Strong is the New Strong.

This post has been edited as I’ve given the issue more thought.
I want to weigh in (no pun intended) on the Facebook phenomenon “Strong is the New Skinny.” I think there’s an angle that hasn’t been considered.
First, let me say – the idea is solid. It’s intended to be a statement made on behalf of ladies like me – ladies who were never quite able to force themselves to do chronic cardio or 3 light sets of 12 on the adductor machine for more than a week without wanting to blow our brains out. Ladies who TRIED to want that “Gwyneth Paltrow” look (because that’s what we were SUPPOSED to want, right?) when it wasn’t our natural body type, nor even a true measure of health – and we fell short of achieving it because, deep down, it wasn’t what we truly desired and we couldn’t delude (or deprive) ourselves long enough to get there.
I always found something lacking in the treadmill-pounding, elliptical-humping routines that so many women, including myself, default to at traditional gyms. Even my 3x12s on the weight machines felt pithy. But there was no other way for a girl to exercise – I needed to get skinny before adding muscle, right? I wanted to “tone,” not to “get bulky.” In the end, though, my halfhearted desire to emulate the Paltrows and the Giseles of the world just translated into half-assed “workouts” – and any excuse I could come up with to avoid them.

Um, no.

So what is “Skinny?” It’s that old mind-set. In this setup, it seems to represent everything that us Strong Women no longer accept for ourselves – body insecurity, chronic cardio, thighs that aren’t supposed to touch each other. It’s a future of osteoporosis, deprivation, and being unable to lift that bag of cat litter at the ripe old age of 85. (I credit Coach Rut for that image.) That concept of “Skinny,” to me, represents nothing but negativity. It’s worthless. And an obsession with leanness and the muscle striations of some (not all) professional athletes – “fitspiration” – has taken the place of “thinspiration.” Could this be the harbinger of a new neurosis?
This is why “Strong is the New Skinny” doesn’t entirely sit right with me.
When I found Coach Rut’s program, Crossfit, Olympic Lifting, and the Paleo lifestyle, everything came into perspective. I felt so healthy that I literally couldn’t force my brain to obsess about looking a certain way without wondering WHY THE HECK I EVEN CARED. I started wanting to talk about what insecurities in any direction – whether it be lack of sinewy-ness or lack of rippled eight-pack-ness or lack of skinny or lack of strong – were really about. (I still have insecurities. But rather than indulge them, I try to displace them. Often by yammering on about them on this very blog.)
Though I recognize not everyone thinks of it this way, and I’ve been told I’m “thinking too much,” I don’t believe that “Strong” is  the new “Skinny.” I understand that the phrase means that “Strong” replaces “skinny” as our new “desired state of being,” or, “physical state to be appreciated,” or, “thing we think is attractive,” but I can’t help but take issue with the underpinnings of the phrase. The phrase still seems to give “skinny” the power. It seems to give physicality (as a marker of attractiveness) as much power as it’s always hadThis is embedded in the concept with the unappreciated subtlety of our most powerful tool – words, and how we string them together.
Yes, strength is great. It’s functional. It’s protective. But it has nothing to do with the old issues that are irrevocably intertwined with that “skinny” word, and juxtaposing the two concepts only proves that, to many women, the motivations are derived from the same source. I don’t even want to associate myself with those old issues, because doing so would mean I still, in some small way, gave a shit. I’m done with that. I’m striving for freedom!
Freedom to express my Awesome.

Many parents seem to appreciate the “SINS” mantra as a great example for their kids. I grew up with a strong, kick-ass mom (who, on her first date with my father, took him to task on the racquetball court) who never made me aware that there was anything but a Strong (as in, capable) Woman. Dad reinforced this constantly. Strong was it. It wasn’t our response to thinness or a less-popular, underdog alternative in need of validation. I’ve come up against some opposing influences along the way, but those qualities of a Strong Woman were always there, deep down, ready and waiting to be expressed.
Maybe I forgot about this for awhile, but I now understand that what “skinny” stands for was NEVER relevant. It was only as powerful as I allowed it to be, and the more I worried about standing opposed to it, the more power I gave it. “Strong” isn’t the “new” anything. It’s the ever-present ideal, the goal, the result of purposeful exercise (mental and physical) by an informed, health-dedicated woman. Hallelujah.

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19 Responses

  1. I’m with you – I like the thought behind the movement but it doesn’t sit right with me either. I’m going to raise a kick ass daughter to be strong, not in lieu of skinny, but just to be strong. To be proud of herself and her body, for what it is, not for what it isn’t.

