Strong Is the New Skinny
This summer, the Strong Is the New Skinny movement has been blowing up social media, encouraging women to trade in their diets and skinny jeans for weight training and CrossFit workouts. The first affiliated gym was CrossFit North in Seattle, growing to 13 CrossFit gyms by 2005 and more than 6,100 today.
Naysayers claim that Strong Is the New Skinny simply exchanges one aesthetic ideal for another. Jennipher Walters at the Huffington Post comments, "Instead of treating our body with respect and loving ourselves, we transferred our need to feel beautiful (and therefore worthy) to the weight room instead of getting our self value from a deeper place?" As much as I appreciate Walters' thoughtful analysis, I disagree. I can speak from experience and tell you that the weight room is the classroom in which we, as women, can learn to recognize and celebrate the strength of our bodies.
I first lived out Strong Is the New Skinny in high school, transitioning from a desperation to be thin to regular weight training. I was only 13 when I developed an eating disorder. A voice inside my head berated me with negative self-talk and insisted I'd be more socially acceptable if I was thinner. Fat. Worthless. What a failure you are … you can't even lose ten pounds. You're hopeless. See them over there, they're laughing at you—no one will approve of you or even really like you until you lose the weight. How could you eat that orange? You know where that will go—straight to your thighs. You're going to have to get rid of it now—but don't let anybody catch you. Like the skinny ideal perpetuated the media, the voice was convincing in part because it was constant—like static looping through the mind 24/7.
"We turn skeletons into goddesses and look to them as if they might teach us how not to need," wrote Marya Hornbacher, author of the bestselling memoir Wasted. An image of an angular, skinny woman became elevated as the female ideal, seen every time we stand in a checkout line, turn on the TV, go to the movies, or pass by an Abercrombie and Fitch.
As a teen, thin was never thin enough, and I compared myself unremittingly to ideals I could never achieve. Years later, I stumbled into weight training when I started dating a dedicated bodybuilder. He showed me the ropes in the weight room, and before long, I was hitting the weights on a consistent basis. For the first time in years, I was free from the negative voice inside. I no longer focused on what my body wasn't; instead, I focused on what it was: strong.
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