Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Do we REALLY want strong to be the new skinny?

So you may have heard the slogan, “strong is the new skinny”
The first time I heard it I was like, "YEAH BABY!" But them it was called to my attention the possible implications of this statement.

The intention behind the statement is a good one. I love the idea of women embracing their strength….physically & mentally. I love the idea of focusing on the functioning of your body rather than what it looks like. However I have to say, I don’t want strong to be the new skinny….I don’t want any other definable adjective to be the new skinny.

So what is skinny? Skinny to me refers to the “ideal image of beauty” for American women. The ideal that says your not sexy unless your size 6 or less. An ideal that for a majority of woman is not possible without an unnatural restriction of calories.

So if we are replacing skinny, with strong, doesn’t that then make strong the new “ideal of image of beauty?” Is it just finding something new in its place to allow us feel less than, in our own bodies? Instead of envying your friends weight or pants size….are you now going to envy their biceps and bench press?

Maybe I’m reading too much into it….but it’s worth thinking about.

What if we don’t replace skinny? What if we instead we scratch the idea of a standard ideal image of beauty and instead feel beautiful in our very own skin…as it fits today?

If you want to find out how fit or healthy your body can be, how much weight it can lift, how fast it can move…..then stop looking around at the gals around you. Because her genetics aren’t your genetics. Your body just might not be meant to be a size 6 (without sacrificing physical and emotional health). No matter how many crunches you do, you might not ever get her six pack. You can strength train for the next 5 years every day, and you might not catch her deadlift. And guess what? It doesn’t matter….not at all. Not to anyone who loves you. Not to your inherent worth as a person. Definitely not to your highest self that knows the full glory of who you are in each and every moment.

I truly believe accepting yourself and seeing your beauty as it stand in this very moment is the only way you can ever achieve what it possible in your physical body. You can aspire to be fitter, healthier or stronger… there is nothing wrong with that. But if your motivation for those goals is because you don’t like who you are, because you won’t be happy until you achieve them, because you want to be like someone else….than you will fail…..eventually. You might fail completely and the very least short change what is possible. You might even fail after being successful and discovering you’re still not happy.

Go after your goals instead motivated by the love of your body. Love so great that you want it to be its most functional, strongest, fittest, and healthiest possible manifestation in this life.

Strong isn’t the new skinny.

You are the new skinny.

You are the ideal image of beauty…right now.


“We cannot change anything unless we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.”

- Carl Jung


Last blog post I announced I am becoming a Professional Life Coach. 2011 is the year of the coach for me, because next month I am also becoming a CrossFit Coach. So very excited!


Goat said...

I see your point, and I think you are correct, but I also think that it is human nature to compare, and that will never change. It's basic hardware, wired into our brains, not something we learned.

So, that being the case, strong is definitely a better standard than skinny, because at least there is a chance of the result being healthy. Now, of course, anything can be taken to an unhealthy extreme, but I think "strong", defined loosely, is more likely to get good, healthy results.

Lydia said...

We can say how we want the world to be or we can work with the world as it really is. Sure, we want the world to see everyone as beautiful, and we want everyone to see themselves as beautiful, and we want war to end, and so on. But if we fail to understand how the world really is, we can't really engage or make any change.

We have to accept that there are things about human nature we don't like and most likely cannot change. Study after study shows that attraction is genetic or at least biological, not socially imposed or learned. We can call strong the new skinny or not, but what we find attractive seems to be encoded in our DNA. Fashion may change, but what we find physically attractive in others does not, as un-PC as that may be.

So I'll take strong over skinny for fashion's sake and hope that some of it seeps into the human psyche over a period of generations because I think it's healthier, but I don't hold any great hope that all of a sudden we're going to start finding new people attractive just because of a press release dictating it so.

Anonymous said...

Goat & Lydia,
First of all thanks for taking the time to comment!! I want to try to respond.

@goat- yes we compare. i can admire anothers body, attrubutes, skills, i can notice how people are different than me. But that noticing doesn't have to change how i feel about myself. And i can honestly say noticing how i am differnt and what i like about others doesn't have any effect on how i feel about myself (wasn't always this way)

And yes of course i like the concept of STRONG soooooo much more than skinny. and strong is a better indicator of health than skinny.

I'm not knocking the whole thing...but want to stir up some conversation and thought into it...that is all :-)

@lydia- You are right. the world, our culture is as it is. There may be an innate attraction to certain physical attributes. I can accept that. But thats got nothing to do with how I feel about myself. The world doesn't have to see me as beautiful for me to see myself that way. My worth has nothing to do with the outside of me.

gingersnapper said...