  2. Hey, it’s Adam from SINS. My friend Marsha and I run the Strong is the New Skinny facebook page. I get your points about “Skinny” and all, but it’s so not about that. There’s almost 12,000 of us over there now who support each other and have a lot of fun – people from all walks of life, all training styles, all body types, men and women. What we do over there every day has become so much more than a name or a slogan…
    Here’s the original blog post I did that started the movement and a follow up that addressed some criticism.

  3. I think you are over thinking it. Personally, I think we should relish whatever “thing” gives someone confidence- be it thinking that “strong is the new skinny,” confidence given by a positive role model, or whatever intrinsic motivation we have. The new “sins” movement probably means something different to everyone. I grew up being bigger than all the boys, stronger than my brother, more athletic, and a size 4/6 who had to wear size 10 jeans because my quads wouldn’t fit. The movement meant that I could embrace my strength and celebrate with other women like me (strong, beautiful – and I think it’s ok- “skinny”). It’s nothing new, just maybe renewed. Celebrate it – don’t diminish it.

    1. Hey guys, thanks for the feedback. I think that, overall, my analysis of this is pretty positive. I do like to evaluate, question, and re-frame most ideas, and I really learned a lot in the process of evaluating this concept back in September. It was a very positive activity for me, and I’m glad I took the time to think critically about it. I was an early fan, and even posted this on the forums somewhere. Definitely didn’t intend to diminish the the “skinny” so much as to highlight the “strong” and ponder the many aspects involved in formulating self-image.

  4. Loved reading your blog. Having been one of those strong girls who couldn’t fit her quads into her jeans before, I totally understand where you are coming from.
    I am a paleo newbie… and am hoping to get stronger in the future.

    1. Maryann, welcome to Paleo Land! From your blog I can see that you’re hooked 🙂 Other books I recommend are Nutrition & Physical Degeneration and Primal Body, Primal Mind by Nora Gedgaudas!

  5. Personally, I agree. (Hi Adam!) I wrote a short note on Facebook one day expressing exactly this sentiment.
    For me, Skinny was the unattainable state of being that I used for SELF TORTURE for YEARS. I mean, years. Skinny was all of the women on TV, supermodels, women in magazines… it was that far off place of body perfection that reflected what I was not, could never be.
    I am a huge supporter of Strong is the New Skinny as a movement. But in my own head, I do not ever say those words to myself. I simply say ‘Strong is Sexy”. “Strong is Hot”. “Strong is Beautiful” I don’t WANT it to be the new “Skinny” because the old skinny was a source of my own personal hell.
    One thing I want to add,though. Skinny had that power over me because of my own issues – not because of any power within the word itself. It was up to me to recognize that and overcome those issues. I still struggle to this day, but am so much better off than I used to be, I am almost a different person.
    I think talking about the meaning of these words is great. We all get to define ourselves HOWEVER makes us feel good, and in the end, I know that is the message and intent of SINS.

    1. I agree with you Eileen – and when I wrote this, I think I was more concerned that everyone should share my view, because I was worried that the verbiage would somehow have the opposite effect of what was intended. (Blame my degree in literature and years of analyzing words for context, underlying meaning, and most of all – a decent grade!) Obviously I was concerned for no reason, and I understand now that while my mindset is appropriate and inspiring for me, it may not apply to everybody (or at least 12,000-some-odd people who, understandably, find inspiration in the message.) I’m not “wrong,” and neither are the thousands of people who relate to SINS as it’s presented. The best thing about the movement is that it got everyone to think about what Strong means to them.

  6. Considering how a number of “Strong is the New Skinny” pics are of women who appear to have replaced Anorexia Nervosa with Anorexia Athletica, I too think it would be nice if the word “Skinny” was removed altogether.

    1. I do think this is a very true statement. Not for everyone involved in the movement, but there are certainly some. I was actually conversing with a “recovering AA” the other day, and the drive to look a certain way was justified for her first through “pro-ana” websites, then through equally obsessive behavior toward sculpting a body that was not natural to her. It’s hard for many to understand since the strength movement is so self-esteem-oriented, but for many of us there is a channeling of equally detrimental behavior.

  7. Loved your cat litter reference. Just the other day I saw a commercial for cat litter that was advertised as being “lighter” and thought to myself (and out loud to my husband) why would you want lighter cat litter? He reminded me that old ladies (and probably young ones too, and men) have difficulty lifting the “heavy” cat litter. It didn’t even occur to me that someone could be in that state and have issues with such a thing. Anyway, nice post and here’s to being able to lift cat litter at 85! (But I’ll prbably stick with dogs anyway.)

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