"Strong is the new skinny."
"Fit is the new skinny."
"Curvy is the new skinny."
As if we needed yet another standard to live up to replace skinny! #facepalm
Whilst thin may no longer be (quite as) in, we are now seeing a migration towards the fit ideal.
The fit ideal, or even the fit-with-curves ideal, are new ideals that are frequently celebrated and portrayed as "real". As in "real girls have muscles" or even the seemingly more inclusive (but clearly far less inclusive when said aloud) "real girls have muscles AND curves."
In all honesty, this new fit ideal is just another unrealistic and painfully limited aspiration of beauty - albeit disguised as health - that excludes the majority of women while pretending to accommodate them.
We really may as well be saying "SPIKY, SCALY, HERMAPHRODITIC, AND WITH RAINBOW DNA is the new skinny." It would be just as "inclusive".
When will we all just make peace with the fact that women come in a million different shapes, sizes, sexual orientations, colours, degrees of ability and disability, and body compositions, and that ALL of these bodies are OK?
By slightly shifting a narrow standard of beauty that places pressure on women to conform, with no regard given to which of the billion different and natural body types an individual was born with, we see the same obsessive, compulsive, unhealthy thoughts and behaviours that "the old skinny" standard generated - restrictive dieting, compulsive exercise, dangerous overtraining, and yes, body hate.
A-toned-ment: reps as penance for cake
Look around and you see it everywhere in popular culture images aimed at influencing women. No longer is the thin to anorexic model the epitome of beauty.
Nowadays its the lean, toned, muscular (but not too muscular) look, and curvy (but not too curvy) look, that's the desire of so many health-conscious women. Talk about a hard-to-hit target!
But this "thin-but-fit-but-with-curves-in-the-right-places-but-no-cellulite" ideal can generate a lot of anxiety and compulsive, unhealthy behaviours. Maybe even more so than the old "thin" ideal did.
Instead of, "I must restrict my food as much as possible", the new obsession is, "I must follow this clean eating and exercise plan as perfectly as possible." We have simply substituted one obsession for another.
It's still an approach to weight control. It's still disordered.
In fact, this new incarnation of dieting is arguably more dangerous than its predecessor because it's done in the name of "health". The relentless pursuit of a toned and fit body under the guise of health is just as potentially damaging as the pursuit of thinness for the sake of beauty.
There are a number of ways dieting can be hidden under the guise of health - also known as "I'm not dieting"-dieting. You can read 11 of them here.
Although good ol' dietary restriction is still a big part of this new game, we are now seeing some newer dieting behaviours, mainly focussed on exercise as penance for eating "bad" foods.
- Exercise in the form of weights.
- Exercise in the form of running.
- Exercise in the form of Crossfit.
- Exercise that is not only intended to burn calories, but to shape, tone, and trim down to that perfect new "fit" ideal, too.
- Exercise that is done because our bodies are "not yet good enough".
- Exercise as penance. Exercise as a means to an end, rather than exercise for pleasure, enjoyment... and the true physical, mental and spiritual health this fun kind of exercise automatically brings.
Look, I love resistance training. My trainer is the best. He's also my friend and our sessions are more of a soul revival featuring quality heart-to-heart conversation, than they are exercise.
Resistance training has made me strong, able to carry my tantrum-throwing toddler across the never-ending carpark at Bunnings without slipping a disc. The problem isn't with resistance training, Crossfit, or any form of exercise.
The problem arises when exercise is used as a tool to try to live up to the new "fit" beauty ideal. Which at the end of the day, is still very wrapped up in controlling our weight (just with some added muscle).
And THIS is the problem with "the new skinny."
Because as long as we're engaged in any behaviour designed to control our weight - be it food- or exercise- related, or even just stressing about what foods we should be avoiding even if we're still eating them (otherwise known as emotional restriction)...
...we are still on that same old dieting treadmill. That same old diet cycle that has been repeatedly proven to cause physical, emotional and mental damage, some of it permanent.
So watch out for this modern form of dieting and the inane "new skinny" memes that promote it. Eating and working out just to fit the "fit" beauty ideal is form of dieting that's disguised as health, but that brings about anything but.
And it upholds the expectation that women and femmes are still meant to appease the (newly fitness-conscious) male gaze.
Strong doesn't have to be the new skinny, or the new anything. I love strength training for the many health benefits it gives me that have nothing to do with how I look. The last thing I want is for it to become another shackle keeping me in a perpetual battle with yet another set of impossible beauty standards.
This article was updated on 7 January 2021.