I do like the phrase, and even use it as a subtitle on my blog.

It is replacing skinny with strong, but to me it is breaking the connection between appearance and self. It isn't about looking a certain way, it's about being a certain way. "Strong" doesn't necessarily mean muscles or visible abs or whatever, it's a personal quality that can refer to bravery or perseverance or moral conviction.

I think the phrase means exactly what we'd want it to - it says "stop wasting time on beauty goals and develop your LIFE."

Jennifer @ Evolving Well said...

Hi Steph,
I really appreciated this blog post. What initially struck me most was that the word 'strong' has plenty of connotations in and of itself. I've read many different blogs that truly revel only in the physical realm of the idea of 'strong'- meaning muscles and weight lifting. I often am left wondering - has no one ever thought that this idea eventually must transcend the human body and rise to the level of the mind and spirit? There are some incredibly physically strong people out there who are paralyzed in their life by sheer mental fear. So, are they still 'strong'?

My point is that I agree with you that the phrase of 'strong is the new skinny' has got some problems. But number one for me is that the physical realm of strength is fleeting. We age and life happens, which may always keep us from every reaching the ideal physical 'strong'. However, transcending beyond the physical to cultivate mental fortitude, clarity, compassion, etc... That process of moving within reshapes the physical landscape simply because the physical is only a destination...it's not the entire journey that many people get caught up in.

Great read and very well put! Thank you for adding your refreshing thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Wow THANK You Ladies!

I don't really dislike the statement. And the part I don't like is certainly not the strong part, but the "the new skinny" part. Gingersnapper I LOVE what you say it means to you. And i think it can mean different things to different people.

What it means to you...is exactly what I want for womankind! My message in this post is bigger than the slogan itself.

and jen...im with you 100% i think being at war with our bodies is the very thing that can stop us from being able to "cultivate mental fortitude, clarity, compassion, etc..." integrating mind,spirit and body is essential. For many women, even those who are smart, mentally strong, spiritually connected....the disconnect with their bodies is what holdback their true potential. That was me...but not anymore!

Sarah Wilson said...

Stephanie, I love you for writing this. I could no agree more. The thing I dislike about the whole "Strong is the New Skinny" movement is that it still puts way too much emphasis on what our bodies look like even though I know its intention may be to do the opposite. You are right, we are just creating a new ideal of beauty. And though I do agree that it is human nature to be attracted to a physical form it is not just in our DNA to be attracted to a specific body type a Lydia says. Our perception of beauty is most definitely influenced by society and the media. Why else would different cultures have different standards of beauty? And NO I DO NOT have to accept the world the way it is. If we all sat back and let things just on they way they are think of what a terrible mess we would be in. Hell no. Do not accept it and good for you for writing this post. Great responses to the comments too. Love your point of view!!

MC said...

So...you will probably think that I say this just because I am part of the "Strong is the new skinny" movement, but here's a little food for thought...

WHO SAYS THAT THIS HAS ANYTHING TO DO WITH BEAUTY? I used to weigh 200 lbs and I can name several people that would tell you that while I was overweight, they still considered me beautiful. Beauty and strength mean different things to different people and I think that's amazing.

Beautiful, strong, skinny...these are ALL subjective terms because they mean different things to different people. I think when we start to dissect every little part of things, we lose something.

I don't expect or even want everyone to agree or like "SINS". What I want...what I see every day...what I love...is a group of men and women that support each other and want to accept themselves and each other and not be held to model thin expectations. It's about acceptance.

Also, I am a size 4 and I DO NOT seriously restrict my calories. Anyone who knows me, would laugh if I suggested that...NOR do I have good genetics...I come from a history of overweight people and struggled with my weight off and on throughout my life.

I love STRONG IS THE NEW SKINNY, because until I started lifting weight and building muscle, I couldn't get below a size 8. I don't care if a woman is a 2 or a 20, she can buy a shirt (I even sell plus sizes) and wear it with pride.

I do not mean to bash you or come across as angry. I am not. I am passionate and I know what INTENTION this "movement" was started with...to embrace all types and break stereotypes.

Tim Hamilton said...

Yes, you're reading too much into it. It's a great slogan, don't overthink it.

Rachel said...

"strong is the new skinny" doesn't mean you compare your body and what you can lift to others, it means focus on what your body can DO, not what it looks like

Unknown said...

