What happens when the pursuits of “skinny” and “strong” collide?

By now I’m sure most of you are familiar with the saying “Strong is the new skinny.”  It shows up fairly regularly on fitspo images and in fitness circles as a way of promoting a new standard of female beauty, one that is focused on strength and physical power instead of weight loss and restriction.  The words are often accompanied by photos of women showing off glistening muscles while they pose with weights or perform feats of bodyweight strength.  If you have spent any time at all in the fit-o-sphere, you’ve seen what I’m talking about.

Now, I support the general idea behind the phrase.  I would prefer that women – and men, really – work to cultivate their bodies’ abilities rather than fight against them in an attempt to meet our culture’s incredibly fickle beauty standards.  But I also have some issues with the execution, which, as I and many other fitness writers have argued, merely exchanges one unattainable physical ideal for another one.  I mean, I might have a shot at attaining a visible six-pack, while nothing short of a life-threatening wasting disease will give me a thigh gap, but the effort required for me to get visible abs is so tremendous that I might as well not even consider it a possibility.  Plus, it elevates one body type (muscles) at the expense of another (skinny), which is not exactly my definition of body-positivity.

Another issue is that when I think of “strong,” I think of it as an adjective that describes a person’s abilities.  I consider myself strong because I can climb a pole or put my husband on my shoulders while we are in the water at the beach.  When I see my muscles, I don’t necessarily look at them and go “wow, I’m strong.”  Rather, I go, “wow, check out my muscles.”  “Strong” is a word that describes actions and state of being, not appearances. Yet fitspo rarely shows women in the act of doing things that require strength, and instead shows them posing and flexing. Posing a-straddle a loaded barbell while showing some impressive underboob might make for some good cheesecake photography, but it does nothing to convey that the woman doing the straddling is actually capable of lifting said loaded barbell. Often, the emphasis continues to be on what a body looks like over what the body can do.

But recently I’ve come to realize that there’s another problem here as well.  The expectation behind “strong is the new skinny” is that women who take it to heart will allow the pursuit of strength to supplant the pursuit of skinniness when it comes to their physical goals.  But what is actually happening for a lot of women is that they are not abandoning “skinny” in favor of “strong.”  Instead, strength has become yet another physical ideal to be piled on top of all of the other physical ideals they are already trying their damnedest to attain.

I had this realization while scanning one of the more popular healthy living blogs, in which the blogger wrote about squatting one-and-a-half times her bodyweight.  Her announcement was greeted with comments from young women who wanted to know how she could lift so heavy while still maintaining such thin legs.  It took everything I had to keep from head-desking myself into unconsciousness when I read that.  For the vast majority of us, this is not possible.  If we want to lift weights, we have to have muscle.  If we have muscle, our legs will be bigger.  Our thighs will be bigger.  They might actually touch.

Now, I am willing to grant that it is entirely possible for a person to be capable of doing things like a 1.5xBW squat while still having almost no visible muscle on their thighs, but I think it’s also important to note that the person who is capable of doing this is not the norm.  (And please know that I am not trying to turn this into a “ew skinny people are gross and weak” argument either.)

For most of us, this is just not possible.  It is not possible for us to train hard without eating a considerable amount of food to support our bodies.  (As a triathlete, swimmer and distance runner who lifts weights, I find I have to eat more than 2,500 calories a day just to keep my body from cannibalizing my muscles.)  It is not possible for us to build muscle without eating enough food because our bodies need something to build that muscle out of.  And it is not really possible for us to eat and train in such a way that we gain nothing but pure muscle.  There is a reason why bodybuilders cycle between phases when they build up muscle and ones where they lean out.

Yet there seems to be a whole cadre of women out there who refuse to accept this, despite the fact that it flies in the face of everything that is known about exercise science, nutrition, sports training and biology.  So many women believe even though it is flat-out illogical.  And then they immerse themselves in self-loathing when they cannot attain this ideal of being strong AND skinny at the same time, feeling as though the fault lies with them for not eating clean enough or training hard enough, instead of recognizing that the ideal itself is what’s wrong.

As much as I want to just blow this off as magical thinking, I also recognize that to a certain extent, this kind of reaction is actually perfectly logical.  I mean, maybe it’s not if you tend to be the kind of person who approaches things with an understanding of science, but we don’t really live in a society that values science that much (despite all the much-vaunted promotion of STEM careers we keep hearing about these days).  But if you take a step back and take a macro view of all of the messages being flung every which way at women and girls (and increasingly at men and boys) and you try to imagine what it would be like to actually believe all of that bullshit…well, let’s just say that it doesn’t seem quite as illogical as it once did.

After all, we live in a society that prizes female bodies that are small and compact while still having bigger breasts (but not too big, because that’s just obscene).  Women eat salads, not meat. They adhere to low-calorie diets so they can keep their “girlish” figures.  Diet pills, surgery, liposuction, powders you sprinkle on your food, books and segments on daytime television, superfoods, Skinnygirl margaritas and Skinny Bitch diet books…a billion-dollar industry aimed at Fighting Fat. We are taught to believe that the content of our dinner plates dictates the content of our character.  We learn that perfection is equated with self-denial and that appetites are sinful, that moral exemplars know how to exercise self-control and willpower, that only gluttons give into their desires for food, and that it is possible to determine if a person is a moral exemplar or a glutton just by looking at them.

And then you have all the lies put forth by so much of the mainstream fitness media.  The gurus that promote 800 calories a day for three weeks to “jump start” a diet for adult women.  The fitness magazines that lay out five-day-a-week weight training programs accompanied by diet plans that barely top 1600 calories most days.  (I still laugh maniacally when I think of one diet plan’s “cheat meal” – a slice of cheese pizza and a can of light beer.)  All of the photo spreads featuring figure models that conveniently leave out the fact that those women only look that way for two or three days at the very most.  (And you never hear about the models and figure competitors who wrecked their metabolisms by following high-exercise, low-calorie routines.)  Every single fucking magazine that promotes drinking lots of water, not as a way to keep yourself properly hydrated, but as a way of feeling full.  And of course, all of the fitspo that shows these new standards of female beauty with their flat stomachs and their ripped bodies with body fat percentages in the low teens.

I give up.

When you look at it like this, it’s really not surprising to see teenage girls and young women wringing their hands in anguish over the fact that they can’t figure out how to deadlift their bodyweight while still keeping their beloved thigh gap intact.  The cultural conversation around bodies and fitness and health is so bursting full of internal contradictions that the only way to survive intact is to fight back.  (And if you have an eating disorder, you really need to seek psychological help, NOT amateur counseling from bloggers who believe reading a few books on a subject is the same as being an expert.)  We have to approach so many of the fitness-related messages we receive with skepticism and critical thought, which I know is so unfair and so tiring, and it sucks that we even have to do it. I wish this wasn’t the case.

We don’t need a new “skinny.”  We don’t need a new beauty standard, nor do we need yet another physical ideal hanging over our every thought and move like a little black cloud of doom.  What we need to do is change the paradigm so that we value our bodies for all of the amazing things they let us do.  We need to expand our standards of beauty to recognize that beauty shows up in all kinds of bodies.  And we need to get over this idea that the most important purpose we serve on is to be beautiful for other people.  We have a right to have healthy bodies, to take up space, to have appetites, to cultivate our strengths in whatever form that may take.  Our time on this planet is precious and we will never, ever get it back, so let’s stop squandering it in pursuit of meaningless ideals we will most likely never attain anyway.  We deserve so much better than that.

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285 responses to “What happens when the pursuits of “skinny” and “strong” collide?

  1. “We don’t need a new beauty standard.” I second that! Where can I vote?

    It’s a good point that strength-gaining and weight-losing aren’t usually compatible. People have a lot of variation in the visibility/size of their muscles, but yeah, generally skinny doesn’t go with strong, so it’s yet another unattainable ideal. For myself, strong is much more attainable than skinny, so that’s what I focus on.

    For decades, every time I’ve seen a commercial for a workout system, like the TotalGym or Bowflex or whatnot, the same commercial shows the men saying “I gained 22 pounds!” and the women saying “I lost 32 pounds!” and I always wondered how the machine knows the difference… mysteriously the same workout makes men gain muscle and women lose fat.

    Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that in real life :-)

  2. Unfortunately I am only allowed to like this post once, but yes, just yes. All of it. But in particular this line
    ” What we need to do is change the paradigm so that we value our bodies for all of the amazing things they let us do.”

    We need to fight back against the continual barrage of information from magazines, imagery, advertising that being desirable is a key feature of being a woman. That unless we conform to a (very narrow definition of white) beauty that we are not worthy.

    We are not girls, we are woman, and we are worthy at all shapes and sizes.

    • But… girls are worthy too. Girls are younger women… they come in all shapes and sizes too, can be strong and smart and what have you, and I do hope that people don’t judge little girls’ and teenagers’ worth on how “desirable” they are.

      • That’s not what I meant, I apologise if it came across that way. I was just alluding to the current definition of beauty being more representative of a girls figure than a grown-ups.

    • Submit your vote by not giving them any money or attention. Do not read the magazines, do not watch the television shows, do not watch/read the ads. Strut your stuff solo. You are not as solo as you think. You go, girl.

  3. Awesome post- well-written and thought out. I just wrote a post about “fitgirls” on my blog last week that was similar to this one. I think it’s critical that we have this conversation right now, at the (near) beginning of this trend. We all need to understand that this trade off of one ideal for another does little, if nothing, to get at the heart of the problem, which is that we’re always stuck feeling like we’re never enough. This has been a personal issue for me that carried from my “i want to be a size 0″ days to now where I’m strength training vigorously and deadlifting nearly 200lbs. No thigh gap here! The more people out there talking about this issue frankly, the better off we’ll be in the future. Thank you!!

  4. well said. “fitspo” and “strong is the new skinny” annoy the crap out of me. it just seems to shift the emphasis from extremely skinny to extremely lean… neither of which allow you to eat enough to get strong.

    • Extreme leanness as we generally see it is usually the result of so much water and carb manipulation, it’s not even funny. It’s a sad thing when the bodies held up as the ideal of fitness and strength are usually at their least strong point when we see them.

  5. If strong is the new skinny, I am still hearing far too many women worrying about “bulking up”. And too many men worrying about women “bulking up”. Skinny is still the new skinny. And a lot of people still don’t have a very healthy or common-sense approach to how they deal with exercise, food, and self care. Hell, I even forget sometimes. It’s all really difficult.

    • Good point. I’m reading a thread in xxfitness over at Reddit where a Redditor is talking about how her male friends are freaking out on her for lifting too much, saying she’s going to “look like a man.” As frustrating as it can be, the “strong is the new skinny” movement is still relatively outside the mainstream when it comes to aesthetics and fitness.

  6. Pingback: What does your husband think? | Diary of a Newbie StrongWoman·

  7. Alright, I feel like I have to defend myself when I read discussions that come close to isolating small but strong women into this “unattainable ideal” that dances on the edge of sounding like “the enemy image.” I am 112 lb and can deadlift 303. I squat over 1.5 x my bodyweight, and I bench over ten lb over my bodyweight. Yes, mass helps. But it is the style of training that often determines maximal strength levels. My boyfriend is currently ranked first in the country in powerlifting in the 148 lb weight class. He has squatted 520 lb in training, deadlifted 576, and I believe benched 315 at this point in training. Listen, if you want to be small and strong, it is absolutely possible. If your body is naturally small, as mine is, you have every right to pursue maximal strength. Not being a larger size but being very strong is something I’m proud of, because it takes training right and training with dedication. I often feel like I’m being punished for being the lifter I am both in performance and aesthetic when I see articles questioning ANY body size–and mine happens to be one that is questioned here.

    As you say, the focus needs to be on performance. That does not mean that any assumptions should be made about anyone’s body size and where it needs to be to be “strong.” Bulk is absolutely not necessary to reach elite levels in the sport of powerlifting, olympic lifting, or any weight-class based sport. Just like everyone’s body has certain predispositions towards development of certain muscle groups–my shoulders, obliques, and biceps are genetically programmed to be proportionately large, and I do not ever train them in an isolated manner–so too should no assumptions be made about any body’s response to strength training. Yes you can and will build muscle if you strength train correctly. You may end up losing a lot of fat, essentially exchanging it for muscle. I was skinny-fat for years. This is essentially what happened to me. It wasn’t remotely my intention–I just wanted to literally get stronger, and powerlifting is a sport that trains and tests it. My body adapted to my activity and nutrition, and now it looks the way it does. I am not an outlier, I’m a variant.

