Acceptance is the new Skinny
First up, I have to check my privilege at the door. I’m usually treated as a dude, and not a dudette, so I didn’t suffer many of the “you need to be skinny” bullshit that women get (although I still did get some). I also don’t have kids, so the idea of how you should raise a kid/teen is not something I have any experience with. However, I still had a reaction to a particular series of conversations and articles, and I feel like I want to share my feelings on the topic.
There is a pretty decent blog post entitled Strong is the new Skinny sophieologie.wordpress.com/2013/04/30/strong-is-the-new-skinny/. On one hand, I agree with so many points in there. Telling anyone they should be skinny is pretty crappy advice. Skinny doesn’t mean healthy. You bruise easier, you get sick easier, you don’t have as much energy, etc etc. So the article suggests that we should encourage girls to be strong instead of skinny.
The problem with telling someone they should be skinny is that they warp it in their heads, and think “I’m not skinny enough” and beat themselves up over it. They strive to be skinny to the point that they injure themselves. They diet, perhaps they refuse to eat, perhaps they develop some form of eating disorder. They take the idea of being skinny to a very unhealthy extreme. They develop body dysmorphia, and they will never feel that they are skinny enough. And that’s the thing about body dysmorphia, because their interpretation of their body doesn’t match reality it is impossible for them to be skinny enough for their mind.
So how exactly does telling someone to be strong not cause a different flavor of the same problem? Now they still feel inadequate and feel that they aren’t strong enough. They need to be stronger, they need to exercise more. They are just as likely to injure themselves while exercising as from not eating. Especially if they are doing it to an extreme level. Torn tendons and pulled muscles. If they develop body dysmorphia, they will never be strong enough for the image in their head, and they will keep doing it well beyond what is safe.
The article has a picture of a 17 year old girl doing CrossFit, and states this is a great thing. CrossFit is a competition based thing. You are supposed to do intense exercises very quickly, and many of the exercises are high impact. Done without proper guidance these exercises can be extremely damaging to the body. I’m not entirely sure that is the right environment for teenagers that might be already feeling like they “aren’t good enough”.
I have had friends that were confined to wheelchairs. Thinking of one in particular, he is smart, funny, and attractive. But he will never be strong, because he has a muscle disorder and has to use a motorized wheelchair. Therefore by the “Strong is the new Skinny” he will never be good enough. Other bodily limitations can prevent someone from being strong, such as asthma. They can’t be strong, and are therefore not good enough. Never mind the fact that they may be wonderful people, they are still evaluated on their physical traits, and their appearance?
How about we start a new campaign along the lines of “Acceptance is the new Skinny”. It doesn’t matter how strong or weak someone is. It doesn’t matter how skinny or fat someone is. I would even say it doesn’t matter how smart or stupid someone is. We should accept people for who they are, and stop trying to make people change when they are just fine being them. We should encourage people to be happy in the skin they have, and that they are awesome as they are, and if they change, they will still be awesome, because they are just awesome through and through. Let’s stop writing articles suggesting someone needs to change in order to be okay.
I recognize that the article in question is very well written, and flat out states that you can be skinny and strong, or fat and strong. It states that you just need to be strong to the level that makes sense for yourself. I just feel that the message can so easily be warped in completely the wrong way. In ways the author I’m sure doesn’t want. The problem isn’t the article, the problem is all of the other articles that have been written about that article, which have completely missed the point.
There are some other problematic parts though, which I would like to take a glance at. Here is a small snippet:
“Encourage them to eat. Don’t let them diet. Discourage the idolization of anorexic and bulimic celebrities. Make them exercise instead. Teach them that “exercise” means running, jumping, sweating, grunting, working hard, and kicking butt- it doesn’t mean flapping their arms around in some trendy, overpriced Trogalaties course, or running on the elliptical until they pass out. Help them realize their own strength. All of these things will help girls realize their full potential, both physically and mentally. It will help girls become self-confident, capable, and literally and figuratively strong. A girl who is encouraged to be strong instead of skinny will have higher self-esteem, respect, ambitions, and worth. She will never be a victim. She will be healthy. She will be a leader. She will be confident. She will be an incredible, exceptional, powerful woman.”
That first part I agree with. I disagree with “Make them…” because I generally think that forcing someone to do something is almost always bad. “Encourage them…” would be a hell of a lot better. I don’t know about you, but I suffered through PE in high-school and it sucked. They “made me” do bench-press when I had a recently dislocated shoulder (let me tell you, that turned out awesome). No one in PE enjoyed it, and it sure as hell didn’t encourage us to keep it up afterwards, it chased us away. Making someone do something (especially a teenager) will make them want to do the exact opposite. Also “…will help girls realize their full potential” unless of course their potential lies in areas completely unrelated, such as poetry or writing, or art, or anything non-physical. “It will help girls become self-confident…” yes because high-school PE sure increased all of our confidence SO MUCH. And turning into a competition (like CrossFit, and many other programs) doesn’t make you feel confident, it makes you feel like a loser if you can’t keep up.
And more than anything I find the phrase “She will never be a victim” EXTREMELY PROBLEMATIC. This isn’t just a stray poorly thought out wording on the author’s part either. Up above there is a line about the 17 year old CrossFitter that is “I can pretty much guarantee you she is never going to be mugged.” Being physical strong won’t keep someone from being a woman. Suggesting that being strong will protect them is like saying not wearing skimpy clothes will keep someone from being a victim. Turn that the other way, and you are saying that the reason people are victims is because they aren’t strong. There is a term for that, and it is “victim blaming”. If someone becomes a victim, that must mean they aren’t strong enough, it’s their fault. Which is complete bullshit, it is the perpetrators fault, not the victim.