In the health and fitness community it is very common to hear both of these phrases:
Strong Is The New Skinny!
Healthy Is The New Skinny!
To which I roll my eyes so far into the back of my head that they may get stuck. Here is the thing: we do not need a new skinny.
Not only is this phrase shameful to individuals who may be naturally skinny, but this phrase is just putting a new standard to which women can measure their worthiness by and for that I call bullshit.
We do not need a new ruler to see how we stack up. What we need to do is throw all the rulers out completely.
This phrase originated as a counter to constantly upholding thinness as the epitome of beauty, but is this any better? I am sure at first glance it seems that this is a great move, but with further critical thinking we can begin seeing how this is also a problem, and possibly even harmful.
Skinny, or thinness, is culturally accepted as the “goal”. What these phrases have done is change the goal from skinny to healthy or strength.
Instead of working for thinness, now we can strive for strength. I am all for goals, if that is what you want to do. I enjoy strength training myself, but I am also well aware of what can happen when we are on the pursuit to chase strength. It isn’t much different than the pursuit of chasing thinness. We will get to a certain level, and ask what is the next level?
Not to mention: who defines strength? Regardless of how that is defined, this statement also is laced with idea that all people can achieve “strength”. Which simply isn’t the case.
What happens with this statement is that we may override our own body’s natural wisdom when it comes to physical activity. Where instead of listening when it says: okay that is enough. We continue pushing forward all in the name of strength. And somehow that makes it okay?
On top of that, we now have the condition of “strong” to place our feelings of confidence on. As you know, anytime that we are hinging our confidence and worthiness on exterior things it can lead to issues of poor self-worth.
And what happens if we do not achieve this “strong”? What if we are not skinny – and not strong? What about these people?
When I first let go of the diet mentality – I felt liberated. I was finally able to let go of so much metaphorical weight that I had been lugging around for years. However, I had not done a lot of the deeper introspection work to really hone in, and know, that I am worthy. Period. No clause or fine print needed.
Because of this, I locked onto strength training. It was my new “thing”. I don’t have to be skinny! I can be strong, and I can do strong. I began noticing the same issues that were related to my quest for thinness show up in the same journey towards strength. Perfection, black and white, expectations, feelings of failure, contingent confidence, and over-all my worthiness was on the basis of how much can I lift (and can I lift more than this – and more than her)?
I am not saying this is the story for everyone, but it is the story that I have seen time and time again in the work that I do. Where we detach from the quest of smallness, and latch on to the quest of something else: strength.
Where the pounds are no longer what we see on the scale, but how much we can move.
The problem is that this is a complicated topic because strength training – in moderation – can be beneficial. It does have the possibility of making us feel good – just like any movement – but also can help with our overall physical well-being. Strength training is what saves my back from not being a disaster when I have to physically move my patients that are dead weight. However, the constant quest for strength also did a number on my knees when I was chasing it. It is a fine line in which we walk, and talk about this topic. And I believe that is why it meets so much resistance when we say: hey maybe this isn’t okay. And maybe it is even harmful.
Not only physically harmful, but mentally and emotionally.
The same concept goes for health. It is a topic that isn’t talked about that much because: how can making health a priority be harmful to your overall health and well-being? Well, it is when we are walking that fine line and slip down the side of obsession.
Chasing health is not any better than chasing thinness. As a matter of fact, this is a topic that I think we will continue to see be a problem. It already is a problem. This is why we are having an increase in the prevalence in Orthorexia, and I believe that in a few years it will be enough of an issue that it will make it into the DSMV-5 to actually be another type of diagnosable eating disorder.
We have moralized health. We have made it seem like it is completely within our control. We have made our worthiness be on the level of healthiness. That is why we see statements such as: it is okay if you are fat, but you better be healthy. To which I say: fuck that shit. We don’t owe anyone health.
Not to mention the idea of health is often a very narrowed idea – similar to what beauty is in our culture. Not all people can achieve our cultural standard of health. Are we really wanting to say that people who do not meet that, or even people who choose to not pursue it, are unworthy? I am opting out of that narrative completely.
On top of that, health is not entirely within our control. As a matter of fact, a there is a greater portion that is directly outside of our control versus within our control.
What has happened is that now we have normalized disordered eating all in the name of: health.
Where we have individuals with intense levels of fear, guilt, shame, and anxiety all because they are worried about becoming unhealthy, or are worried about constantly being this perfect idea of health.
I don’t care how you try to twist it: if your healthy lifestyle is bulldozing over your life, making you stressed out, creating anxiety, rooted in fear, and overall making you feel like shit – then it is NOT healthy.
If your mental well-being is a wreck, which yes has a major impact on your physical well-being, then how is that okay?
If you are hinging your worthiness on the narrow standard of “health”, and you end up with some type of health issue and now fall short of this ideal: is that what you really want?
Of course, this topic is also a difficult one that is often met with major resistance. Trust me, I had that resistance too. After all, I am a nurse. Wasn’t this going against everything I was taught? Totally, but not really.
Imagine if we all payed a little bit closer attention to our mental health. How would that look, or more importantly, feel for you? And for us as a society?
This isn’t to say that you cannot make attempts at caring for your overall health. If that is something you value, then go for it. But again, it is that fine line in which we are dancing on. This isn’t even going into how complicated we have made “health” because we think it is completely within our control…but that is for another blog.
We don’t need a new skinny. And we sure as hell don’t need to uplift strength or healthiness as the new standard to try to meet. I am not sure about you, but I am done trying to reach a standard to finally feel good enough. I choose to feel good right now, no matter what level of health, strength, or weight I am.