    I am “skinny”–rather, I don’t have a lot of mass–and I’m strong. Marginalizing me and anyone whose body trends like mine isn’t accomplishing what it means to de-emphasis the idea that worth is based on looks. It’s just more commentary on looks and what looks mean.

    • First of all, your accomplishments are awesome and I totally respect them. I think it’s great that you have been able to train in such a way that you can lift that much. Mad props to you.

      I do have to say I think your point about being a “variant” versus an “outlier” is semantic hairsplitting. Yes, you can say your body is a variant on what is possible, but the fact remains that most people do not have bodies that are like yours. You know, you plot everyone along a bell curve and you’re going to be toward one of the tails. Most of us just don’t have bodies that behave like that, especially when we get into lifting. Sure, your body is a variant but it is a variant that most of us will not be able to achieve no matter how hard we work.

      (Plus I do question the idea that “small and strong” should be a goal toward which we can and should all be working. If your body is naturally small, that’s one thing, but if you are built like me? Six feet tall with broad shoulders and wide hips? It’s not going to happen. No matter how much I lift or change my eating or anything, I will never, ever be “small and strong.”)

      All that said, I am sorry if you feel as though I have attacked you and women with your build with this post. That was absolutely not my intention.

      • I absolutely never said or implied that being “small and strong” is a goal towards which we should *all* be working–primarily because i would never use absolutes when it comes to a collective of bodies. I do not have ANY interest or want to change what anyone’s goals are. Period. I do think that suggesting that any physique is desirable, undesirable, a problem if it IS desired–as is the case here–is totally unproductive. Yes, you have a very specific build. I have a very specific build. If you have a problem with women wanting to look a certain way and that certain way is only possible for some people with a particular skeletal frame, THAT is what you tell them. You educate women about their proportions. You tell them that their worth is not determined by how they look, that how good they are at their sport is not determined by how they look.

        Unless it IS. Because there’s a BIG sector of physique competitors out there who are building muscle, looking a certain way, and their GAME is entirely about aesthetics. The thing is, the ones at the top of this activity are also pretty strong. You have to be to be capable of handling the work that is necessary to building a superior bodybuilding, physique, figure, etc. body. I’m not going to censure them for being focused on aesthetics. I respect them for the dedication they demonstrate, as I respect anyone or demonstrated dedication in anything. It is not their fault that women are looking at their pictures–their competition-season, cut, tanned pictures–and holding them as ideals. These women, I will bet you, have absolutely no idea what it takes to have bodies like the ones they are viewing, and I mean competition-ready bodies. Many of the models in the fitspo images are in contest mode. They’re being photographed in a sodium-depleted, very “dry” state. The more you learn about physique sports, the more you understand what you’re looking at when you see these images, and the less you are inclined to relegate them as “outlandish ideals.”

        Because let me say something else. It is entirely possible for MANY women to compete in figure, fitness, physique, bodybuilding competitions. These are not competitions in which one skeletal frame type wins all. It is just an extreme activity and as with many extreme activities, most are not willing or interested in spending the extreme energy, time, and resources in pursuing it successfully. On average, most women don’t understand enough about their bodies, about body composition, about water retention, about physique-competition sports versus strength sports to look at fitspo images and be able to understand what is in front of them.

        Our job is not, then, to decry the women in those images, or resign ourselves to just saying “well, they’re extreme examples, and these images are a problem because they are extreme.” I refuse to adopt that mentality. Our job is to educate women about their bodies. I have wide shoulders and narrow hips. This will determine how built muscle looks on my body, and I will look damned different than a woman lifting on the same program than me with different proportions. I respect this fact. I am at peace with it, and completely understand it. To me, no one compares to anyone else. Our skeletons are built SO differently from person to person that there is no comparison. Start looking for it–femur length versus torso length versus clavicle width versus humeri length etc.–and you will see it too.

      • “Listen, if you want to be small and strong, it is absolutely possible.” – this is what I am referring to. Like I said, I will never be small, so it’s not possible for me. It’s not possible for a lot of women.

        Also, as I mentioned downthread, I want to point out that I wrote an entire paragraph in which I basically said that I am totally fine with the fact that there are women whose bodies naturally work out to be smaller and stronger, frankly because I anticipated getting comments like this one. (Honestly, every time I write something criticizing the culture of thin glorification, I get comments like this one, as well as ones accusing me of hating on thin women, which is silly considering that I am also a thin woman.) What I am criticizing is the belief that many women still hold in which they should pursue an artificial level of smallness, which is something that requires behaviors and choices that will make it much more difficult for them to become strong. That’s all.

        If you are doing things to make your body stronger – lifting weights, eating well, generally not being a bundle of eating disorders – and you still manage to be very small, then this post is not aimed at you. You keep doing what you are doing but understand that everything I wrote in this post is not about you.

        Ultimately I think we are on the same side of things here, but it seems as though you have had previous negative experiences in the world of powerlifting that make you feel as though everyone who criticizes this social paradigm is attacking you personally. I’m sorry that you have had those experiences, and I am not trying to pile onto that. But I do hope you can understand that my point is not aimed at women like you.

      • Plus I do question the idea that “small and strong” should be a goal toward which we can and should all be working.

        And I think this is totally fair to question as a blanket goal. For some of us, working to be small and anything is outright dangerous.

      • Caitlin–I posted your blog on my FB post because I think it is good for everyone to read and try to understand differing perspectives. I commented to a friend who replied to my post that there are, in fact, parts of your post that I agree with and other parts that I question/disagree with. Like “babyeaterlifts”, I am small. I was actually quite surprised by just how small my frame is when I leaned out last year. Now I am focused on performance, on strength. And I am fighting, even while consuming well over 2,000 cals/day, to put on muscle. But I am getting stronger and still maintaining my small figure. I am embracing it…and, if someday, my body shape changes due to continued increases in strength (e.g., no “gap”), so be it–I am enjoying the process of becoming the best version of ME.

        By the way, I really enjoyed this part of “babyeaterlifts” comment: “Our job is to educate women about their bodies. I have wide shoulders and narrow hips. This will determine how built muscle looks on my body, and I will look damned different than a woman lifting on the same program than me with different proportions. I respect this fact. I am at peace with it, and completely understand it. To me, no one compares to anyone else. Our skeletons are built SO differently from person to person that there is no comparison. Start looking for it–femur length versus torso length versus clavicle width versus humeri length etc.–and you will see it too.”

        Caitlin–thank you for sharing your thoughts and perspective. We need to be able to discuss these issues and share experiences in order to fully understand and appreciate how health and fitness affect each of our bodies in a unique way. You made some great statements in this post…here’s a favorite of mine: “What we need to do is change the paradigm so that we value our bodies for all of the amazing things they let us do. We need to expand our standards of beauty to recognize that beauty shows up in all kinds of bodies.”

      • I appreciate your comment, and I would like to point out that I actually wrote an entire paragraph in which I said that this was not meant for people whose bodies are naturally smaller and stronger. The point is that I don’t think pursuing an artificial level of smallness – which is what our society promotes for a lot of people but particularly for women – is compatible with pursuing strength. If you eat well for yourself and you are physically active and that’s how your body goes, more power to you. But as far as that being an ideal to which women should aspire? Honestly, I’d rather just do away with the idea of a physical ideal entirely.

    • I totally agree with you. I am 120 lbs and can squat close to 200 lbs. I don’t think it’s fair to smaller girls to be hated and mocked for our ‘oh so beloved thigh gaps’. We work incredibly hard to keep our body fat in the upper teens (which is healthy). I don’t think women should be made to feel uncomfortable about their bodies no matter what. We should all be striving for health, not what society deems as beautiful. If we happen to look amazing in the process, then kudos to us. I’m so sick of being hated for being small. The truth is that women don’t know how to implement healthy eating patterns and exercise, because if they did they wouldnt be overweight, miserable, and hating on skinny and strong girls.

      • Wow, I don’t even know where to begin with your comment. You don’t think women should be made to feel uncomfortable about their bodies, but then you turn around and complain about miserable, overweight women. You say we should all be striving for health, not beauty, but then you turn around and conflate small, thin and low body fat with “looking amazing.” You don’t get to have it both ways, you know. You don’t get to talk the language of body positivity then slam other women for not adhering to the beauty standard.

        And for what it’s worth, I may not be as lean as you but I am thin – 6′ and I weigh between 150-155 pounds – and I get comments too, and you know what? I know better than to think that a couple of weird comments from people is anything even remotely like having an entire culture tell you that your body is heinous and that you need to start starving yourself to fix it. Some perspective would be handy here, I think. Sorry, but you don’t get the easy out of dismissing me as an “overweight, miserable” woman who doesn’t understand healthy eating and exercise.

      • Let me attempt to clarify, here. I assiciate overweight and miserable because most of the women I work with who are overweight have health problems, such as high bp, diabetes, back pain, joint problems, high cholesterol, cancer, etc. (I’m a fitness and nutrition coach). It’s not about adhering to the beauty standard. My point is that it’s not fair to criticize small and strong girls just because you personally don’t reflect that. Like I said, health is top priority and if one happens to look great in the process, it’s a double win. I don’t recall “slamming” anyone except those who slam me for being small. It’s reverse discrimination. I get called out for saying something about an overweight woman (when my job everyday is to help overweight women achieve a healthy weight) but everyone cheers on the article demonizing small women. If I said, hey I’m overweight and being skinny like that is unrealistic then it would be an acceptable comment.

        And when I said healthy eating patterns and exercise, it somehow became starving yourself, which proves that there is a lack of understanding here. For your height, you have a fantastic weight so I’m not really sure why you’re getting so defensive.

      • I do not get where you have come to this idea that I am demonizing small, strong women when I point out that “skinny” and “strong” are two physical ideals that cannot coexist in most women. There’s a huge difference between critiquing a culture that glorifies thinness at all costs and slamming thin women (which, again, I did not and do not do, if only for the simple fact that I do not engage in self hatred).

        I am not the only one in this conversation who is defensive. You read my post as attacking thin women – which again, is ridiculous because I am also thin and also because I do not find it particularly useful to rip on bodies, no matter what they look like – so perhaps you should consider the possibility that you are bringing baggage to my post, which is leading you to read things into it that do not exist.

      • So, I went back and re-read your blog to refresh my memory since I’ve read way too many comments since the original post. Let me say that for the most part, I agree with your overall point. I even posted about women being cruel to themselves to reach society’s standards yesterday. While reading your post, granted you make a few comments about your not saying ew thin girls are gross, but there is an underlying resentment toward the girls you posted pictures of. Little digs like ‘oh so beloved thigh gaps’ make a skinny/strong person reading your blog feel a little demonized. Being thin yourself, I’m sure you’ve encountered hatred for no reason as well. I admit I was a little passionate in my first commentafter reading babyeaterlifts comments, which I found very interesting as far as what is involved to look like some of the magazine ads.
        So let me restate, you did not openly demonize strong/small, but perhaps unintentionally supported the resentment toward those women by mocking photos of them. Also, I agree with 98% of what you said.

  8. I don’t even know what “fitspo” is supposed to mean, but I’d sure prefer to see girls and women eating and training to be strong, not skinny, and let their body types fall where they may. Promoting strength doesn’t equal holding up some new beauty paradigm; it means teaching people to set behavior-based and ability-based goals and work for them. I imagine that anybody who’s misguided enough to believe a “thigh gap” is a good goal would be pretty hard to redirect to valuing strength over skinniness. Strength is healthy, skinny is irrelevant, but if somebody’s fixated on an irrelevant detail like skinniness, well… It takes all kinds.

    • I’ve never heard of this thigh gap goal before. Maybe it’s an American thing. Having heard of it now I’m not really interested to find out anything about it. I’m just interested in filling the gap between my bicep and forearm when I flex. ;)

      • Ha. I love your comments, Deanna. I don’t know if the thigh gap is an American thing or not, but I can tell you that it is a thing that annoys the shit out of me.