Jung also believed all gods and goddesses were essentially the same--Venus is the same as Aphrodite is the same as Freya. And he was wrong about that too. Culture informs religion and those cultures were quite different from one another, even if two of them mashed together pretty well in the end (Graeco-Roman).

If I'm happy with my life then there's no reason to change it. It's only when I get fed up with the way things are that I want to change them at all.

If you were to argue that I should be happy with things I can not change (or at least without major surgery), then fine. I would agree with you that I should accept my brown eyes and my big nose. They help make me look like, well, ME.

But if you're going to sit there and tell me that being fat and weak, with skin that's gone bad and hair that's falling out and hormones that are wonky (I'm 37 but I don't think I'm in perimenopause yet--dunno) and just be happy with all that and not want to do anything about it? Wrong answer.

I agree (again) with you when you say we should not compare ourselves with someone else and want to attain the exact same goals as that other person. We're individuals with different levels of ability. But that doesn't mean we can't make goals for ourselves.

I would never want to weigh 100 pounds. I'm 5'6", medium build skeletally. I would look like living death at 100 pounds.

But if I can't even bench-press 100 pounds, that is because something is wrong with me. Either I am disabled or I have let myself go way too far. I know for a fact I am not disabled. Which leaves the other option.

And, no. No, I don't have to be happy about that. If my body doesn't work right, I become a liability to myself and to everyone else. Especially when I let myself become that liability.

By the way, I also don't agree with Lydia that people favor skinny because it's genetic to do so. I'm tired of genes being used as an excuse for every kind of bad behavior. It's not genetic to prefer Froot Loops over actual fruit--rather, it's a learned behavior that's become part of the culture. It can be similarly weeded back out of the culture. Ditto for favoring women who are little more than sticks rather than women who are strong enough to carry our own small children on foot for miles. That's a survival trait. It ought to be selected for, not disfavored.

If there are some guys who don't want to go along, fine. We can select them out--until only the guys with good taste in women are left.

Lauren said...

To me it's finally offering good role models for our youth. I was brought up in a family who had huge value in independence, strength, and inner beauty showing before outer beauty. It's not saying every young woman should be walking around at 5% body fat/ cutting calories to be that other person, it's almost the opposite. Both paleo and SINS offer the message to treat your body as a temple and make it the strongest, sturdiest temple that it can be. I see my peers idolizing these women who are starving themselves, doing coke, and drinking/partying constantly as their way to "stay skinny". I don't know about you, but a woman who loves her body, is strong, fit, and confident. Yes, she may maintain/ progress her strength in the gym, but it's so she can keep up with her kids or blow past her peers. It is SO empowering as a woman to push society's stereotypes as well as your own ideas about what you are capable. Pushing for goals and loving that you are strong is not the attempt to be a size six. And actually most females who idolize the "skinny" woman would probably go up in calories (and they would be higher quality). I'm not on the Paleo diet, but I believe in what they do. I am strong, sexy, and you can sure as hell bet that I am happier and healthier than 99% of people my age(19). I can out work most guys, and I stand behind the SINS message. It isn't weight loss, it's loving your body.

Dusti B said...

Strong is about accomplishing things you never thought possible. It has nothing to do with how we perceive beauty or skinniness. SINS doesn't want to replace skin and bone models with ripped muscular ones. It is about finding your strong, believing in your body, and making it a priority.

Sharleen Froats said...

A few things:
Yes, too much can be read into it, after all, how can you concisely state such a big concept of personal and societal transformation into a few words??? I think SINS is a great way to encompass the concept quickly.

Ironically the other point is that also yes, it is potentially a dangerous concept if you've interpreted it that way. And yes, "you the way you are right now is perfect" is the ideal BUT, perhaps we should consider that we are all here specifically because the world isn't in that place yet and that movements like SINS are AMAZING, TIMELY and HELPFUL transitions to a more positive way of being :)

I, for one, love the effort, intention and sentiment behind SINS and believe it helps bridge the gap by making a statement in a way that is easily understood. For a deeper understanding, following the movement is all you need to do, instead of speculating.....

Anonymous said...

