I’ve been spoiled. I’ve taken advantage of the internet’s ability to cater to any microgenre of information to immerse myself in blogs and online magazines that tend to share my philosophy regarding women and fitness, and I was starting to feel like we were making a substantial incursion against the “skinny at all costs!” mindset that has consistently informed the vast majority of mainstream women’s media for as long as I can remember.
And then yesterday, courtesy of Fit Chick at Bicycling, I was reminded that we still have a ways to go. Fit Chick singles out a Harper’s Bazaar article from August 2013 entitled Can Spinning Make You Fat?, and after I finished reading it, I basically turned into this guy:
(BTW notice that just below the end of this article, Harper’s Bazaar poses the question “Is your cell phone making you fat?” The article is presumably about the effects of late-night cell phone usage on your ability to get a good night’s sleep. Sleep deprivation has been linked to a variety of health issues, but let’s ignore things like cognitive function and heart disease and instead focus on how it might make you zomg fat.)
Here’s a quick list of the things I found most ridiculous about this article:
- The editorial staff does not know the difference between fat and muscle.
- The hunger that follows an intense workout is seen as a bad thing.
- The author interviewed a woman who stopped cycling so she could let her muscles atrophy.
- Strength training is mentioned solely as something that can boost a woman’s metabolism for days after the workout.
The inanity goes on and on. I felt a bit stupider for having read the article. Further, it made me grateful that I exist far outside of the supposedly glamorous worlds of media-centric New York and L.A., which seem to be locked in an arms race to determine which city’s cadre of upper-class women can find the most outlandish ways to become as thin as possible without utterly destroying their bodies.
Truthfully I was almost not going to write about this because it feels like, as Fit Chick says, shooting fish in a barrel. I mean, it’s not exactly breaking news that the fashion industry is obsessed to an alarming degree with thinness. And honestly, having read Harper’s Bazaar, this is about the precise level of thoughtfulness I’d expect from this particular magazine. I doubt we’d ever read this article in Elle, for instance.
But last night as I was falling asleep, I thought again about the article and I felt very sad. Here you have a handful of women – because I refuse to assume that a grand total of three women constitutes an actual trend, sorry so-called “trend” journalism – who love spinning and SoulCycling so much that they do it several times a week, but because it makes their bodies more muscular than is acceptable in their microcosm of society, they are no longer going to do it.
You know what I say? If you love something, do it. And if doing that thing changes your body in ways that stray from the beauty standard, then fuck the beauty standard. There are a lot of ways to be beautiful and fabulous. Being model-thin is just one of those ways. It also happens to be a way that’s pretty difficult for a lot of us to attain. I recognize that’s the point, though. A lot of what is defined by various cultures as “beautiful” is that which is rare and difficult to attain, regardless of what that is. Just something to keep in mind whenever we talk about this stuff, that the fact that a lot of us can’t attain it is the entire point.
(And of course you don’t have to be beautiful and fabulous. I always come back to that post that keeps going around even though it was written eight years ago, about how we don’t owe prettiness to anyone: “Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked ‘female.'” You can choose to pursue these things, of course, and in whatever manner you deem fit, but you are not obligated to do so, no matter how much the world might make you try to feel otherwise.)
Ironically, a couple of days prior to reading this article, I noticed that ultra training – along with riding my tri bike on the indoor trainer and a steady diet of deadlifts and kettlebell swings – had all collaborated to change my lower body. My thighs are most definitely bigger, and the sliver of thigh gap that had developed during my marathon training is gone once again. My calves have gone well past the “lean, shapely” qualities cited in the article as one of the redeeming qualities of running and now have three – yes, three! – levels of striation.
I get the feeling that I’m supposed to panic about these changes, my bulky calves and my ever-thicker thighs, and maybe I would be worried if I was a publicist in Manhattan who could no longer fit into her Isabel Marant dresses. But that’s not who I am, and thank the multiverse for that. I’m an athlete who loves my body primarily for all of the things it allows me to do. I am grateful for the fact that I am healthy enough to even do the things I do in the first place. (What a privilege that is! And how often it is taken for granted!) That I also happen to dig the way my muscles look is just a cool little cherry on top of a whole sundae of awesome.
Whatever interest I ever had in trying to mold my body to look a specific way has faded in recent years. Socially-approved beauty is so illusory and ephemeral that I don’t feel like it’s worthwhile to put so much emphasis on pursuing it, not when my time on earth is limited and there is so much left to be explored and to learn and to do.
I’m not going to deny myself the things I love out of fear that I might not attain whatever it is those women are striving to attain. My life is worth more than that. So is yours. So are theirs.