Because, like many women, my body is not strong. It’s soft. If I work really hard, I can do push-ups and I can run really far. I can work to be strong. But that doesn’t change the fact that I was born into a body that is not naturally strong. At least not in that chiseled-lean-muscle way. Think about how newborn babies can’t hold their heads up or control their body movements–that’s because muscles are something that develop over time when we train them.
But soft is not the new skinny either. Neither is fat. Or thick. Or curvy. Or bootylicious. Or boobalicious. Or tall. Or short. Nope.
None of those things is the new skinny. Why? Because replacing one “ideal” physical characteristic with another does nothing to solve the problem of body dissatisfaction. I understand the appeal of using “strong” instead of “skinny” to create an ideal, an aspiration. Who doesn’t want to be strong?
Actually, our bodies are already strong. As strong, or stronger than a man’s (childbirth–hello!). But most women’s bodies are not strong in the bench-press-a-million-pounds-rock-hard-abs kinda way. (And most men’s bodies aren’t cut like male models in the mag photos either.)
So, we have traded a demure, fragile, thin ideal of women’s bodies for a traditionally masculine-muscle-y ideal. So what? What’s the big deal?
1) It perpetuates the idea that we have to strive towards a pre-determined ideal, rather than self-acceptance.
No singular physical form encompasses beauty. If strong is the new skinny, what about the soft women? If real women have curves, what about the women without them? If a product has to be “strong enough for a man,” what does that say about our definition of masculinity?
Lauding one type of body over all others inevitably leaves people out; it is purposely exclusive rather than inclusive. But it goes deeper than body image. If a “real woman” must have curves or a product has to be specially made to be “strong enough” for a man, that means there is only one way that a woman—or man—should look and act in order to be attractive, accepted, loved. When we measure ourselves against the ideal and find we fall short, the real message becomes: you are not good enough. And that’s just wrong.
2) The “strong” ideal equates beauty with masculine physical ideals, which only perpetuates the degradation of “feminine” qualities.
Trying to get women to look and act more like what we expect of men is not progress. Imagine the flipside: targeting men with messages like: “Soft is the new strong” “Vulnerability is the new power” “Tears are the new sweat”. Why aren’t we peppered with these types of messages? Because we are trapped in a gender binary that categorizes certain qualities as feminine (compassion, vulnerability, sensitivity) and masculine (strength, power, courage), and it’s the masculine qualities that we tend to idolize. But the truth is, these qualities are not inherently masculine or feminine, because no matter our gender or sex at birth, we are all born with sensitivity AND strength, vulnerability AND courage. And forgetting that is a disservice to us all.
Besides, “strong is the new skinny” is a farce. Look at the women in strong is the new skinny pictures–the skinny is still there. With a thin layer of muscle over it.
I understand it is still an ideal. Yet, it is a shift from frail and weak to strong and empowered. As a women that does strength train, I can say that in my experience strong, healthy bodies lead to strong, healthy lives.
There will always be an ideal, I prefer one that reminds us we can be strong.