To me, from the get-go "Strong is the new Skinny" always meant function over form, and strength of mind, and confidence. Actually never occurred to me that it meant only physical appearance. If anything, i took it as challenging people/society to broaden their scope of what beauty means to them. Anything can be picked apart if you want it to be. I personally have some issues with the whole body building and competitive "physique" world...or at least allowing it in the same realm as "sports"...b/c the basis of competition is strictly on appearance and you're competing against other women's bodies and are subject to one set of judge's possible bias/opinion. Absolutely no different than age old beauty pageants really..(sorry if I offend anyone) So I agree with you on that...when your measure of success or happiness is based on appearance only, you'll likely be left feeling empty. However, powerlifting, gymnastics, CrossFit (among a zillion other sports) for example are all based on performance. skill and hard work.
I'll tell you, though never significantly overweight, positive body image has long been a challenge for me. At 33 years old, I've finally accepted and embraced what i was born with - a strong and healthy body. Part of that is maturity, but part of that I attribute to surrounding myself with a strong, POSITIVE, and supportive community - one that's NOT based on appearance, but living your life - your best, most fulfilling life.
In summary...everyone has a different set of life experiences that will affect how they choose to interpret "Strong is..." or any other catchy phrase. Let's not lose the original intent and motivation behind SINS. Good post though if it did nothing more than provoke good conversation!

Cindy said...

Does anyone else see the irony of the phrase "Strong is the New Skinny" emblazoned on the skinny model's t-shirt? She looks like she came out of a men's magazine or at least the cover of Shape magazine. With her long, blond hair and airbrushed flesh, not to mention the fact that we can't see her face, just her body, she personifies the standard issue picture of "beauty."

I'll believe "Strong is the New Skinny" is about strength when I see the same t-shirt draped on a 250 lb. female Olympic weightlifter or female hockey player or a rower built like a brick house. Or an overweight, 50 year old woman struggling to break her Fran time -- when we honor THAT kind of strength as the "new skinny" I'll be impressed -- but not until then.

MC said...


Go to the Strong is the new skinny Facebook pg. That pix is not ours. You will see lots of pictures posted by real women...all different sizes. 200lb powerlifters are not the only example of strength. To a woman that has never lifted a weight and is able to deadlift 150lbs for the first time thats strength. I can lift more but then theres people that can lift more than me. We accept everyone...all sizes...all levels of strength. :)

Anonymous said...

Also, consider the fact that strong implies more than just physical strength. Skinny is associated with weakness and insecurity, but a woman who is strong on the outside most likely has the confidence on the inside, we should be trying to improve our bodies, not poke them and prod them until they become weak. It's improving our confidence and minds that make us strong.

whlm67 said...

Yes, "skinny" should be a state of mind and not a body composition. The feminine ideal externally and internally has always seemed to be that a woman is less than perfect, always trying to obtain something that she is currently not.

Instead what I find beautiful and compelling is that a lady is comfortable with who she is, often has a wonderful smile on her face and is interesting to talk to with a positive outlook on life.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the comments! I am grateful that it has sparked conversation that is very valuable. I want to officially say this post wasn't an attack on the Strong is the new skinny blog. I hope it did not come across this way. I believe that blog and this blog share most values in common.

I have to say something in response to those that commented about not accepting the things you 'can' change. Im going to stick to my personal experience: I am the healthiest, lightest weight, fastest, fittest & Strongest (mind/body/spirit) me ever...and that is possible because at 320lbs and out of shape I FINALY accepted that IT DIDN'T MATTER what my weight or my size was. Once i accepted that I began to care for my body without suffering or dieting or sacrifice. It has been nothing but joy. I believe 100% that self-acceptance and self-love are essential to your health and hapiness. Acceptance is not resignation. There is LOTS written about that on this blog, for anyone who is interested to read more about.

Keep rockin the barbells and the world strong ladies! :-)

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
MC said...


I didn't take it as an attack. I just felt you misunderstood our mission, which is really very similar to yours and wanted the chance to try and clarify. When you get almost 12000 people involved and passionate, things can get hazy. One thing is clear...we both want women to love themselves and be their own best version...not to look like other people or be a certain way but be the best version of THEMSELVES. I plan on reading more as it looks like you have some great stuff here.

Anonymous said...

Thanks MC!! I didn't actually know your mission when i wrote this.

I really was thinking about the slogan as it stands alone, not the community you have created when i wrote this. I should have clarified that better in the beginning of my post.

"One thing is clear...we both want women to love themselves and be their own best version...not to look like other people or be a certain way but be the best version of THEMSELVES." YESSSS!!!

malvs2walk said...

ok, read your blog... Love the conversation that came out of it.

