is the new skinny” I liked them. But the more I saw them, the more frustrated I became. The problem is that it still promotes a very narrow idea of how people (mostly women) should be. It’s a new form of body shaming, a new way to make women feel inadequate, a new way to focus on appearance over other important aspects of being a person.

I clearly think exercise is important. But I don’t think the purpose of exercise is to be skinny or to make my body pleasing for other people to look at. The at times overwhelming focus on women’s bodies directly and indirectly takes away from the worth of a person. So, as much as I really do enjoy working out in a variety of ways, the messages put forth by signs at the gym, fitness instructors, magazines, and in other ways promote an unhealthy obsession with appearance and very limited attention to much else.

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