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Horse Quads and Collar Bones: Why anorexic women playing characters with physical strength feels problematic

Alright, alright, alright. I should be prepping my curriculum right now, but I couldn't get something off of my mind.

The "Bad Blood" video has been circulating the internet lately. Don't get me wrong, I think the video is well done, cheeky, creative, and has a bomb catchy beat.

But here's the thought that stubbornly stays in my head the entire time I watch that video.

"You're too skinny to be able to realistically do any of that stuff"

Let's be real, T-Swift might be borderline anorexic. Now I'm self conscious for this post, because on one hand, I'm not a fan of body shaming. And in no way is being lean, skinny, or etched inherently negative. There is a part of the skinny continuum though, near the anorexic side that becomes problematic. Not because the body type is ugly or wrong, but because the cause is of an underlying personal or societal problem. That being said, I will admit that I feel an emotional reaction when I see people who are very very thin, and that probably comes out in my writing on this piece.

With that caveat in place let's go back to Swift's video. In the video Taylor plays a defiant and powerful female spy. But I have to try hard to hold that fiction in my head when her spine and shoulder blades twist under her skin while she punches a guy to the ground. She walks toward the camera with a fierce face, but a figure that looks thin and etched. The first word I think of when I see her is not 'strong', but unfortunately, it's 'frail'. There are things really beautiful about her body, but I also cannot suspend my disbelief that her body is capable of the strength and power the video shows it to have.  And yes, unfortunately, I do think that body type likely comes from pressure of spotlight, and I will say I feel it is probably getting into unhealthy territory.

This happens all the time. Look at Salt with Angelina Jolie. Does she play a badass female role, absolutely. But something still bothers me. I guess what still bothers me is the dichotomy between this fictional reality of female strength we see the character playing on TV, with the reality of  female expectations in society that crafted Angelina's body into the one that it is, which yes, happens to be frail and lack physical power.

In some ways it's the same reason I hate the strong is the new skinny campaign. It shows women with no body fat, which is unrealistic for actual strength training (you need fat stores to maintain and gain muscle). In other words, it's selling yet another unattainable ideal of the female body. I think we need to ask ourselves as a society, do we value strength, or do we value being skinny for females? I can't suspend the illusion any longer that these anorexic female role models are capable of the strength they theatrically portray in movies. I also don't think it's fair for a little girl to want to live up to the strength these characters portray while simultaneously believing they must be physically small and weak to be acceptable in society.

I want our little girls to say, I'm not skinny, but I'll give you two tickets to this gun show. Oh, and you better believe these horse sized quads can roundhouse kick like no other.

Obviously, I'm kind of joking. I think women should do whatever they want with their bodies, and obviously becoming addicted to being big is a problem too. But I want little girls to have realistic ideas about the types of bodies women have when they are physically strong and powerful.  These role models should have horse quads and jacked traps, not etched collar bones and shoulder blades.


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