      • Everyone has their own perception filters to filter out the nonsense and let through the interesting/useful information. Now rather than suggest thigh gap is definitely an American/British thing, maybe the idea exists here too but I screened it out as background noise (or avoided reading the Sun – ha). I think the Sun is a Murdoch paper and he has a couple of papers here too that I find quite useful for starting the barbecue or lining the birdcage.

        I was tempted, followed your link Helen, and looked into Pandora’s Box and felt my brain being washed immediately. Now I just desire the sunlight shining between my legs – NOT. I did notice that the article next to it broke the news of hydrospin. Is this the way to achieve thigh gap? What’s next? space-robics?

      • Sounds more like something you hear on the trains: ‘Please mind thigh gap!’. Where do these terms come from?! The media has a lot to answer for. RE: ‘gymdeanna’s post about Aqua Spin, I tried that the other week in London, I was pleasantly surprised, hard work yet really fun but unfortunately they don’t do it in a gym near me. The reason I mention it is that I assumed it would be predominantly females in the class but was good to see it was mixed as I always feel guys leave the classes for women. Commerical gyms still haven’t cracked it when it comes to gender, there is still a massive divide. Anyway I need to get back to increasing the gap between my thighs. Great article by the way. :-)

  9. Brilliantly written article. Wholeheartedly agree. It’s so easy to get swept up in a singular version of perfection rather than enjoying our individual flaws. We should be healthy, fit, happy versions of ourselves: knowing when to exercise and when to eat chocolate cake. Not buffed, toned, posey girls on magazines. I’d so much rather be able to play in the sea than celebrate the gap between my thighs.

    Thanks for that awesome perspective. X

  10. Slow clap. I have been frustrated by the fitspo scattered around the internet for a while now, and for the exact reasons you mention here. Most of us can’t get “model skinny” without being disordered, and the same goes for the figure-competitor physique (at least on a full time basis). Great post, off to share it everywhere!!

  11. Change the paradigm, indeed! I try to keep myself focused on the fact that I should be more proud of how many push-ups I can bang out as opposed to how loose my jeans are on a particular day, but, I have to admit, its often hard because I feel like I “should” have both or else I’m a failure. And there is no damn good reason why I should feel that way.

    With more people out there like you making your voices hard, we just might have a shot at toppling the current paradigm and actually connecting fitness with health and power as opposed to thinness and celebrity-esque beauty.

  12. Reblogged this on Note To Self and commented:
    A smart and passionate look at the whole “strong is the new skinny” campaign. Also, can I get a “fuck yeah!” from everyone for the last paragraph of this post? =D Love it.

  13. Amazing post… I’m a woman who is 5’7″ and my “set weight” seems to hover around 155-160 – I’m a size 10. I’m hypoglycemic & have hypothyroidism as a result of cancer in my early 20’s. I constantly struggle with feeling hungry all the time and trying to be this ideally smaller person that I’m just clearly not. I work out, and try to eat well. Once I took diet pills at the advice of a “weight loss doctor” and ate 500 calories a day and lost 30 lbs and got into a size 4. But once I stopped the pills, my normal appetite came back and so gradually did the weight. This post helps me realize that perhaps its not me that needs to adjust my weight, but the world needing to adjust its ideals. I’m strong, I have muscles AND I beat cancer. My body, even at size 10 is amazing, despite it’s flaws.

    • So awesome that you beat cancer!! And while a size 4 looks wonderful on some, some aren’t meant to be a size 4 and look just as good at a size 8 or 10. We are not meant to all be the same size/weight!!

    • Wow. You know, that really puts shit into perspective, doesn’t it. I’m so happy that you’ve been able to beat cancer and that you are able to live a healthy lifestyle. That’s awesome, and I am so proud of you. P.S. To hell with that weight loss doctor. Five hundred calories a day? That’s just wrong.

      • 500 calories a day? That’s a recipe for malnutrion and ostoeporosis! LOL my pet bird eats more than that! My breakfast alone is about that much and I am not a particularly big woman I am 57 kg and 5.4.

  14. This is the first time I’ve read your blog and love it so much! What a great article and thank you, all I keep seeing is my already teeny weeny friends becoming super fit and still so femine and that’s just not possible for me. I’m a size 10-12 Pear shape so if i get muscly it just turns to bulk. Bikram and Yoga is what works best for me and it’s nice to know that this new skinny is not the norm.

  15. ::enthusiastically claps and nods head:: This is so fucking spot-on. Not long after I joined Pinterest I started seeing these “strong is the new skinny” fitspo images, and they make me want to just say ugh. They are even more problematic to me than the traditional idealistic images, because of course they still very much toe the line of showing lean, thin women–they just have a little more muscle on them. Just not too much, or else they look “jacked” or “bulky” and that would just be The Worst! Some bodies are meant to be that way, but not all bodies–and that should be a-OK, but of course it isn’t. Thank you for trying to change the conversation.

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  17. I so agree. The fitspo memes you see all feature scantily clad lean women with muscles. What about weight lifters or what about women who are strong from doing manual labour all day but don’t hit the gym.

    It’s also implying that skinny was / is the equivalent of ‘black’ (ie. grey is the new black). I don’t think skinny was every the standard so implying something’s replaced it is misleading. (And yes, I know I am going off on a tangent there. And yes… I still think black’s the new black! I like my black!)

    I like to think we are who we are and we can only aim to be the best we can be.

  18. well done on this, you have hit the nail on the head… so glad someone has written what I think… I have changed my way of doing things, now I am training to lose the fat but build the muscles so I do not give a hoot about what the scale says :)

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  20. Caitlin, I see what you mean about the extreme leaness of some “strong is the new skinny” slogan models. There are those who promote the idea that women can become strong while staying small, probably because most women are terrified of becoming bulky and manly looking. The biggest problem are those disparaging muscular women and pushing for the anorexic look aka runway model as the pinnacle of femininity, for many, weakness and frailty equates being feminine.

    Unfortunately many women want to look like strands of spaghetti and there are websites that cater for that: http://fitnessblackandwhite.com/how-to-lose-muscle/ and
    http://fitnessblackandwhite.com/weight-lifting-for-women/ Weight Lifting For Women To Get Toned & Feminine – Not Ripped Or Buff. Yep, that’s right! When I read the articles I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or pull my hair out!

    http://www.fitmole.net/the-essential-guide-to-female-training-for-a-sexy-feminine-physique/ the author of this article thinks that even Jamie Eason is extreme!

    My legs have always been average, I like to build big quads and calves because I like the muscular leg look. When I tell people that, they look at me as if I am crazy. Many fitness models look good but I prefer the bodybuilder look, without drugs. I modified my leg training for mass gain. Hopefully in a couple of years I will get the physique that I want. I think crossfit women look great.

    My ex husband wanted me to be overweight and frumpy so that no other man will look at me. Society wants me to be skinny/fat aka feminine, but I like a muscular athletic body. I will built my body to please myself and those who don’t like it, don’t have to date me! If I am going to live my life to make others happy, life would not be worth living!

    • Can I just say the “how to lose muscle” link is scary? It makes me rage against the world. I *knew* some felt bad about being “muscular”, but I didn’t know there were actually women who tried to lose muscle willingly. This is like a slap in the face.
      I just want to find them and hug them and give them pastel colored cookies shaped in the face of a puppy.

    • Pfft, your ex-husband. Good riddance.

      The “how to lose muscle” article was interesting, especially since it seemed to be aimed primarily at men who have really absorbed the message that bigger is better. I really wish I had the problem of putting on too much muscle, but as it is I have to fight like crazy for every ounce of lean body mass that I have. That said, I can see why a guy who might have been in the throes of some serious bigorexia would find that article useful.

      The article that talks down Jamie Eason for having a physique like a man? Bleh. Can we just abolish the whole idea that there is such a thing as “like a man” or “like a woman”? Human being are so diverse in the ways our bodies and minds work that as far as concepts go, “like a man/woman” is utterly useless.

  21. I love this!!! Spot on, especially these “HLB” bloggers and their ED’d thinking…..Found you through GOMI, thanks for a great read!

  22. I interpreted “Strong is the new Skinny” a bit differently. For many years (through out the 80s and 90s), I saw girls try to covet the skinny body, wanting to be so thin their ribs showed, wanting skinny thighs. Quoting Joan Rivers, “You can never be too skinny, or too rich.” During these decades, we also saw an increase in awareness of anorexia and bulimia. The dangerous behaviors women would go through to attain that skinny body. Not eating, and excessive cardiovascular exercise.

    Strong is the new Skinny, I interpreted as Strong being the new coveted body. Engaging in the healthy behaviors that make a body strong, eating and refraining from excessive cardiovascular exercise in lieu of lifting weights. Essentially, engaging in the complete opposite behavior that one would have to do to attain a skinny body.

    They do not collide, they are complete opposite goals, with complete opposite behaviors.

    • Not really. If we merely replaced “skinny” with “strong” then you’d be seeing a lot of fitspo featuring everyday strong women with everyday fat on top of their muscles. Instead, we are seeing a lot of “strong AND skinny” images with pictures of fitness models who have relatively built-up muscles but very little fat. That body type is just as unattainable as the thigh-gapped, rib-showing figure. Those fitness models do crazy, unsustainable things to look like that, and they don’t look like that all the time, just when they have a competition coming up.

  23. Thank you for this message at 61 and after 100lb wt loss and with maybe another 30 to go my body will never look like any of these strong is the new skinny! My skin won’t ever be tight again! Will I be fit and healthy yes! Yes I need to accept me for the beauty inside
    Because beauty does fade but smart and loving kindness is forever

    • Beauty may fade, but then, whose to say that only the young and firm-bodied are beautiful? :) (Congrats on the weight loss, by the way. Very impressive.)

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  25. OMG. I think I love you. THANK GOD someone sees what’s going on at face value instead of just following the crowd.

  26. Thank you for this! I loathe fitspo, and I’ve been told a couple times by gym buddies that they didn’t want to “get all muscley.” You hit the nail on the head with this one.

  27. I think it’s about broadening options rather than setting up a universal goal for all. Strong is a more popular option now (again you could differentiate it by saying it’s a functional rather than aesthetic goal). There is nothing wrong with being a healthy skinny (though it’s not to my taste) but being physically strong actually gives you more weight (so to speak) in the world. You can move things, resist people moving you but move yourself more easily. I can actually get positive attention by effortlessly pulling my chin up over a bar. People think it’s cool (well the type of people I would rather impress).

    Now ‘strong is the new skinny’ contains the implication that skinny was once an admirable goal that has now changed, like the seasons, for strong (and might change full circle some time in the future). Really skinny was just the embodiment of exaggerating gender differences to consolidate conservative gender roles. Shock to the world order but if I flex my bicep next to my man friend then he is the one with the skinnier arm – yes, notify homeland security, this is too radical. Well, to complete travesty, his is skinnier and mine is stronger. Now this is not a must for women but rather should be an available option.

    That brings me to my last point: who wants to be a slave to fashion anyway. Nonconformity is its own reward. All the greatest artists, scientists and sports people blazed their own path.

    • “broadening options” – Yep, that’s exactly right. Instead of saying that all people must look a certain way to be acceptable, we should instead be focused on widening our standards so there are lots of ways to have an acceptable body.

  28. Great article! And while I completely agree, I think one of the problems we face as women is realistic guidelines that are trustworthy. There is still too much out there that encourages us to eat fewer calories than we need to maintain and/or loose weight, but how do we determine what we do need? It’s not like I can ask my doctor, who will tell me that at 150 lbs, my 5’5″ body is obese despite being a size 8. Ok, there is a belly I’d like to loose, but realistically that’s more genetic than anything. I’m strong and I’m active, and I believe that’s my goal–especially as I’m now pushing 50. Personally being a part timer in the fitness industry (teaching yoga classes) doesn’t help, since there is still so much misinformation–and fears of ‘bulking up’. The ideals are still skewed–though it does seem like it’s at least getting better. Hopefully articles like this will educate those that need it. And there are a lot that do!

    • This is exactly right. As much as I want to say that people should trust their medical professionals, the fact is that I have heard so many stories about women who have gone to their doctors, only to be told reflexively to lose weight based on their BMI. All of the other factors – resting heart rate, cholesterol, blood pressure, body fat percentage, etc. – become secondary to where you fall on the BMI chart. Never mind not trusting fitness magazines and high-profile trainers – what are you supposed to do when even your doctor is promoting these ideals?

