Why To Exercise Today: ‘Strong Is The New Skinny’?

Ambivalence.

That’s what I’m feeling about “Strong is the new skinny,” a meme that this CBC news report tells me is “blowing up” on social media this summer. Indeed, a quick check of the Twitter hashtag #strongisthenewskinny yields a bounty of tweets, including:

I ain’t got time for these Victoria Secret tweets! Someone feed the models some carbs and teach em how to squat.

You all want junk in your trunk nobody wants skinny fat flat arses

Train like the beast and you’ll look like beauty!

Skinny girls worry about their weight on the scale—Fit girls worry about the weight lifted in the gym.

(Roberto Berlim/Wikimedia Commons)

(Roberto Berlim/Wikimedia Commons)


The source of my ambivalence: Yes, a shift away from the Twiggy ideal and toward a fit, healthier ideal could turn out to be less anorexogenic. And much of the messaging is wonderful: Try hard. Eat healthy. Work out. But why does any form of body have to be bad? Do you really have to derogate flat bottoms and pressure girls to lift heavier weights? Will young women now end up obsessing about lacking a sixpack instead of about extra pounds?

It’s also worth noting that quite a bit of the impetus for this new slogan — though by no means all — seems to come from personal trainers, who have a vested interest in persuading women that they need to build muscle, and commercial exercise programs. My vote goes with the CBC reporter in the clip above, who ends suggesting “Maybe we shouldn’t say ‘Strong is the new skinny; maybe we should say, ‘healthy is the new skinny.’” Readers, thoughts? Have you heard this slogan and how did you react?

Below: Evidence the meme has spread as far as Australia:

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  • Adaptive Fitness

    Writing in from Randwick, NSW: the emphasis on healthy, fit and strong body has existed in urban Australia for at least the last 20 years and if it is obsessive it is inherent to this latitude. With surfing beaches and mountains all around, with cars being freakishly expensive, and weather good all year round the training is basically free of charge (you basically end up moving all day) . With pint of beer costing 10$ and food packaging following the miniature European style, overeating is not that easy as in the US either. I have always been struck by the fairly high level of fitness among city populations downunder — but maybe it’s just due to the relaxed dress code and higher percentage of bodies being available for scrutiny. ;)

  • Kathy

    These models look pretty skinny to me, and also very young and beautiful. I’m in for the long run. I’ve watched many people who train harder and lift heavier drop out from injuries – and I’m still going (moderately) strong. It’s a good message that physical fitness should be the goal, and sweat is good. As Carey says, if you’re fit and healthy, no body is bad.

  • Insa

    “Strong” can be interpreted in many ways. I doesn’t have to mean “Cross Fit” animal with abs of steel. As a yoga teacher, I see students with all different kinds of body types. For me, “strong” has come to mean: aware, comfortable and confident in their body. Yes, that is good and beautiful, and something to be cultivated.

  • Des

    I think it’s great. It’s healthy and builds confidence in way that crash dieting and unhealthy obsession over weight. You can see your body transform and you learn to appreciate it more for the work you have put in, despite NOT having that 6 pack.

  • Reasonable?

    Being strong is a part of being in good health. It should be done safely with a focus technique over weight maximization or physique.

    However strength pursuits can be taken too far.
    Talk to orthopedic surgeons about patients they see with injuries from CrossFit Gyms.

    Quote from an ortho freidn: “CrossFit keeps us in business.”

  • Warders

    I am a fan! People spend too much time worrying about waist size when the could focus on doing something that helps them to feel better and helps them to be healthier.

  • Robert

    Sure there are plenty of nuances to tear apart around whether the subtleties of such a slogan has some possible negative side-effects, but come on! Getting some enthusiasm toward romanticizing health & athleticism as the mainstream idealized female body is about 20,000 times better than idealizing anorexic and/or weak/submissive looking bodies. We as creatures who create art, etc, are always going to create and seek ideals, much as we are also wired to psychologically stereotype. Hopefully we are discerning enough to notice when we are doing it and not completely believe in it, but in a culture that is presently battling epidemic obesity and sedentary lifestyles on one side, and the deep roots of women (and more men) hating their bodies and trying to starve them to reach a skinny ideal, associating an ideal with a quality (strength), as opposed to a defined appearance (skinny), is an absolute step in a better direction.

    • careyg

      Really persuasive, Robert and Corey and Laura — the more I think about it, the more I do think it’s a true improvement, it’s just something about the over-the-top messaging — I know “the new skinny” is a tad ironic, but the obsession with “skinny” has been so problematic; I’d have preferred just a message of “strong is good” — but then, of course, it wouldn’t be so catchy….

  • Laura LA

    “Why does any form of body have to be bad?” That is the best part of this article. We need to strive for healthy living while recognizing it comes in may shapes. Thanks for the food for thought.

  • Corey

    New movements often have enthusiastic, vocal subsets that try to legitimize themselves by villainizing their predecessors. Just pay attention to the positive messages and ignore the rest.