Strong Is the New Skinny
Now, as a weightlifter and CrossFitter, I continue to see how good and healthy it is for us as women to celebrate our bodies' strength. And though some women may do strength training just for appearances, "strong," rightly conceived, is not a body type as the critics claim—it's an objective standard of performance. We can be strong at many shapes and sizes.
With so many cultural influences causing women to be ashamed of their bodies, it helps to recognize what our bodies can do in firm, measurable ways. The beaknik, postmodern "I'm okay, you're okay" drivel is not enough to withstand the mighty gales of shame and self-loathing, largely because it isn't true. As much as we like to think that everything is relative, there is an objective standard for optimal physical health, and neither the 400-pound couch potato or the 80-pound anorexic meet that standard.
Being strong isn't merely about our bodies and muscles—it also affects our overall mental and emotional wellbeing. Taking care of our physical health, doing things like lifting weights, boosts confidence and self-esteem. Decades of research have linked athletic participation with increased personal and social adjustment, increased educational attainment, and decreased sexual promiscuity among females. Contrary to the Platonic dualism that undergirds Western culture (and evangelicalism, for that matter), our body matters and what we do with it has mental, emotional, and spiritual implications.
An obsession with getting skinnier, on the other hand, fuels negative thinking. As our brains repeat, "I'm not thin enough," it forms a corresponding neurosignature, or brain groove, psychiatrists say. This habitual thinking and negative self-talk becomes hard to silence as our brains return to that old rut. To stop it, you actually have to replace it with a good habit (see Eph. 4:28). The "strong is the new skinny" movement holds so much potential because we exchange negative thinking with positive thinking.
Weightlifting and CrossFit have transformed the way I think about strength, my body, food. I learned that strength is about testing limits and persevering through weakness—lessons that serve me well in every area of my life. I learned my body isn't just a blank canvas on which I impose some external standard of beauty; it's a gift, a conduit through which I can achieve great things for God on this earth. Food isn't the enemy; it is also a glorious gift that provides me with the fuel and nourishment I need to achieve my tasks—hugging my daughters, baking a casserole for a sick friend.
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