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  31. Ideals, like goals, are context dependent. Many people fall prey to taking the ideal out of context in aspiring to it or even discussing it.
    The ideal in a BB contest is determined by the judges from year to year, and by the commercial interests in the industry, sadly. The Weider’s half century influence in this regard is a testimony to the fact.
    In runway fashion circles different ideals hold sway. It is folly to take the body type or condition of an Evangelista or Kate Moss as an ideal of feminine beauty in the day to day world the vast majority of us inhabit. Time, cost and reward are factors those women can deal with but which most soccer-moms cannot.
    Similarly the ideal of long-necked beauty induced by neck rings in Thailand is meaningless and bizarre in Des Moines (for example.)
    The illusion of the cover model body ideal (from Shape, Oxygen, Runner, say) is wrong for the masses, unless you have the genetics, the time and desire to train like they do.
    Rather, take the body condition of someone who has a similar lifestyle and situation to yours (or to the one to which you aspire -sensibly) and you are less likely to meet with frustration and health issues related to the attempt to emulate it.
    As a PE teacher and sports coach I teach young women and men to choose role models relevant to their own world rather than those of worlds they will never inhabit.
    Mensa in corpore sano.

    • Exactly. The populace needs to smarten up about the CONTEXT of the bodies they’re looking at. More knowledge means more understanding of your own body and its potential and limits given what you’ve chosen to do and how you’ve chosen to eat combined with frame and, to a tiny extent genetics (people give genetics way more credit than their worth. Do something amazing with your body. Your genetics are not holding you back).

      • I agree that genetics are not holding you back in the sense that genetics are not stopping anyone from getting to a reasonable level of fitness, but I think you’re not giving enough credit to the role that genetics play in how people look, either as a couch potato version of themselves, or as a very fit version of themselves. There are some things about ourselves that we just cannot change regardless of what level of fitness we reach (calves anyone?), so we need to learn to be proud of what we like and accept what we don’t. I think that learning to work with and optimize our unique genetics is a really important part of self acceptance.

    • Absolutely. I feel as though the expectation is that we should all try to pursue the physiques of elite athletes even though the vast majority of us are NOT elite athletes. It’s absurd, really. It’s like saying everyone who writes should shoot for a Pulitzer Prize or that everyone who plays music should aim for a spot with the London Philharmonic. I feel like there are these unrealistic expectations around bodies and fitness that just don’t exist when it comes to other human pursuits.

  32. Having muscle and being a little bigger comes with the territory. You look great, the symmetry is on point and the clothes snug you like they love ya! But they just aren’t as loose anymore…I find that a good thing and good look as well.

    At 245, I will never have a 32″ waist. But I will rock that 38 and look good doing it :)

    • OH SNAP. Right on. She and Holley Mangold are extremely strong and yet they go unrecognized by the mainstream because their strength does not come in socially acceptable packages.

  33. Strong is the new skinny has bothered me for awhile and I couldn’t pinpoint exactly why until reading your post. By saying strong is the new skinny we continue to make working out about looks and NOT about feeling better, more confident…more empowered.

    And honestly, saying strong is the new skinny hasn’t done ANYTHING to alleviate women’s and men’s fear that women will get bulky if they lift heavy. In some ways I’ve actually seen it backfire…which is sad, but true.

    Can I also say that NO ONE looks that relaxed when ACTUALLY lifting the weight these women are supposedly using in the fit inspiration pictures. I know because I’ve had to pose with weight and I always use a weight I can EASILY do. I know I either get the sumo face or the one side of my lip up in a snarl when I’m actually lifting…I have pictures to prove it….
    Stupid posed pictures make women worry about how they look when they lift instead of worrying about working out as hard as possible!

    • There’s nothing wrong with sumo face – fear it not as you should not fear bulk. Human beings have a full range of expressions – let them express. Having said that I would love a shot of me, cool as a cucumber, armwrestling down a bigger man, looking like he’s bursting a blood vessel – ha.

    • Oh man, the faces I make when I’m lifting…and the noises I make are ridiculous too! When I run I spit and shoot snot rockets. When I swim I often find my nose running from the exposure to chlorine or salt. I am never quite as gross as when I am physically exerting myself. It’s a good thing that the only person whose opinion I care about thinks I’m beautiful no matter what I’m doing. :)

      • “It’s a good thing that the only person whose opinion I care about thinks I’m beautiful no matter what I’m doing”

        I just don’t get it- you wrote a perfectly good blog post about how “strong” and “skinny” are cohabiting the female body-guilt sphere, then went right into the quote above. If you’re still looking for the validation that comes with exercising from an external source, you’re never going to be free of the body image as a large construct. Regardless of what beautiful is to you, or to anyone else, that phrasing seems toxic.

        On that note, I think we are in danger of ignoring a lot of the benefits of a strength movement because of the fact it is overlapping with skinny. If the strength movement can be converted into a health movement, or the positive aspects of training can be broken down into what they truly represent, you can begin to perhaps look at the paradigm shift you mention.

        For a lot of people, health and fitness is a deeply personal goal. It may start out of the desire to be attractive, to fit a social norm, to look like someone in the magazines, but often it transforms into an individual struggle that is accompanied by a lot of positive growth. The muscle or the aesthetics that come with it are benefits, but to a lot of people they are symbolic of hard work and dedication.
        This to me seems to be the antidote to self-denial as a traditionally female role. Passivity giving way to actively controlling how you look is I think a positive thing, especially for women who can control how they look to some degree but not what they are controlling their body to look like. Strength in this aspect does simply add another ideal goal for women to strive for, no argument there, but simply because they can both be grouped the same we shouldn’t attribute the weakness of one to the other arbitrarily. Even having a choice is progress, even if it’s both, or one, or the other.

        It is potentially true that we are simply exchanging one paradigm for another.I think, however, that to ignore the potential strengths of the new paradigm because it is not the one you wanted is ultimately only going to hurt you in the end, and I hope that this does not come to be the case.

      • Liking that my husband thinks I’m beautiful is not looking for validation from an external source. He’d think I’m beautiful no matter what, because he’s into who I am as a person, but that said, I like that he finds me attractive, and I also find him attractive. Surely we can find a balance between not feeling as though you have to be aesthetically pleasing to every single person in the world and wanting your romantic/sexual partners to find you attractive? The former is a recipe for unending neuroses, while the second is a normal part of being human. To me, being a feminist and being a woman who is confident in herself does not mean isolating myself from all interaction with everyone, especially not when that person is my partner with whom I’ve chosen to share my entire life. Does this make sense?

        About the rest of your comment…I practically wrote a novel in response, but it’s not particularly coherent. I’ll just say that your response is dovetailing with some things I’m thinking about in my own life, and so I appreciate your perspective. Maybe one of these days when I can put it all together coherently I’ll write about it.

        Anyway, thanks for your comment.

  34. Love this!
    I lost 110 pounds through calorie counting and exercise. Once I lost the weight and became an athlete, I started to look at food as fuel instead of JUST calories. When I was training for Century rides, I had to eat a lot of food or I’d crash on the bike. Seriously, been there, done that and the crash from not enough food sucks!

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  36. Great article for anyone looking to change their lifestyle and exercise more. Interesting comments as well. I think the point was missed that misleading taglines are the problem, comparing skinny to strong is irrevelent because there are many different types of skinny and many different types of strong. Is the marathon runner who is 5’7″ and 125lbs stronger than the boxer who is 5’11 and 195lbs? or soccer player or swimmer etc etc. You see the problem here? also skinny can be tall or short, so it doesn’t matter what your body type is or what kind of physical activity you do it matters that you don’t over exert yourself or begin with unrealistic expectations based on what the media feeds you. You have to start with accepting your body size as it is then train properly and do not expect it to morph into Heidi Klum. This is why we see so much plastic surgery in our society, women see huge naturally full breasts on a larger women and they think their body needs that because we came up with the pinup girl and playboy. This isn’t true small breasts are equally beautiful as humans we failed to accept that diversity in appearance is a form of beauty itself. Then we turned it against ourselves. I ignore fitness magazines myself because they do little to change my mind about the products being pushed on me. Similar to beauty magazines and television. Nobody is telling small people not work out and try to achieve goals with this post, goals are awesome. The author is just saying (Rather well I might add) that posting a skinny in a glossy photo who is toned but not necessarily all that “strong” is damaging to women who do not know better. If you hate your body start with staring at your worse parts until you can stand it, know thats what youve got to start with. Train reasonably do not attempt to starve yourself.. and go from there watch it change. Ignore body weight when you train within reason, I am 5’4 and morbidly obese by BMI standards, yet ive played in 90 min soccer games in 100 degre southwest desert heat, just ran a half marathon, and am gearing up for a 5 day 70 mile backpack trip. I stopped being mad at my body for its shape and size when I stopped being mad at myself for things others did to me and moved to self-acceptance. It started inside and worked its way out, I am happy for my body if it changes doing the things I love but its life loving road of physical activity that brings me there, not a road of staring at the tv wishing I were born a 6lb baby girl who grew into a 120lb woman.

  37. “Strong is the new skinny” bothers me because it implies that there is a “right” way to be. It’s right to be strong or it’s right to be skinny. Anything else is failure. This message drives me crazy!

  38. I agree in principle, but a lot of this just isn’t true.
    I’ve been training for the past 18 months, have been eating 2000 calories per day, have put on 6kg of muscle, taken my body fat from 30% to 18% AND gotten smaller. Yes, my thighs touch, but they haven’t gotten bigger.

    The average woman won’t gain enough muscle naturally to get significantly bigger – especially when you take the resulting fat loss that will happen from increased metabolism.

    ‘strong is the new skinny’ is an important message because it promotes a healthier lifestyle of eating MORE and exercising – which you quite rightly point out is required.

    Key quote of yours is:

    ‘the effort to get visible abs is so tremendous that I might not consider it’

    Just because something is hard or takes a lot of effort doesn’t mean it’s bad or shouldn’t be promoted!!

    • Eh, I actually disagree with the idea that visible abs should be promoted as an ideal worthy of pursuing. Obviously people can make that choice for themselves, but I think there are about a billion other things that are more worthy of a person’s effort and attention than whether or not their abs are visible. It’s certainly not a choice I’m making.

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  40. This is such a great post. I admit to falling prey to the “I want to be stronger but THIGHS MUST NOT TOUCH!!!” mindset in the past. Because of that, I’ve done the 800 calorie 3 day “jumpstarts.” I’ve done the juice cleanses. I’ve obsessed whether my abs remain in the “washboard” category. This is what I was reading about in print and social media, this is what I was seeing on television, and this is what I thought I was supposed to do. I realize now that it’s much more important to me that I’m healthy. If my thighs take up a little bit more space than they used to from doing squats and lunges with kettlebells, well, the strength I’ve built in my quads, hamstrings, and glutes is keeping my knees healthy when I run. If running has made putting on skinny jeans a little less fun due to my strong calves, well, that’s why boot cut exists. Of course I want to look good, I’m human, but I exercise because I love it and because it’s made me both physically and mentally healthier than I’ve been in years. That’s what the focus should be on.

  41. Great post indeed!!! Let’s celebrate health and embrace who we are, respect our bodies and not try to force them into a certain shape by not eating, etc. Real women come in all shapes and sizes :-)!

  42. This was thought provoking and it’s great to see that not only I feel this way..
    I don’t really concern myself with this, because above all.. I’d rather be healthy and happy that skinny and miserable, or strong and muscular.

  43. Great article. I’m blessed to live in a country where the standards are very different. I’m very happy to be away from the “you’re not good enough if you aren’t a size 4 standard”. Though I have to confess I’ld love to have muscles and abs of steel :) but, I a soft hug! Kudos on the article!

  44. “I might have a shot at attaining a visible six-pack, while nothing short of a life-threatening wasting disease will give me a thigh gap” – likewise.

    Also, the last paragraph of this post should be in a textbook somewhere so that all people are educated with words like these. Thank you for sharing.

