#StrongNotSkinny: Progressive or Problematic?

If you are a woman reading this blog, you probably have heard of Kayla Itsines’ Bikini Body Guide (BBG for short). Even if you haven’t heard of BBG before, perhaps you follow a handful of “fitspiration” influencers, whose Instagram pages are an almost programmatic combination of before-and-after photos (“Transformation Tuesdays!”), healthy meals, workout videos, and inspirational quotes.

I follow a few women like this, and I can’t decide if I find them inspirational or psychologically draining. On the one hand, here are some badass women who can do fifty push-ups, smile through a burpee, and apparently subsist exclusively on Pinterest-worthy rainbow salads. On the other hand, I know how I look when I do a burpee (hint: not like those women), and my packed lunches in Tupperware are not exactly ready for their social media close-up. Sometimes looking at these accounts make me feel like I’m falling short instead of #fierce and #inspired.

I think this tension between inspirational and draining is exactly how I feel about the popular hashtag #strongnotskinny. I can’t decide— is claiming to be strong over skinny something empowering, or is it ultimately counterproductive?

The hashtag has five million posts on Instagram, and the people who use it believe that espousing strong over skinny means favoring health and wellness over crash diets and restrictive eating. And I think that’s an idea we can all can get behind.

My problem with #strongnotskinny is two-fold:

  • We’re taking an one body aspiration (“skinny”) and replacing it with another one (“strong”). I don’t dispute that we should want to be strong. But we can’t deny that it’s this slew of  body aspirations fed to women on a daily basis that’s contributing, at least in part, to body image issues. And while some may argue that the #strongnotskinny movement is trying to redirect these body aspirations into healthier territory, I’m not convinced that the”strong” movement isn’t just swapping out one unrealistic aspiration for another– especially when you consider the number of ripped, fitness-model physiques that accompany these kinds of posts.
  • Some women are just skinny, without relying on calorie restriction or a heroin problem. They’re never going to have huge muscles, and they’re never going to be viewed as particularly athletic-looking or strong on the surface. Guess what? That’s OK. We shouldn’t be putting them down in the name of a more body-positive movement.

And finally– even if it is true that #strongnotskinny is evidence of a more body-positive conversation, we’re still talking about women’s bodies, we’re still posting pictures of women’s bodies on the internet as fodder for discussion, and we’re still introducing yet another idea about how women’s bodies “should” be.

I’d liken the skinny-for-strong swap as switching from sugar to Stevia– maybe it’s better than using real sugar, but I’m not convinced it’s really all that much better for us in the end.

Curious to hear your thoughts–do you see #strongnotskinny as an empowering movement? Or do you think it’s problematic and not progressive?

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4 Comments

  • Reply
    Isabel
    September 19, 2017 at 6:41 pm

    Yes to all of this. I find most of these social media feeds psychologically draining because they strike me as being so out of touch with the reality of working a full-time job, living on a budget, staying in shape, maintaining strong relationships, etc. all at once. I’ve unfollowed most of them. And I’m skeptical that some of these women have achieved thinner bodies through completely healthy habits (yes, I’m grossly overgeneralizing). My ED-radar goes off.

    And I don’t think it’s that progressive. Sure, I think aspiring to be strong instead of skinny is a step in the right direction. But as you wrote, it’s still commentary on what women’s bodies SHOULD be.

    Can we all just stop talking women’s bodies and just let women BE?!

    • Reply
      Sonia
      September 19, 2017 at 10:35 pm

      Totally agree. I think we will have “‘made it” when we don’t feel the need to talk about women’s bodies. Case in point, there is no male equivalent to Kayla Itsnes, and no men are talking about topics like this on social media. #OneDay

  • Reply
    Annabel
    September 20, 2017 at 4:45 pm

    Not very progressive- I understand the reason behind it… but mostly these feeds are psychologically draining. It is with that lens that I look through my instagram… otherwise I’d just feel like my highlight reel was a deflated balloon in comparison

    • Reply
      Sonia
      September 20, 2017 at 4:46 pm

      Lol a deflated balloon is the right analogy!

  • Reply
    Laura Rao
    September 28, 2017 at 9:20 am

    As a woman “of a certain age,” I have finally come to the realization that HEALTHY is where we want to be so we can walk, run, ride and experience the world in a healthful way. Let’s take pictures of that!

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