I try to be a mindful consumer of social media, which is especially important considering how much time I spend on the internet. This means taking a pretty critical look at what I am taking in and what other people have to say about the things that are sweeping across our feeds. Of a few things I am certain;
I’m pro body positivity.
I’m pro body positivity for EVERYONE.
That means listening to the (valid) concerns of body positivity being taken over by thin white girls posting side by side photos showing that they do in fact have belly rolls when they sit down. It means understanding the privilege you have in being able to post photos like that. It also means knowing that the ability to pose in such a way that makes you appear to have a flat tummy shouldn’t invalidate your message either. It means recognizing that negative self-talk and self-image can effect ANYONE, no matter their size, gender, shape, or health.
I believe there should be a voice for all bodies within the community, and that we all need to be aware of the unique place everyone else is coming from and not put out a message that will alienate or silence them.
Body positivity is trendy right now and it’s a double edged sword.
While we could all use a little more of it in our life, what I’m actually seeing is a lot of pseudo acceptance that still alienates groups of people who actually stand to gain the most from body positivity. I see diet culture and bikini advertisements still marginalizing the voices that have been carrying this message long before it became an attractive concept in the media. I see a lot of “fitspo” posts dominating the voice of the community with messages that still do little to actually change the conversations we have surrounding body image.
They are well meaning enough sentiments, or at least I would like to believe. I also understand where they come from and why they can feel empowering for certain people.
When you’ve been told you’re entire life that working out is all about being skinny, that skinny is the goal of fitness, that skinny is the best thing you can be, or even that your worth is dependent on how skinny you are– it can be SO empowering to say NO to that. It is empowering to work out just to feel strong and now to achieve a certain goal of weight, size, or shape. That empowerment should be celebrated. In so many ways, I would love nothing more than to see the entire concept of “fitspo” entirely melt into this very idea– but one thing I need to make very clear is that it should not come at the cost of still alienating any body types.
While the sentiment of working towards strength rather than size is a noble pursuit, the idea of “strong over skinny” does 0% to actually change the idea that one body type is superior to another.
- Strong is better than skinny
- Skinny is better than fat
- Healthy and skinny are mutually exclusive
- Healthy and fat are mutually exclusive
- Human value is rooted in personal health
These are all the messages we are still sending in the name of personal empowerment. And if your empowerment is rooted in the alienation of others… it’s really just oppression.
I say this in the name of tough love. I don’t think anyone spreading this message does so with the intention to be oppressive, elitist, or alienating, but I want people to better understand the deeper meaning in their message. I want people to better understand that all of the above statements, all of the negative body thoughts they’ve been lead to believe about themselves, and all of the ideas that tell us there is only one way to have a body come from the same oppressive system that tries to control how women should look, feel, and behave. We are all on the same team here. That means we need to do some work in making sure we are lifting each other up, and furthermore, making sure we are not tearing each other down in the process of lifting our own selves up.
The message that “Strong Is The New Skinny” sends is no different than the message that skinny is better than fat or that healthy is better than unhealthy. Same goes for messages that praise media outlets for featuring “Real Women” in their ads, or puts down other women for being “too” anything (too skinny, too muscular, too tall, too loud, too manly, too curvy, too fat, too bossy)
Let’s set the record straight on those kinds of messages:
- All women are “real women” (trans women, women who’ve undergone mastectomies or hysterectomies, are infertile, choose not to have children, chronically ill, disabled,or anything else that has made them feel like less of a woman)
- While health is ultimately something we would all like to have, the amount of respect we deserve has exactly zero to do with how healthy we are
- Pointing out someone’s size (whether you think they are “too skinny” or “too fat”) with the veiled concern of their health is rude and body negative
- There is literally no way of knowing how healthy someone is by the shape of their body
- Other people’s health is actually none of your business
- If you’re truly concerned about another person’s health, say something that doesn’t have to do with their body (did you sleep enough last night? what are you doing to take care of yourself? do you want to talk about anything? how can I help? are all good places to start)
As much as I do work to help people live a healthier life, I also have to be mindful of those who cannot be healthy no matter how many carrots they eat or burpees they do. Health, strength, shape, size, and weight cannot and should not ever be indicators of one’s worth.
While I also understand that saying “Strong Not Skinny” is not the same as saying “Unhealthy People Are Sub-Human”– I would like everyone to be a little more mindful of using phrases like this and know that some people cannot be anything other than sick and skinny and know how this message is still alienating and indicative that two body phenomena are mutually exclusive.
Every body is worth celebration. You can be strong AND skinny, just like you can be strong AND fat. Fat and healthy, skinny and healthy, sick and skinny, mentally ill and fat, strong and fat, mentally ill and strong… NONE of these things are mutually exclusive and NO body type, health status, strength, or ability is superior to another.
Strong is not the new skinny.
Strong is strong, and we all posses it in a variety of ways that deserve respect, recognition, representation, and more than anything– celebration.