  45. Amen! You know i agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment here. Tiny contention though:
    “I mean, I might have a shot at attaining a visible six-pack, while nothing short of a life-threatening wasting disease will give me a thigh gap, but the effort required for me to get visible abs is so tremendous that I might as well not even consider it a possibility. Plus, it elevates one body type (muscles) at the expense of another (skinny)”
    A six-pack covertly still emphasizes *leanness* over *strength*. The only times in my life I’ve had a visible six pack, I was pathetically weak. In order to put on *mass* I had to fill out in ways that weren’t entirely lean. In fact, I had to accept the fact that I would become less lean in order to allow myself to gain that weight. And.. while six-packs are made of muscle, the distinctive trait about them is that the individual has the “skinnyness” to show that muscle. There’s information abound on the internet about what bodyfat % you need as a male or a female to achieve visible abs. So… I still see six-packs as an image tethered to the “skinny” ideal…

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  47. I was a noncompetitive bodybuilder and powerlifter for 24 years. I seemed to be designed for it: I put on muscle ridiculously fast (so fast, it pissed off a lot of men at the gym), ate whatever I wanted, and had so much energy on a daily basis that if I didn’t do strenuous exercise of some kind or another, I couldn’t sleep at night. I lived deep inside the gym subculture and “my people” were those alongside me at the dumbbell rack. I had a backstage pass to hang out with the elite, famous, hard core types that typically scare the shit out of the rest of the population and I got a thrill from that. And they respected me, which is emotional crack cocaine to a young, lonely girl in a city of almost five million.

    Then, last year, I let it all go. It was effortless because it wasn’t me anymore. I realized that my internal identity had shifted away from the restrictive gym mentality a while back but I had just continued lifting out of habit and social security, if you’ll forgive the pun. My body gave me sharp orders to stop and I did so with complete mental and emotional ease. Today, I allow my body to be what it needs to be naturally without shoving it in any particular direction. I take my orders from my intuition now, not the clock, scale, or social cues. I can’t begin to describe the relief a woman feels when she believes–really BELIEVES–that she truly is the center of her own universe and not a single voice other than hers matters.

    This, and a lot of other manual shifts, happened because I grew weary of being society’s bitch. Taking my daily cues about how to feel about myself from fickle total strangers suddenly sounded about as much fun as licking an electric fence. Even if you survived, it’s gonna hurt. Bad. And there will be damage. Out there, beyond your own skin, is a giant herd of scared, lonely animals who find it easier to point the finger outwards than in. If they can make you feel like less, then maybe they are more. It’s the whip that marketing cracks over fearful women’s backs who don’t believe they are safe unless someone else tells them they are. What crapola.

    FYI, everything you need to know to feel sexy is found in history books. Don’t believe me? A few hundred years ago, round women were in fashion because it denoted wealth and the ability to eat all they wanted. And men who loved round women were ecstatic. In the 20s, the flapper craze demanded that all women be gamine and flat-chested. And men who liked waifs were grateful. When the 50s burst onto the scene, women were lifting their bosoms into torpedo-shaped bras and stuffing them in sweaters. And breast men wept with joy. When Madonna marched up and down a stage with her lingerie over her pants suit, men who loved corsets sweated and dreamed. Today, we have the Tits and Sixpacks craze and men who like hardbodies are cheering.

    But the dudes who love round women, waifs, torpedo bazongas, and naughty lingerie haven’t gone anywhere. They are still out there, watching the variety of you all and drooling their little hearts out. Go find one who thinks you, my dear, are the answer to their prayers and start enjoying being what you are: a woman.

    • I should add that the same historical ambiguity has affected men as well. At the turn of the century, a man with a lot of muscle on his body was socially undesirable because it meant he labored physically for his income and therefor didn’t earn very much or have much standing in society. A man was allowed to be strong by default only if he naturally towered over other people because everyone just assumed bigger meant stronger. It wasn’t until the weight lifting craze of the late 70s hit Venice Beach, California, that large muscles were seen in a new light. Before that, body builders were social freaks and outcasts. Remember the Strong Man lifting barbells at the circus? He was just another freak show next to the Bearded Lady and the Human Leprechaun. Now, a hundred years later, many men spends tens of thousands a year trying to be him.

      But just because the media says only hot men have six packs and 5% body fat doesn’t change a woman’s opinion if she likes something else. I personally only feel weak in the knees around linebacker types–very large, with equal muscle and fat. My dating pool starts around 6’4″ and 250 pounds. I don’t want to cuddle with a two-by-four, I like flesh. Today’s physical male ideal looks scrawny and insect-like to me, with sixpack exoskeletons and bony joints. Ew. Men who are the current invocation of “fit” remind me of underdeveloped adults; I get creeped out when I try to imagine getting romantic with them: pedophilia city. But again, that’s me. Apparently, it’s just not my century. Then again, I just may be the next guru.

    • Yes, I agree there is an every changing fashion of bodytypes. In the 70s mainstream men hadn’t discovered weights. David Bowie (The Thin White Duke) was number one and the toughest guy on TV was Fonzie who tipped the scales at around 70kg soaking wet. Then they followed Olivia Newton John’s advice and “got physical” in the 80s as women’s bodybuilding was born and Arnie and Sly filled out the big screens. However the diversity of tastes in society was still there. I know that a man who asks me to flex is not just passing time but likes what he sees. The other man reading Ralph magazine would probably not give me the time of day. The only line I draw is where someone’s tastes have a negative impact on their object of desire, such as “feeders” who like very large women. Now ATW you might like Gigantor but I feel drawn to a slim, fit build. I find it more intimate to be with someone close in size to me. Now I wouldn’t dare criticise your tastes as looking for a father figure or wanting someone who can make you feel small (or did I just do that – well now we’re even – wink, just funning). Anyway, can you inspire us all with a big lift you achieved in your power-lifting phase (I speak metric or Imperial). I am curious.

      • Even? Even for what? That’s a whole lot of assuming you’re doing, there. Likening my dates to unintelligent robots and suggesting my tastes indicate psychological disorders doesn’t exactly endear. So, yes, I have an amazing record quad press but, no, I’m not going to share it with you.

  48. Well said. I can’t help but notice that most of the images used to depict women as strong also depict them as skinny. I think the average exercising woman is not going to have time to work out to the extent of having the muscles and the super skinny bodies of these women whose job is to look good and pose for photos.

  49. Reblogged this on polarbearmusings and commented:
    This was a “trend” and statment that I used to agree with. But after reading this blog, I tend to agree with this young lady. This is still the wrong message for people (men and women) to be focused on. Creating a situation where both are unattainable.

  50. I really enjoyed this post. I love running, for more than what it does to my body but also for the mental and emotional feeling that I get during and after. When I run a lot though, my legs lean out and (yikes) my butt tends to lean out too! In the past few months, I’ve started to lift again with my legs because I feel it not only helps with my running ability but also creates more tone (aka bubble booty). But it is a struggle because the more you create muscle tone, the tighter those jeans feel, and I’ve gained weight according to the scale; so doesn’t that defeat the purpose?! I think it’s a catch 22 that women face and there is an unrealistic ideal that is perpetuated by society, but personally I try to remind myself that incorporating strength and weight excersises is better for my overall health. Honestly, I feel more accomplished by my abilities to run a half marathon and do twenty push-ups (the real ones) than I do when I’m able to put on a pair of jeans and find that they are a little looser than the week before.

  51. This article was great! So many of my friends now see pictures of women who are muscular and small and tell me they want to look like that. They don’t look at the picture and say “Hey, I should try to be the better version of me!”. They relate what the think they should look like from the pictures they see. Great post!

  52. I don’t particularly like lifting weights, as they are quite heavy, and I certainly would not prepare to do squats with out the support of a bra, in what gym (or world) is that first photo realistic? I try to strengthen my body and mind via running and dance, and after reading this article, I realize how long it’s been since I stepped in a gym. I cannot believe this is a real thing. Shocked. Its time that marketing stopped trying to tell us we are not good enough even when we are 95 pounds or our biceps are large enough to even rip tank tops, and more importantly, it’s time we stopped buying into it.

    Thank you for the article!

  53. I constantly have to remind myself of these things.. and you’re right that women shouldn’t have to. Love this!

  54. Thanks for posting! Now that Instagram is taking over, I find people are more than ever excessively talking about their bodies and what is “hot” vs “not” and I actually take offense to some of the posts people share about how “unattractive skinny is” given that some people are naturally thin in this world which has also caused some body issues of my own that I never had before. I think working out and taking part of a healthy lifestyle is great but some people go way too overboard in wanting to look a certain way.

  55. In response to the comment you read about “how do you squat so much and still have skinny legs!!!?”, I think that a lot of women don’t realize that “bigger” is not worse. Sure, if you do heavy squats and deadlifts your thighs might be a slightly larger diameter than if you do nothing but hours on the elliptical and spend your days attempting not to eat. But first of all, they probably won’t be much bigger (for most women they will possibly even get smaller, because lifting helps you lose body fat). If you had asked me when I was an eating disordered, stairmaster addicted college student what I would look like if I were strong enough to do 10 pull-ups I probably would have said “enormous”. But I’m not enormous. People drastically overestimate how much size you will gain as you get stronger.

    Second, size and aesthetic appeal are not directly related. In my opinion, a muscular, athletic looking, curvy thigh is much nicer looking than a less athletic, smaller one. So even if you do get bigger, you might find you actually like it.

    I personally am 100% on board with your “train to be able to do awesome things, not to look good” approach, because I find that focusing on that keeps my body image healthy. But I’d be lying if I denied that part of the reason I can get fully on board with this is that in my mind the former also accomplishes the latter. I think we’d all be lying if we didn’t acknowledge that part of why we like fitness is that we like the way it makes us look.

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with working out to look good, provided that what we’re striving for is to look like the best version of ourself that we can, and not somebody else.

    • Oh, and PS. Thanks for the comment on the calorie thing. I was flipping through Oxygen magazine in the airport yesterday and landed on the “Our models eat! Find out what!” section. All I could think when I read it was that it was about half of what I eat. Then I thought, WTF, is this really what I’m “supposed” to be eating?! So thanks for the reality check. Calories are NOT the enemy.

    • Good point about how people – especially many women – fail to accurately estimate how muscle develops. If people had a good grasp on that we wouldn’t be hearing so many ladies worry about “bulking up,” as if a bodybuilder physique awaits anyone who picks up a weight.

      You know, I don’t mean to act as though caring about how you look is a bad thing or something that people shouldn’t do. I know I do it, and that there are certain parts of my body that I’m very vain about, like my shoulders and my calves.

      I think you hit it though when you said it’s about looking like the best version of yourself and not like someone else. I actually had an interesting conversation with a coworker yesterday about this, where she mentioned that she thought I had the kind of build – long limbs, slender, etc – that is very enviable, and she was surprised when I told her that I really admire women with solid, powerful builds and think they look very beautiful.

      I guess the point is that I want to get away from the idea that there is one specific way to Look Good and that everyone who doesn’t look that way are just collections of flaws in need of being fixed.

  56. Great article. One of the few ‘feminist’ pieces I’ve thought really addressed women’s issues about bad, marketing ideals.

    So…can I do all this strong stuff from my couch? ;)

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  58. “Our time on this planet is precious and we will never, ever get it back” – so true.
    So much poor advice and so many diet fads are allowed to make their way not only into popularity, but into influential publications that women read and trust wholeheartedly.
    Will people ever realise that you can’t attain the “perfect” shape by doing a two week extreme diet?

  59. Oh I love this…. in so many ways. And love what you said about big thighs– because I have been wondering why mine have been going in the opposite direction than I want them to as I get stronger… I think we all have this old ideal in our minds of what we are supposed to look like but have to get used to the reality of building muscle and what that looks like. It has taken me awhile to get used to it and accept it. Glad to have found your blog and signed up to follow!

  60. Pingback: Strong is the new skinny omg | Paleoliv·

  61. Strong as the new “skinny” makes very little sense, and as you point out the two are surely an anti-thesis of one another. I also find the women in these pictures somewhat dubious, as there are plenty of ways to exaggerate muscles. I doubt they’re as strong as they look, and even then I don’t think they look strong at all.

    Personally I think strength stems from more than physical appearance. It’s garnered through ability, confidence, ethical affirmation and the stature of one’s personality. If a person possesses good health and a true identity, then the body will shape itself to match (or so that’s my wholly unprofessional theory). When I think of a strong woman (or rather, person), I think of someone who looks good covered in sweat, blood, and victory, who projects an aura of command through presence and demeanor.

