I remember when this quote was first appearing on social media. And at first, I was all for it. But increasingly, I’ve become wary of any take on the classic “X is the new skinny”.
First things first: if you are naturally skinny/petite/slim/whatever you want to call it, please do not be offended. And unlike the majority of things I head with “please do not be offended”, I mean it this time. If skinny is your natural way of being, then it isn’t for me to tell you that you should be otherwise. You are in no way deficient, whatever anyone would tell you. Just as curvy is beautiful, and muscular is beautiful, and whatever else you reading this are is beautiful, so is skinny.
When I talk about “skinny” in the context of this post, I mean pushing your body into something it is not meant to be. If this was fifty years ago, I might be saying “Strong/Healthy is the new Curvy”, because back then curves and weight gain pills were in.
The issue I take with this phrase is that here “skinny” is seen as something negative, which strong/healthy can replace, bringing in a new era of hope and light and love etc. But if we take this quote literally, then strong/healthy being the new skinny becomes something more sinister. It becomes something that, just like skinny, causes people push their bodies into something they aren’t meant to be. Let’s take a look at what is now, in mainstream media, praised as healthy/strong:
- A low body fat percentage
- A six pack
- Following a cult diet or way of eating, including: clean eating, IFFYM, paleo, and (this is the only way I can think of phrasing it) non-ethical-but-completely-body-focused-veganism (I’m sure there are many rightly angry vegans out there, who hate to see a way of eating primarily focused on saving animals being turned into a health fad).
- Constantly being in the gym
- Pushing to the point of collapse in the gym (I’m sure we have all seen the IG memes and “inspirational” quotations)
- Never, ever eating anything unhealthy…
- and if you do, justifying it by it being a treat/cheat day
All of these things are explicitly indicated to be the epitome of healthy or strong. They’re on magazine covers, used to advertise products etc. Along with these, there are things we then implicitly see as healthy, because they are what all of the “healthy” models on magazines/in advertisements have…
- Long, glossy, natural-but-not-too-natural hair
- A tan
- Flawless skin, and perfect makeup. Even if in the picture, they are meant to be post-heavy-gym-session.
- Boobs, despite having very little body fat
Does anyone else smell a marketing ploy?
Health and strength is portrayed in various media outlets as a one-size-fits-all prescription. Something people can make money off of. Something that depends on aesthetics. Just when I thought the whole point of, and most liberating thing about, health is that it looks different for everyone? In fact, take a look at this link, where a photographer took many shots of different female athletes: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/19/howard-schatz-photos-women-professional-athletes_n_4297902.html . Then google “female fitness models”. In case you needed proof of true health and strength looking different on everyone, vs. the image of health and strength we are sold.
In the way that it is rapidly becoming as confining as “skinny” was, yes strong/healthy is definitely its new replacement. I read a blog by a former fitness model, who reported that when she had all of the above traits defining healthy in the mainstream media, she was actually at her weakest (her name is Maddy Moon, and you can see her blog here: http://maddymoon.com/blog/ ).
Okay, so what does health really mean? Healthy is different for different people, and at different points even within our own lives. Maybe at 60 I will hate lifting weights, and would rather be surfing or walking my twenty Persian cats. Right now, I am increasingly learning that being healthy/strong for me means the below things…
- Maybe not having a six pack, but a strong core that allows me to complete my activities in the gym with ease
- Enjoying the gym. Treating it as a playground, and not a torture chamber
- Not having a label stuck on my food choices, but just eating what I want when I want. I am of course conscious of the fact that new potatoes are better than chips, but I have a balance going.
- Not being in the gym five days a week, but three
- Having a body fat percentage above that which would allow for visible abs
- Taking days off, and sitting on my butt watching *insert TV series* with my brother or dog
- Giving myself a break when I don’t make the best choices
- Not labelling foods as good/bad necessarily
My point is this: “skinny” was something that meant people pushed against the state at which their body was happiest and genuinely healthiest to become. If strong/healthy had replaced this is the true sense of strong/healthy, then there would be no issue. We would all be allowed to be different, and yet all at our optimum state of health. But what is sold to us as strong/healthy doesn’t match up with what might be strong/healthy for the majority of us- mentally and physically. With this, I get the feeling that what was originally so great about the idea, the liberty that being healthy brings, is gone. So, by all means, praise being healthy as replacing a desire to be skinny, but make sure you know what healthy is before you do so.