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My problems with the strong is the new skinny campaign

When the 'strong is the new skinny' campaign first started, I was pretty excited about it. The first article I saw was a woman who used to be what she considered anorexic. She said she was weak, and barely ate. She fell in love with weight lifting, and said it gave her confidence, strength and courage. She explained how before lifting she was taught to deprive herself, to lack confidence in her body, and be weak. After lifting she felt proud of her new strength, could eat (and was supposed to eat) more, and felt a sense of progress towards muscle, versus progress towards being smaller. She posted new photos of herself showing she didn't look much different (she didn't 'get huge'). Her photos though were fairly normal looking. She probably had a healthy 10-20% body fat, and you could tell she had some solid muscle. Her muscle, however, wasn't rippling out of her skin, and it isn't supposed to be.

There are two main types of weight training I want to talk about here, bodybuilding, and strength training, and they are two very different things. To make my point, here is a strength trainer

And here is a body builder

The big difference is their body fat. Strength trainers are going to eat all the calories they should, and then some to ensure maximum muscle growth. Body builders will do that too, but then they will go through a cutting period. A cutting period is where you cut your bodyfat and waterweight for show, and is often done through pretty extreme measures (spitting to reduce water weight etc). This is only temporary. It isn't usually sustainable in the long term because muscle growth needs excess calories. Herein lies my major problem with the images of the strong is the new skinny campaign. It takes low body fat and high muscle mass as a constant, instead of a temporary state. Underneath it all, the strong is the new skinny campaign values being skinny more than it values strength. It is no wonder that most of the models for the strong is the new skinny campaign are quite skinny. 

I'm left to snicker a little at this photo, because of it's irony. "Skinny is not sexy" but this woman is skinny by many definitions, particularly if you are looking at body fat, or waist size. That is not a bad thing, but if it's a duck, call it a duck. A skinny campaign is a skinny campaign, whether it's masked behind "healthy" and "strong" or not. The second thing that is frustrating about this campaign is the unrealistic body proportions that perpetuate the campaign. Facebook has decided that my news feed should contain at least 3 images of incredibly low body fat, large breasted woman at all times. Pintrest is perhaps the most notorious for this body image. Search for fitness motivation and you may well stumble upon an image like this

Some woman are gifted with boob fat that refuses to leave. I am not one of those woman, and most women are not either. Truth is, if your body fat dips even close to as low as many of these women, sinara suckers (suckers being your boobs). At 18% bodyfat, I am a C cup, as soon as I near 15% I am nearly an A cup. Literally the first thing to go. I will have love handles long after my boobs have gone back to their 14 year old size. I personally am okay with this, but I don't think it's fair to show women a body type that most of them will never attain. I have to say though I was pretty impressed while searching for images. In the last year it seems sites like pintrest have started to post a lot more realistic photos of women (small boobs and all).

What I don't see a lot of on these 'strong is the new skinny' campaigns are women like Samantha Wright, Olympic weight lifting contender.

Britain Olympic Weightlifter Zoe Smith

And you will probably never, ever, see our own U.S.A woman olympic weight lifter Holley Mangold in a strong is the new skinny campaign

and she is strong. as. hell. 

But she is not skinny.

Because the strong is the new skinny campaign isn't actually about being strong. It's about being skinny. The strong is the new skinny campaign is deceptive because it doesn't say what it means, nor mean what it says. If you want to strength train, your arms will be defined, but not cut, your abs will be visible, but not flat, and your pecks might become bigger than your boobs. The strong is the new skinny campaign makes it seem that the body types they are portraying come from weight training, but they don't. The body types portrayed most often in the strong is the new skinny campaign are runner bodies. And this is why: runners have low body fat. 

The problem is, to strength train with very low body fat, is not very effective. Thin layers of fat near your muscles provides energy for workouts and for regrowth. There's a reason that the world's strongest women are big but not cut. 

The strong is the new skinny campaign doesn't reveal itself for what it is: a new unrealistic ideal of women to be thin and muscular (an ideal that is only temporary, and does not come from strength training alone). While the campaign started as a great new take on female body confidence, it has spiraled its way down to yet another confounded and delusional ideal of the female body. I think the strong is the new skinny campaign is great. I think we should keep it, but I think we as women who love weightlifting need to reclaim it. No more bullshit stock photos of women curling 5 lb weights, no more bullshit photos of runners posing for lifting campaigns. And most of all no more sexualization of strength training women in boyshorts and sports bras. Just real, boobless, strong-as-hell women. 

That is all.


  1. So good! Brilliantly put. Well articulated information to really wrap brain teeth around. Final photo, fantastic for an exclamation point! Loved it!

    El Lenjel

  2. "Sexy" is defined each time by the observer; think of the quote 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

    I agree with the poster's quote. Skinny can be sexy however it is not the end all be all. Health has more utility. Health in general is a good predictor of how well you treat yourself and potentially others. If a woman is skinny and has no strength, that puts all of the strength oriented stuff on me (which can go from feeling needed to annoying pretty quickly. On the other hand if my lady was super strong, I'd feel less important and probably not like the dynamics in the relationship.

    Very skinny gives off a sickly vibe
    Fat gives off an unhealthy vibe
    Ripped looks like the individual is self-servng

  3. This! I just started weightlifting because I could no longer work towards aesthetics.


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