    These media outlets should encourage more than physical strength, and for that matter they should encourage a larger diversity of beauty types. Imagery these days revolves so heavily around sex appeal and nakedness… There’s nothing wrong with being sexy, but there are more ways to portray beauty.

    This is a bit off-topic, but I think you might find this article interesting: http://www.psichi.org/pubs/articles/article_548.aspx

    Basically, it theorizes that humans are biologically programmed to identify waist-to-hip ratio as an indicator of fertility for both men and women, and thus attractiveness. However, the pervading social fallacy equates skinniness to attractiveness. This perceptive disparity (theoretically) results in eating disorders, because cutting back on food intake thins out the body but has no affect on waist-to-hip ratio. A person believing in the skinny fallacy will get thinner, but not more attractive, and this gap in understanding causes confusion. Persistence will spiral into the eating disorders we recognize today.

    It might make a good post about the psychological origins of this whole “skinny craze”.

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  63. This post needs to be published in every women’s health and lifestyle magazine. These women are really going to hurt themselves trying to be ridiculously skinny and strong. Pushing yourself in either direction too far can be damaging. So I dread to think what’s happening inside the bodies of these people. Why is it always about pushing yourself to an extreme these days?

  64. @And we need to get over this idea that the most important purpose we serve on is to be beautiful for other people..>>>>Major issue with women who focus on what others think/or label as the IN look; to base what their body should look like…My belief is learn your OWN body. Learn what makes your body and BEing feel its best! Learn what type of diet your body runs best on; without feeling drained before the day is over…And most important women should STOP worrying about squeezing into a clothes size; that their body is too big for! And why are some women SO hung up on how many lbs they weigh? Society/media/magazines have a sneaky way of making us, as women, feel inadequate..that is SO wrong on many levels. Don’t we have to love our bodies even when we need to lose a few lbs??? I personally don’t: own a scale(nor do I care how much I weight), I don’t care what size I fit into(as long as “I” like the way I look in the mirror; when I don’t? I quickly add more things onto my exercise regime to drop the lbs; and I’m blessed in that I can drop lbs quickly. The downside to that is I can also add lbs quickly; which is why my exercise/food intake is something I’m always keeping tabs on…) I don’t care what models look like in magazines. Most of them look very anorexic, unhealthy, and on deaths doorstep..Until WE as women dictate what is beautiful about our bodies(which is everything!) society will continue to be able to sway the labels and negatively influence young girls minds about their bodies…Loved your write! 2 thumbs UP

  65. This is a very good and interesting post. It is so true. They should teach in schools more about the importance of working out, building up muscles and enjoying it!!

  66. I rather like the phrase although I did not perceive it as you. When I read, “Strong is the New Skinny”, I think of a movement from complete and sometimes extreme cardio to a balance of cardio and strength training. To me it sounds inclusive like, “yeah you’re a girl but it’s okay to pump some iron – you TOO can be strong AND lean. Just my $0.02.

  67. we must have been on the same wavelength, as i posted about how I don’t htink strong is the new skinny last week. I like the idea of strong is beautiful or strong IS period, but the new anything makes me feel like we are just trading one body image issue for another!

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  69. Pop culture and media are really messing up girls these days. That’s why we have problems with anorexia. Bulemia. Other eating disorders. The media and the culture really need to shift their thinking.

  70. I love this post! I have wondered the same thing myself when I see these fitness magazines, but didn’t really know what to make it (or how to verbalize my hesitancy of what they’re attributing). I had an inkling though that the fitness mags had just slapped another label in order to disguise the thin / skinny body image that a lot of women spend their life trying to attain. Congrats on being FP—well deserved! :)

  71. I LOVE this. And, I love that you are freshly pressed so that more young women, including myself, can benefit from this dialogue. Instead of having a “new” skinny, we need to end the idea that there is a perfect body and realize that different people have different bodies and goals for their bodies, and that is good.

  72. Hi Caitlin,
    Do you think there is a small misunderstanding on the replacement of strong for skinny? I don’t think this is a new standard of female beauty but rather an idea replacement that women should aim for strength, potentially in all areas, ie Mind Body and Spirit rather than the unhealthy alternative.
    You are 100% correct that the media is using this with accompanying pictures that don’t really demonstrate the intended meaning but, hasn’t the media always done that? This is nothing new; a slogan and a product, sometimes the don’t align at second glance.
    I also don’t understand how you can say strong and skinny are unattainable when many other clients actually do achieve the results the set to obtain.
    The science you claim doesn’t get taught, you also don’t seem to know/understand. Belly fat is insulin and cortisol based, not caloric, so a wasting disease wont give you a 6 pack nor will it not allow your legs to touch. Estrogen controls both hamstring fat and quad fat. It is more about hormones less about the amount of food. There is over a 100 years of research to prove this. Your “tremendous effort” really has to do more with stress and hormonal balance and is indeed a health path to follow. Wouldn’t you want to be less stressed with reduced PMS and associated female hormone problems? Wouldn’t you want estrogen balance, hormonal balance equaling life balance? Or are these unhealthy ideas?
    The site of muscles doesn’t equal strength. Watch any strong man competition and you will see several people the average person would consider fat performing extreme bouts of strength work. Muscles don’t correlate to strength and strength does not automatically mean bulk.
    I think strength is way more attainable for anyone, and more positive, than “skinny.” You can always lift more and should as strength training has been proven, for years now, to improve body composition and overall health in women specifically. Unattainable, very far from it. Go into any lifting gym (power, Olympic, crossfit, strongman, etc (not 24 or LA Fatness) and you will see what is possible. It takes knowledge to be able to get there.
    Your legs will get bigger argument happens for several reasons but ladies don’t have the same amount of hormones or hormone producing glands that males have, which means they cant put on muscle the same as a man, which means women have way more potential to strengthen their muscles without bulk/growth. Remember strength is not correlated to muscle size. Check Olympic weight classes for this as one example. No considerable amount of food needed. Where did you get the science that calories = strength? That means every obese person is stronger than an athlete? Nonsense. You cant use bodybuilders as an example because you are leaving out an entire pharmaceutical industry involved with that sport. And they no longer go through phases, they mostly have to stay lean year round because of promoting.
    Look into any real training center and you will see women dropping body fat while increasing strength, there is a science and scientific evidence behind that.
    You are also 100% correct on societies views and what women adhere to but a lot of the things you listed were created by women for women so……
    Mainstream media sucks for everything, this is nothing new.
    There is though a huge problem with knowledge pertaining to female physiology and getting the knowledge to the masses. There are a lot of good people who are trying to get that more public but its hard when there are a ton of magazines and other media sources that grab up everything want to know about: delicious recipes, some celebrity talking about their health, better breasts, better sex, what your man really thinks, latest fashions, new products etc. Regular information would appear boring and couldn’t grab their attention.
    Our time is precious, and we only have one chance and yolo and all that other fun stuff, so why be weak and unhealthy (unhealthy in mind and body)? Why cant strong be a goal? Why not Strong(her)?

    • I think you’re the one who is misunderstanding (too busy mansplaining?). You said, “The site of muscles doesn’t equal strength. Watch any strong man competition and you will see several people the average person would consider fat performing extreme bouts of strength work. Muscles don’t correlate to strength and strength does not automatically mean bulk.”
      Yes, but are any of those fat-looking strong people being held up as inspirational on Pinterest? No. Only conventionally attractive tan women with muscles and very low body fat percentages are shown. The skin-and-bones ideal is being replaced with the skin-and-muscles ideal but health and strength actually have very little to do with it because it’s really all about an aesthetic. And that’s kind of the point of this post.

      • Mansplaining? I don’t have a pintrest so I don’t know what gets posted. I do know that there are several fitness websites out there, mainly in powerlifting, lifting, Olympic lifting, that do show case and inspire strong women and men who are not “skinny model” types. Crossfit (including their 1000 affiliates) constantly congratulate and motivate these types of people. Slogans such as Lift Like Lindsay (who is a top female crossfitter) Strong(her) exist as well as forms for women who have the above mentioned article in mind (http://www.flexcart.com/members/elitefts/default.asp?cid=349) the girl squatting in the picture is a pretty good example. Forums for women entitled Powerful Women, exist (http://tnation.t-nation.com/free_online_forum/sports_body_women_training_performance_powerful;jsessionid=D78CB1EBB8CA3E9E52110FCE1DA3FA8F-mcd02.hydra&s=forumIndexCat) even on a website called “Testosterone nation”.
        You have a good point but I don’t know a lot of “fat-strong” people that are advertised in general except in those above mentioned domains. Skin and bones is a modeling concept, a concept that has been considered evil and dragged through the mud for years now. We know its fake/unreal/unhealthy, yet we still believe it and nothing has changed. I don’t see how telling women or advising women to be strong is a bad thing. I think it is a better goal to have. I don’t see strength for women as an unattainable goal either. Aesthetic has more to do with advertising and less with the real world. This slogan, like many others, is occasionally being misused.
        I was more so commenting that strength doesn’t equal bulky muscles, it may be advertised as so, but as a Strength Coach this isn’t true. I was just stating the fact.

    • Totally agree with everything that you have said in this comment. Most women just don’t think that “lifting weights” is something a woman should be doing, when really that is the best thing for us. I started lifting weights and have already lost much more weight than I ever have with just doing cardio exercises.

  73. When I played competitive soccer year round, I was much skinnier but weighed more than when I didn’t as a teen. I was all muscle then, so I never really believed in scales. Now, I appreciate inner strength, and Yoga has taught me to throw everything I know about body image right out the window. I have a lean body type naturally, so I look flexible. But I am not. I can’t touch my toes without bending my knees. But I’m working on it. Some women I see have curves, and can bend in ways I can’t imagine, and can do hand / head stands and other crazy balancing acts that I consider being strong. All this to say, I agree. We need to erase standards of beauty. Kudos on being freshly pressed!

  74. Such great words! It’s time we stop looking around and trying to force our bodies into being something they just aren’t. Love you comments about if you have muscle in your legs (gasp) your thighs may touch.

  75. Wonderful article! I gave up on my wish to fit to the unrealistic ideals of fitness models a very long time ago–after I started to figure out just what exactly their carb-deprived lifestyle is like! Not realistic for this woman at all. Thank you!

  76. I 100% agree with you ! And I myself love am too a gym rat but not to the point where it takes over my life. Everyone needs to find a happy balance in order to have a happy mental state! The thing is these women who are trying to achieve the new “strong” look and end up competing in “fitness competitions” end up destroying their bodies in the end. I am sorry but it is physically impossible to be shredded and jacked 24/7, and by putting your body through that type of training whither it may be working your body in over time, taking hormonal supplements does long term damage some that may be irreversible such as, metabolic damage and crashing your thyroid. So women really need to find a happy medium in order to achieve a healthy lifestyle. Thank you, Alanna :)

  77. Great points here, thanks for putting it out and congrats on fresh pressed!

    What bugs me (lifelong athlete from Hawaii) is that for all the “strong is the new skinny” ads out, I’m yet to find one where the girl isn’t strong AND skinny. If green were the new pink, you’d see green bikinis, not green and pink.

    Some of the most beautiful women I know are super fit, can run/swim/paddle for hours and hours and hours (and hours), but also have the extra “padding” they need to support that endeavor! Wish we could see these women too, women with arms larger than twigs…

  78. This article could not have come at a better time for me. I am currently on a 30 day juice fast in an attempt to get control of my eating habits and eventually attain my perfect body. There is so much conflicting information in society that one never knows which on is the right one. Thank you for this.

  79. Great post.

    I’m always a bit behind the trends. What was the new skinny before strong was the new skinny. I didn’t even catch the period where skinny was the new ???

    • Cheers to that! I’m a PT and have so many clients that I’ve turned around to not looking at the numbers and enjoying health and being able to do what you want to do!

  80. Hear hear! Though this does remind me that I need to start lifting a LITTLE. As I get older I can feel my muscles getting weaker… But it would be nice to get dressed and not worry that what I’m wearing (and how much of me is spilling over it) will affect how people perceive me.