My reason for joining the SINS movement after I started the Paleo diet last month: When I actually stopped counting calories and logging every little thing I ate in order to achieve some unrealistic goal NUMBER on the scale, I actually started losing body fat. So, I am soaking up everything Paleo I can get my hands on. It's all about Paleo. With a web page called practicalpaleolithic, how can they be wrong? I am truly following the diet plan about 95%, and the numbers are adjusting themselves. I am not hungry, I seem to have twice as much energy, and I am faster! What I need to do now: figure out how to get strong with a jacked up lower back.

Anyway, I am planning to come back for more good reads... thank you, and I know it kind of sucks that I made my response to your post about me, but I want to shout it from the rooftops.

Anonymous said...

@malvs2walk- SO HAPPY for you!!! When these changes started to happen for me I felt the same way, like i wanted to scream it from the roof tops!!! That is why i started this blog!

Its a great thing to finally experience and sence of freedom and joy with your body!!!

Jennifer Higgins said...

Stephanie Vincent, I think your comment on the SINS motto was spot on. I see some good stuff coming from SINS, but I also see the same problems you identifed. I've posted my feelings on various comment threads on the SINS pages. I own and run a crossfit gym and just because women aren't starving themselves to be skinny doesn't mean they have positive body awareness. It is really easy for women to transfer their worry about being skinny enough to worrying about being fast enough or strong enough or eating 85% vs 95% paleo. Rock on sister and keep writing your thoughts!

Julia 'I heart SINS' said...

The term Strong is the new Skinny, is subjective and therefore it means different things to people. So do I think you're over thinking this? Yeah, I have to say I think you are.

I have a SINS shirt, which I'll be wearing with pride once the weather warms up in the Northern hemisphere...

Let's stop focusing on words and get our WOD on

Erin said...

Just came over from The Clothes Make The Girl and notice that this discussion is a year old. Still as a 48-year old mother of an almost 13-year old girl, your post really spoke to me. We've been doing CrossFit as a family for 8 months and my daughter is the one who is benefitting the most from embracing what her body can do at least as much as what it looks like. As a former anorexic/bulimic who despaired of making her daughter love herself on the inside, I can say that discovering just what she could do (little snot can rope climb like the dickens while I'm still struggling to hop up ;) )helped her stop obsessing about what she looked like. Throw in a primal diet, a growth spurt, and continued success at the gym and my self-conscious little girl has blossomed into a confident young woman.

As I've raised this baby of the family after two boys, I've learned so much about being a well-adjusted woman. We're visual creatures...to deny that is silly. Still, no single attribute should be taken as the holy grail. A truly beautiful woman is a unique combination of many attributes, both internal and external, and to single one out as the defining attribute belittles us all. If we worship youth, beauty, thinness, or strength alone, we so narrowly define ourselves that we cheat our entire society.

So, no "strong is NOT the new skinny", but it is fabulous that we have something else to celebrate about ourselves.

Sarah Wilson said...

Erin... WONDERFUL. "Still, no single attribute should be taken as the holy grail. A truly beautiful woman is a unique combination of many attributes, both internal and external, and to single one out as the defining attribute belittles us all. If we worship youth, beauty, thinness, or strength alone, we so narrowly define ourselves that we cheat our entire society." I just may have to share that quote!

Stephanie Vincent said...

agree with sarah- awesome words!

Amelia said...

"Strong is the new skinny" is like my own personal mantra - changing my mindset from "try to be skinny" to "try to be strong". Strength to me is not necessarily in brute muscular strength but in strength of character - grit to keep going when the going gets tough. I make no association to beauty when I see this quote at all.

Li said...

Bravo! Great post. I used to obsess over looks, comparing myself to everyone else. And once I hit 50, I always felt depressed that I wasn't young enough, strong enough, didn't have big boobs, etc. I wouldn't go to a gym because I felt like everyone was staring at me. I tried running and gave up because I was so embarrassed - I'd run a little, everyone would pass me, and I'd just quit. Couldn't lift weights because of a shoulder injury.

A year ago I changed tactics. My new goal was to get healthy and gain confidence. What I discovered is that just staying as fit as possible - FOR ME - is enough. I won't win any races but I can run after my granddaughter. Strong enough to shovel out my driveway after a 2' snow blizzard. Confident enough to know that if my car breaks down I can walk several miles to get help. Fast enough to snatch an unattended toddler out of a lazy river while on vacation.

Confidence should be the new "skinny" - and everyone looks good wearing it!

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