THIS WEEK IN trending bodies, skinny is out, and muscle is in. Anyone who has that one friend on Facebook that you went to high school with and now teaches CrossFit in an abandoned parking garage probably already knows this, thanks to the constant stream of fitspo memes and riffs on “strong is the new skinny” that end up littering your feed. I’m not sure when “strong is the new skinny” started happening, because I thought thigh gap was still a thing (for other people, my thighs have never known the gap. They are a black hole. Light does not escape), or maybe they’re both things, in which case they both need to die. Jezebel reported the muscle-is-good-skinny-is-bad trend when it started picking up speed some time last year, but the hardcore muscle/fitness movement doesn’t seem to be going away.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with wanting to get real swol if that’s what genuinely makes you feel good, and as far as body trends go, it could be worse. As Jezebel’s Erin Gloria Ryan wrote back in 2013, “To be fair, visible strength as an aesthetic ideal is less awful than visible weakness as an aesthetic ideal. Finally, women can control and dominate the space they occupy rather than disappearing into bony oblivion! Right? ” If we’re talking about what’s “healthier,” thigh gap vs. strong-is-the-new-skinny, fitness coach Bryan McGee points out that building muscle does have its benefits, such as boosting the metabolism and helping prevent osteoporosis in women: “Stronger bodies recover faster; stronger bodies don’t break as easily, if they break at all […] You significantly reduce the risk of all manner of diseases.” As a somewhat beefy kid who became a somewhat beefy non-kid who always kind of hated being so beefy, I understand the drive to embrace “strong” as the ideal aesthetic, but why do we need aesthetic ideals at all? And is it about being strong, or looking strong? And how does someone look strong or “healthy?” A quick browse through Tumblr fitspo suggests that being fit and muscular is “sexy” — as long as you have a tiny waist and a big butt, but are still relatively thin and feminine-looking even though your arms are cut, which falls in line with traditional beauty standards anyway. “Strong” is the new skinny in that now the ideal woman’s body is thin but with defined abs. And, as Ryan points out, we don’t need a “new skinny.” According to the Washington Post, “Women’s health experts worry that the trend isn’t as positive as it seems because the focus is still on women’s appearance, not achievements. Equally discouraging, they say, is evidence that women are no more satisfied with their bodies today than in decades past.” If working out feels good, do it. Sometimes I go to the gym to pretend that Earth has been vanquished by a zombie pandemic and I am training to become the chosen one and only hope to save the world from the imminent fiery apocalypse. Sometimes I sit in the parking lot and pretend from inside my car. They say the most is important thing is that you just show up, and I do.
The truth is, though, that most of us are not in training to save the world from a zombie pandemic and are not professional athletes and therefore there is such a thing as overdoing it and potentially hurting yourself because you need more calf definition to be happy. The NY Times points to the recent popularity of CrossFit as a potential cause of the muscle trend, and reports that some people (and kids) may be overdoing it: “CrossFitters represent just one wave of a fitness sea change, in which well-to-do Americans abandon easy, convenient forms of exercise in favor of workouts grueling enough to resemble a kind of physical atonement.” Again, if extreme workouts are genuinely your jam and you want to get completely and utterly YOKED because that feels good for you, great. However, as Jezebel’s Ryan points out, “Being strong and formidable shouldn’t be approached as a goal that pleases others; being strong and formidable are their own rewards. And women don’t need a ‘new skinny’ […] ‘Strong is the new skinny’ means ‘now you have to lift weights to be f**kable.’” [asterisks ours] Sure, it may not be trendy for women to starve themselves in order to look thin anymore, but wearing yourself down to look ripped still sounds like a punishment, and so does a lot of “fitspo” doctrine circulating the Web, like “Suck it up now so you don’t have to suck it in later.” Women shouldn’t feel they have to punish themselves with grueling workouts so they can be “healthy” and “earn” the right to feel good about themselves or eat whatever the f**k they feel like.
Being strong isn’t necessarily “good.” and being skinny isn’t “bad”, and eating a handful of Oreos might not be the healthiest food choice in the world but it doesn’t mean you are dirty when compared to someone who “eats clean.” Bodies are just bodies. They aren’t good or bad. Now chill the f**k out. I don’t need to know how many squats you did today.