  81. remarkable post and a wonderful thought. if only we would could be what you say here, our world would have so many more happier faces.
    “We don’t need a new beauty standard, nor do we need yet another physical ideal hanging over our every thought….Our time on this planet is precious and we will never, ever get it back, so let’s stop squandering it in pursuit of meaningless ideals we will most likely never attain anyway. We deserve so much better than that.”
    congrats on being fp!

  82. Very nice. I think you really hit it on the nose with our society not valuing science. People need to do more research and see what the evidence shows works. Spot on with the whole blog.

  83. Love what your saying, I always contemplate whether those thigh gap/abs pictures are photo-shopped since I can never figure out how it’s physically possible (or desirable)

    In my realm (surrounded by teenage females in an all girls school) things have yet to progress even as far as “strong is the new skinny”. My peers are still wrapped up in “skeleton is the new skinny” and in their attempts to loose weight they do the taboo of skipping meals and not eating, as they don’t even walk to school let alone venturing in the world of exercise and fitness.

    I second what your saying, but it seems to me at least the perception of beauty is becoming more progressive, at least exercise and healthy diet are being added in the equation. Now just to subtract the worshipped skinny image…

    • I suspect there’s some photoshopping going on, too. I still remember one running magazine I read, where the woman on the cover had the most ripped abs ever, but then on the inside, if you looked at another photo of the same woman from the same shoot, her abs were not nearly as defined. Re: thigh gaps – I’ve been informed that some people just have skeletal structures that favor a gap in the thighs, but it’s one of those things you can’t really do much to develop if your hips aren’t built that way. But it sure makes for a nice, unattainable goal for women to fixate on!

  84. Very well said. Great post! I see another problem with the “strong is the new skinny” mantra. I used to do Crossfit and there were a few overweight, female members of my gym who got really into the concept of “strong is the new skinny” – wearing super tight shirts featuring the phrase, “liking” pages on Facebook that featured it as a theme, etc. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to describe my point as well as I’d like, but it just seemed that the heavier the girl, the more she embraced the concept of “strong is the new skinny” – almost a glorification of NOT being physically fit. Does that make sense? And then, I wondered how those same overweight gals felt inside, knowing they’d never look like the fitness models who they worship so much for being “strong/skinny”. The whole thing was just interesting to me. Again….great post. Great writing. Great points made. Cheers!

    • It would be hard for me to guess, but I think the women may have latched on to the saying because they actually took it seriously and appreciated that it wasn’t all about being thin. I don’t know the deal with the women you are referring to, but I am inclined to think that if they were going to CrossFit regularly enough for you to know them, they were probably pretty physically fit as it is. One of the interesting things that I have learned since starting this blog is that there are a lot of physically active, strong people out there who weigh a lot, so I tend not to assume that someone is not fit because of the size of their bodies.

      • Well, they also drank a lot of alcohol all the time, ate lots of fast food, etc. etc. I don’t know . . . just something I noticed. Again, really great post you wrote!

    • The words you were looking for were “a glorification of not being THIN”. Because fat does not equal physically unfit. And yeah, us fat chicks who exercise will sometimes latch onto anything that does not inherently demonize our body type because OH THANK GOD it’s not another “get thin now, ask me how” campaign.

  85. Amen Sister……enough already! Can’t we women just BE………if any of these unattainable ideals appeal to the individual let them go for it, but to put the idea forward as a “New whatever” is not helping anyone! Great blog……..

  86. LOVED your post. As a former low-level figure competitor who has RUINED their metabolism, you hit the nail on the head. I lived the drink tons of water, eat nothing, lift hard and heavy lifestyle for 20 years and now, in my mid-40’s, have gained 30+ pounds and cannot lose it. Metabolic damage is no joke.

  87. I was starting to wonder if I was the only person who noticed this! I’m still in high school, and I couldn’t believe it when the same girls who go to the gym several times a week to shape up turn around and complain about their “man legs”. Even worse, they started laughing about a sporty girl (who actually ENJOYS sport) behind her back when a badly-lit photo of her “looked like” she had biceps! Fitness coming back sounded great at first, but not if there are still women and teenage girls who can’t understand that it’s impossible to have a bodybuilder’s and supermodel’s form at the same time.

  88. The purpose of this post is to examine the emphasis on skinny. The emphasis on strong is definately a step in the right direction. There are many women and men who are naturaly skinny, yet, very strong, many who are big and strong and many shades in between. In powerlifting there is weight category of 97lb for women and 114lb for men.

    The problem is when the emacieted anorexic look becomes the ideal. The majority of women have been brainwashed by the fashion industry and magazines to aspire for the skeletal look. Go to any gym and you will see women slaving away on treadmills in the hope that they will get a killer body – the last time I stepped on a treadmill was in 1987, I think!

    The fact remains that most women avoid the one thing that would benefit them the most and that is weight training. I was talking to a personal trainer once who commented how he had trouble getting women to do weights.

    I will never understand the quest for the thigh gap. I want to build my legs and gain about 10 cm on my quads. When I tell people that they look at me as if Im crazy! A bigger woman said to me once, “arent you worried you are going to look chunky?” Go figure!

    I say Lift and let Lift!

  89. Extremely potent post. Thank you as I share it and discuss it in depth with my 17 year old daughter.

  90. thank you for covering this topic so adeptly. it hasn’t been talked about enough yet. the fit vrs. skinny debacle has been really bothering me and personally brought on a new war with the scale. you brought up some excellent points. i really appreciated this read.

  91. PREACH! I hate seeing this “strong is the new skinny” stuff everywhere. It’s not that I’m unhappy that my friends are seriously pursuing better health and fitness – I’m an athlete and so are many of my friends, and taking care of ourselves and pushing us is good for us as athletes AND people. But not everyone is going to look “shredded.” The changes I’d have to make to my eating to look that way would most likely mean no more competing athletically. And frankly, I’m a lot more content knowing I can lift a couch than just looking like I can lift a couch.

  92. From a guy’s prospective, I have never liked totally skinny. My wife was a basketball player in HS. The shape is less a problem than the strength. If a lady has thick but hard legs as opposed to flabby, the size is not an issue. I like a lady with health and strength. it all show a woman who takes pride in who she is.

    • From a guy’s prospective, I have never liked totally skinny.

      With all due respect, this is part of the problem. It needs to be far less about what aesthetic individual men or an aggregate male-gazing public prefer — regardless of whether that favored aesthetic looks “skinny” or “strong” or both or neither — and a lot more about what serves the health, well being, and individual choices of each woman.

      • There’s a problem? Is it solely one sided? There is no standard or ideal type for males? It seems that frequently when a male sides with a female on body composition topics they get shot down, even when they agree or attempt to agree. There is no FE-male gazing? In all seriousness what do women want? (There’s a whole movie about this I think) But really: regarding health, well being and body composition, what do women want?

      • You are right to ask what women want. It can be daunting, I know a lot of men prefer the runway model look but I don’t want that because its unhealthy and unstainable. Being constantly hungry is no way to live. I don’t think any man or woman for that matter, is worth risking one’s health for. I know that a lot of women, especially young girls want to look like sticks.

        I on the other hand want to achieve a thick athletic physique. I have been working very hard to gain muscle on my legs and it’s not happening as fast as I like.

        Most women do not realize how valuable muscle mass is. It boost metabolism, keeps you strong and active as you get older and looks good! I find it frustrating to see women wearing out treadmills and elipticals.

  93. Gorgeously written article, loved every bit. Though I somewhat disagree with some strength/muscle (to a certain point at least). Following you from now on. Wonderful writer you are.

  94. Eh, I think it’s fairly easy to be strong and “skinny.” I’ve seen it in a lot of female powerlifters who fit this description. I happen not to be strong and skinny because I like food too much, but my entire blog is about how I’m using lifting heavy as a way to lose weight because–for me–it’s fun.

    I think that the most important thing is that people look the way that makes them feel comfortable. Now, because of society’s pressure, that may mean comfortable is closer to skinny than not. But individually a person must decide if they can comfortably live in the world the way they are in regards to weight. Sometimes, many times, the world is not fair. A person must decide what body size they can be happy at and with self-reflection hopefully one decides on something realistic.

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  97. This is great! The focus is still on how women’s bodies look rather than what they can do, as you say. It’s the same crap disguised as something new and progressive. I love your final paragraph. :)

  98. I really enjoyed reading this thought provoking and very well written piece. For me, as a powerlifter, the misuse of the term “strong” in these “strong is the new skinny” ads/memes etc. is frustrating as hell. It is like Crossfit, who’s marketing is focused on developing “elite” levels of strength and performance whilst maintaining a physical ideal that would make Aryan geneticists from 1939 blush. Barring genetic freaks, and those who supplement with PED’s or wear multi-ply gear, briefs and knee wraps, very few people can be strong and have a very lean physique.

    But I also think that this all cheapens what “strong” means. Strength has nothing to do with appearance, and to equate strength with a shallow qualitative description of physicality like “skinny”/”fat”/”whatever” misses out the important truth. True strength is not merely the numbers you can lift, it is the dignity you carry as a dedicated athlete, the respect and willingness to learn from others you display, and the love you show to friends and family.

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  101. We should all strive to have a body that can do what it was meant to do for us. Legs that can carry us around all day, arms that can lift our children. Bodies that are as strong as possible for health not aesthetic reasons. There are so many people that are not able to live a normal life because their body has let them down through disability. Those that want to body build should be allowed to do so, those that want to get out and LIVE, to have a takeaway, a pint or four with friends, a big fat burger at a barbecue. Nobody should be made to feel there is a particular body shape that is right for everyone. We are all different, it is what makes the world a great place.
    Strong is strong and skinny is skinny, Strong will never be the new skinny!

  102. Wow…you have had so many comments I am not sure you will get to mine, but your post is awesome. I would like to reblog this myself since my blog is about helping people lose weight but also to be healthy and feel good about yourself above all. I really did enjoy this post and agree with everything you said. Thanks!!

  103. Reblogged this on The Slim Side of Me and commented:
    I loved this post so much I had to reblog it. I know I only have a few followers as my blog is new, but if you are truly interested in losing weight and/ or being fit…aka being healthy, then I think you will appreciate it also.

  104. “We are taught to believe that the content of our dinner plates dictates the content of our character. We learn that perfection is equated with self-denial and that appetites are sinful, that moral exemplars know how to exercise self-control and willpower, that only gluttons give into their desires for food, and that it is possible to determine if a person is a moral exemplar or a glutton just by looking at them.”

    I could not agree more. I have never put the thoughts that float around in my head into this succinct of a form of verbage..
    This is stated… Beautifully. It is so sickeningly true.
    Thank you so much for this post!! You rock, woman!

  105. Helen: I think you are right that it is different strokes for different folks. People desire certain “images” in a mate. Players choice, preference, etc etc. Some women desire a man to look like Thor, some want a David Beckham, just depends. Does that necessarily mean that society “requires” an image? Fat people are shunned. Weight is an American issue, first world problem, for gods sake we are #-fucking-ONE in obesity. Of course its an issue, and as others have mentioned it is a historical issue. To say though society demands women look a certain way is asinine. Media and Pop culture are always screwing things up. But obviously a lot of women agree to: be healthy, be happy and feel good/confident about yourself + f**K the world.

    If it is the MAN holding you down then why is it pretty exclusive that women are the main promoters of this “lean/skinny” craze??? Who is in control of the fashion, magazines, tv shows, Oprah, Oz, The Doctors, the view, film, mostly its WOMEN pushing the pop culture look and appeal. So to cast the blame solely on male-gazing or what ever nonsense you would like to profile is idiotic.

    Obviously if only the pressure to be “Skinny” was as true an issue as people(women) say it is then every fat chick would be single and psychologically deranged, but obviously this isn’t the case. SOMEONE will love you. Do you want an entire society of people you shouldnt care for their opinions of in the first place to like you? Or a mate you finds you beautiful first thing in the morning and after a shower? At your most bare.

    Womens health is making Women unhealthy, but America is also unhealthy (in its idealism, pop culture and societal expectations.)

    Want some good info? Explore:
    http://www.charlespoliquin.com/ArticlesMultimedia/Articles/Article/244/Why_Women_Should_Not_Be_Afraid_of_Gaining_Muscle.aspx

    http://www.charlespoliquin.com/ArticlesMultimedia/Articles/Article/909/Why_Women_Should_Not_Be_Afraid_of_Gaining_Muscle_M.aspx

    http://happyhealthysexystrong.wordpress.com/2012/12/12/oh-i-am-so-confused/

    http://happyhealthysexystrong.wordpress.com/2013/04/19/disrupted-and-disturbed-women-and-change/

    Most women psychologically want a pre-pregnancy and high school weight. They want a number. Regardless of body fat over body weight. They want that scale to tell them they are at the “right weight” but few people understand why.

    Weight loss for females isn’t really all that physical its psychological.

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  107. As an erotic dancer who’s entire living can easily be dictated by what she looks like I have to say I loved this post. I have to be strong enough to do the pole tricks I include in my routines but get pressured constantly to also “be skinny.” I focus on the strong part (can I lift my body upside down and hold myself midair with only my legs) but on off nights it’s harder to ignore the whispers that maybe I should try to get down to a size 0 instead of my natural size 4-6. Great post and I cant wait to read some of your older ones and new ones in the future!

    • Thanks for the comment! Isn’t it unfortunate that the standard for “skinny” has been set so low? Like, it’s not just enough to be slender, but you’ve got to have visible bones? But, of course, not TOO visible, because no one wants to think of famine or eating disorders when they look at you. I’m also pretty slender but I would never be considered “skinny” because I have muscles and a body-fat percentage in the low 20s, and ultimately I am fine with this, because my life experience (as in, several years in an abusive relationship) has changed my perspective dramatically, to the point now where it is more important to me to not be vulnerable to being easily pushed around than it is to meet the beauty standard of being very thin and lean.

      • I know exactly what you mean about being slim/too skinny. Too skinny and your disgusting, a little extra jiggle and equally disgusting. I’m comfortable with my body and still make what I need to make but I’ve worked with girls who extreme diet to loose wight and than no longer have the strength to do pole tricks. Its a slippery slope that in my eyes is very easy to slide down on.

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  109. I love this post, it’s freaking awesome! I agree with you that media likes to change wording only to mean that same thing. I have been using getting strong but meaning it as gaining muscle and tone that wasn’t there to begin with. I have a condition where I have low tone and my joints are affected tremendously. I believe there is a happy medium as I like to call it for getting fit or what it is you want to call it. People need to realize that they need a WHY to make things happen, not do it because society says I am too fat or flabby. I look forward to reading future posts from you.

  110. I never really thought of the saying as something that was an image to attain. I do not consider myself thin, and I do not consider myself fat. I am a runner and cross train frequently. I am the strongest I have ever been in my life and have given up on being skinny because of this saying, its kind of my mantra! I do not care what people think of me anymore, because I know what I do is good for my body and my health! … But regardless, when I read your article it did put a different perspective on the whole thing, specially with the advertisements of “thigh gaped muscular girls”! (which…for some reason I have never seen with the saying “strong is the new skinny).

  111. I am having some mixed issues with this post. On one hand I get what you are saying but on the other hand I feel like there is shaming of those who are fit and lean. I personally found fitness inspiration from certain pictures during my weight loss from 250 lbs to 155 lbs (at 5’9 and took two years). The problem is the unrealistic expectations in ourselves and ignoring of what our body types can achieve. Too many women expect quick results and they take drastic measures, get frustrated and then claim failure. I know I’m never going to be what society calls skinny, I am bottom heavy, I’ll never have the thigh gap nor do I care. The efforts I have made have made me strong and given me a body to be proud of. Maybe I just have my head in order with these things and don’t expect the ridiculous and unachievable but expect the realistic.

    Perhaps that is the problem, too many women buying into the unrealistic while trying to do everything but what they should. I agree with some of the other commenters about how many women that see these pictures have no idea how to even get those results and how long it takes to get there. It takes YEARS sometimes depending on where you are coming from. It also takes discipline. But overall it is very simple. Eat clean whole foods, portion control, and exercise daily (which doesn’t have to be hours at the gym, I train 30 mins daily at the most plus 1-2 rest days a week).

    I also have to express my annoyance with the use of Jennifer Nicole Lee in two of your pictures. I use her workouts to kick my ass and feel the need to defend her. She lives her strength. She isn’t just a “skinny” girl standing there pretending to be strong. She used to be overweight and lost weight and became fit. She is actually the worst person to chose to prove your point because she is the opposite of the point you are trying to make. She worked hard and deserves the body she has.

  112. Such a good article! I wrote a really similar one. It is so true that we need to stop thinking so much about what we look like and focus more on the things we can do. Ultimately, looking a certain way to please other people is not going to make you happy.

  113. This is a fantastic piece. From a male perspective – it’s amazing how men are allowed to virtually be any shape and be considered “athletic” (from a 120 pound amateur wrestler to a 340 pound offensive tackle). Women don’t seem to be afforded the same luxury, although they should be.

    Regardless of gender or physical frame, athletic achievement is something to marvel at. If the power and grace of a stout running back and a slim tennis pro are considered equal, why shouldn’t it be the same for a female powerlifter and gymnast?

    Strong isn’t the new skinny. “Strong is the new skinny”, in reality, is simply the same old gender-inequality myth wrapped in more insidious packaging. Women, you’re beautiful for who you are. Strong is strong, at any size.

  114. I just came across your post and you hit the nail on the head. Thanks for sharing the truth, to many people don’t listen to themselves and care what others think.

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  116. “Strong is the new skinny” is as much a lie as, “Skinny is the new skinny,” as evidenced by the fact that I have had no more luck finding pictures of bodies that (1) look like mine, or (2) look like what I aspire to either before or after the phrase became popular.

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  118. FACT: Women are always going to focus on what we look like. It’s part of our nature as women to care about our appearance in search of a mate, it shouldn’t supercede our character, but it’s ridiculous to try to turn that off. It’s in our DNA! Making outer strength reflect our inner strength is not something to be discouraged.

    As a 32 year old Personal Trainer, a Mom (who was overweight and out of shape for years), a Nutrition Coach and a Bikini Athlete (Ms Bikini Model Philadelphia 2012), I can tell you that this author’s frustrations are based largely in ignorance. The same kind of ignorance that I see daily when my clients think that lifting heavy weight will somehow make them bigger. TESTOSTERONE makes you bigger, not weight. And unless they “Juice”, women don’t have enough testosterone to gain big muscles. Even PCOS sufferers, etc.

    Attaining a thigh gap does NOT require starvation of any kind, and lifting heavy weight does NOT make your thighs bigger than fat thighs, it simply changes the composition of them from fat to muscle. IT IS NOT IMPOSSIBLE. It just takes time…. up to a year or so of disciplined lifestyle changes.

    Although portion control and discipline are required, being hungry and reducing calories to the point of hunger is NOT the goal of any woman seeking a fit body. Most Bikini competitors (who’s goal is “tiny and tight”) squat twice their body weight. And most women are WRONGLY afraid of putting weight on the bar thinking it will make them bigger in some way. The way to get a thigh gap is through proper FOOT POSITIONING and proper compound movements, and high PROTEIN….not starvation! GET A TRAINER!!!! YouTube and Google will not give enough info to get this kind of physique.

    The problem lies more in the preservative and empty carb-laden crap that is passed off as food today than with the inspirational photos of women who either train hard with heavy weight (like me) or who use anabolic steroids to look like they do (like many others).

    Before writing an article like this… you should do more research with ACTUAL fitness professionals, or risk looking like another part of the obesity problem by failing to inspire people with the TRUTH about fitness.

    https://www.facebook.com/pages/HAZE-Fitness/461220643947260

    • 1. Women have not always cared about what we looked like. In fact, there are historians who have tracked women’s fixation with their appearances to the rise of indoor plumbing, so unless you really mean “since the 1930s” when you say “always,” you’re wrong about that. And really, it’s coded in our DNA? Really? Like, on what allele? Next to the one that programs women for monogamy and housework?

      2. The women who are now dealing with difficulty finding pants that fit them after taking up weight training programs might disagree with your statement that you do not get bigger when you strength train.

      3. Not every woman can attain a thigh gap, no matter how disciplined she is. The structure of our bodies just don’t allow for it. I would suggest that instead of insisting that every woman can attain a thigh gap if she just works hard enough for it, you take a step back and ask why a thigh gap is considered so desirable? The fixation on the thigh gap is a relatively new development in the evolution of Western concepts of beauty. Why do you think that is? And why is it now becoming the only way for a woman to have desirable thighs? Why is the obsession with making women ever smaller and leaner, especially when a lot of women cannot have bodies like that without veering into dangerous eating and exercise habits.

      4. I don’t just assume that because someone is a “fitness professional” that they are going to have a clue as to what they are talking about. Who do you think is responsible for all of your fellow physique competitors who are suffering the ramifications of high-cardio/low-calorie contest prep plans? And who do you think is making all of those Youtube videos and posting all of that stuff on Google (which is what you apparently think I have chosen exclusively to use to educate myself)? You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t immediately submit to your appeal to authority simply because you dropped the word “professional” in your sentence.

      Thanks for your comment, but I disagree with pretty much your entire perspective on things. I’m all about people pursuing strength and health and letting their bodies develop naturally in the process. I am NOT all about people trying to shoehorn their bodies to fit what is essentially an arbitrary standard of beauty that changes depending on what’s going on with culture and society at the time.

  119. Sitting here crying. I needed this today. To not give in to the voice telling me my body isn’t good enough because it’s not the size it once was. I’m so tired. Tired of fighting my body and my mind and wearing down my heart because I keep telling myself I’m not good enough. Thank you for this article. I needed it today.

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    • I absolutely loved this post,it was well written and with a considerable amount of information!First of all i would like to say that it is so pleasing to read something and the writer knows just what they need to say.The time that I have spent in the gym and the workouts that I have attempted reassures me that this post is so correct.There are many that say that you can lift weights and still remain skinny and to some degree i find this to be true but most of the time you will get bigger as your muscles grow.I think that if you watch what you consume in your daily calorie intake that you can control massive weight gain,but the fact that muscle weigh more and appear to make you look bigger decreases your chances of being skinny and muscled.Women that use weights in their workout regimen normally have a nice figure,nice weight but far from being skinny.There is nothing wrong with gaining as you lift just as long as you continue to watch what you eat.If you lift and keep a healthy well balanced diet you will not bulk up too much!It is best to gain weight over fat anyday,so to each their own just as long as we’re moving and eating correctly.Great post!

  122. Back to rule #1…all things in moderation, that’s fine, be strong, build muscle, but don’t let it consume your life as I have seen so many women do in this day and age. You’ll be OK if your don’t get the crossfit WOD in for the day, I promise. How about embracing the greater concept of strength of character and staying physically fit and muscles can be worked in along the way…..slow down and equalize your the strength across your body, mind and yes emotional well being.

    • Yes, I agree. Strength cannot be single-dimensional. What good is it to have a powerful healthy body if you do not nurture your mind or your emotional well-being? I think this goes for people of all genders, by the way, not just women.

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  126. I just happened to find this post. I feel so much pressure to not just be thin…but be STRONG on top of it. Last year I was 117 and won a transformation contest. This year? I am 140.I can deadlift almost 200 lbs and competed in my first ever powerlifting competition. But I struggled with my weight going up. I TRIED my hardest to look like those women in the fitspo ads…how could they look ripped and still be so strong? when I tried to lift heavy(I’m talking powerlifting heavy) i was weak in the gym. My lifts weren’t good. I thought that there was something wrong with me. Why couldn’t I be strong and thin too? Why couldn’t I stay 117 with cute ripped abs and lift heavy. But my weight crept up, and at the same time I got stronger. I am not fat by any means, I look healthy and strong but I won’t lie that I still feel inadequate when seeing all these fitspo “motivational pictures. I really needed to see this. I am normal. This is a must share and much needed.

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  129. If the new beauty standard involves me having a six pack, call me ugly now. Being skinny is actually more attainable than looking like a fitness model for most people I would think. I don’t have time to spend hours in a gym, I’m not athletic in any way; I can’t even ride a bike. Eating less, a lot less, to the point of even starving seems much easier. But as was mentioned from the beginning of this post “strong is the new skinny” does exchange one unattainable ideal with another. There shouldn’t be any ideals, there should just be people eating well and not sitting on their ass all day. That’s it. The body will come to an equilibrium that fits it and that will be beautiful.

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