This Trendy “Strong is the New Skinny” Thing (and what it could mean for the next generation of girls)

This girl is 17 and a CrossFitter. She’s obviously a genius and a badass.

*UPDATE: Here’s a PG-Version of this blog post, for those of you who wish to Spread the Strength among those of innocent ears*

First of all, hi everyone. It feels like I haven’t blogged about anything sociologically substantial in a while, and I might be a bit rusty so please pardon the potentially poor prose.


Now that I’ve graduated from McGill and no longer have to whittle away the hours of cushy student life by blogging nonsensically about sociological things, what have I been doing with myself?

WELL. That brings me to today’s topic.

My strange, wonderful, and illuminating journey working in the fitness industry.

My job more or less involves establishing a new product’s brand personality within the health and fitness industry/society. It has made me realize a lot of things about the messages we send to girls about what’s healthy (most of it is really horrible and fucked up, duh), but it’s also given me a lot of hope for the future of women in America (which, if you’ve read my other angry feminist stuff, is usually pretty pessimistic).

This is how it came about:

First I got a job in sales at LA Fitness. Which was a horrible fit, obviously. A writer should never attempt a job in sales; I’d much rather sit around in my pajamas and eat Nutella with a spoon and type on my computer for a living (which is exactly what is going on at the time of this post being written, thankyouverymuch).


Failing miserably at a crappy corporate job selling gym memberships actually turned out to be the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

The reason I first ventured into an LA Fitness (gyms not being my usual haunting grounds) was an interesting one. Being of a naturally petite body type, I had never felt the urgent need to frequent the gym. Of course, like any normal girl, I had flirted with all sorts of diets, fads, and eating disorders pretty consistently throughout my adolescence.  Being an un-athletic girl means that you have to figure out some other method for attaining skinny nirvana.

Why Pressuring Teenage Girls to be Skinny Should be Illegal:

Good job, Special K. You convinced a 15 year old girl it was healthy to function on 2 cups of cereal a day.

For the record: Teenage girls are so goddamn moody because they are always fucking hungry.I guarantee you that every teenage girl’s angst is amplified ~300% because  she is 1) miserable because she’s on a diet and hungry 2) miserable because she’s “on a diet” but just ate a cake and feels really guilty and is considering regurgitating it 3) miserable because she’s given up on dieting and resigned herself to being “fat”. And  why do we do this to ourselves?

Because we want to be thin and beautiful.

This desire to be thin and beautiful goes much, much deeper than the desire to be sexually attractive (Dear men: We don’t actually care about you that much). Eventually all girls internalize (whether we realize it or not) certain realizations about how the world works, and our dual status of being both human beings and sexual objects. Girls learn things like employment, leadership opportunities, and social acceptance come easier when you’re good looking.  We see in the media that a woman’s viability as a sexual object is often emphasized more than her intellectual accomplishments. In fact,the success of a powerful woman is often accompanied, or even overshadowed, by the attention directed at her appearance.

This was made painfully apparent in my teenage years during the 2008 election, during which I observed for almost 6 months the media’s treatment of Obama & McCain versus the coverage of Clinton & Palin. I listened to a ceaseless, unyielding stream of media nattering over Clinton & Palin’s wardrobe choices, hair, boobs, age, “screechy” voices, calling them “bitches” and “ditzes” and next to nothing about their political views. And these are two of the most accomplished, educated women in America.

Meanwhile, Obama & McCain were offered enough respect by the media to actually run campaigns that revolved around their political views, instead of news blasts about lookalike pornos (Nailin’ Pailin’… enough said). So yes, girls do learn that our appearance is often more important than our intellect, accomplishments, or success. Because that is how we are treated.

(And I DON’T CARE if Sarah Palin is a stupid twit. George Bush is a stupid twit, and as far as I know, the media doesn’t give a rats ass about his pant size or hairstyles. This is a gender thing, not an intellect thing)

But as important as that is, I digress from my original point.


Size zero and REALLY struggling to hold the gun. I didn’t want to admit it at the time, but I thought it was really heavy 😦

During my last semester at McGill University I mysteriously lost my appetite. And no, “mysteriously lost my appetite”  is not code for anorexia or bulimia. I just had no desire to eat, plain and simple. I wasted away for four months over the summer. When I returned to Seattle in September, I had gone from 120 un-athletic pounds to 104 pounds of (basically) skin and bone. Not that I was really complaining about being super skinny. I mean, hey, a size zero is a size zero, amiright?

Which just goes to show you how fucked up the average girls’ thought process on beauty, health, and self-worth really is.

So there I was, 104 lbs and I finally felt “sexy” with my spindly, heroin addict body. I was ecstatic that delicate, trendy, Urban Outfitters clothing finally draped just right over my waifish  frame (just like the prepubescent models in their catalogs!).   I had lost the ability to perform a basic human function- eating-  and done nothing about it. I relished not feeling hungry and having to eat, because like, c’mon, that’s every woman’s dream (like I said, fucked up.)

Why Fitting into Size Zero Pants is not Actually that Awesome:

Then the classic “the grass is always greener on the other side” dilemma snuck in. I began to miss food. Then the compliments (“You look really good! Have you lost weight?”) turned into concern (“Do you have a coke problem? You can tell me, I just want to help!”).   I began to hate my body, even though it was one society had taught me was “ideal” ever since, um, puberty.

SO. Obviously the logical thing for me to get off my stagnant ass go to the gym, in hopes that exercising would stimulate my appetite. Since I was a recent graduate with no job, the next logical thing to do was apply for a job at a gym so I could exercise for free and, you know, be employed.

As I previously mentioned, I failed miserably at selling gym memberships. I also failed miserably at exercising more (Surprise!!!! Not.). In fact, the only good thing about working at LA Fitness is that it forced me to memorize a lot of information about fitness in a very short amount of time, and it made me miserable enough to start seriously looking for a “career”. Which, for a wanna-be writer, is kind of like searching for a unicorn in a Where’s Waldo? book.


Because one of the jobs I applied for online asked for a creative writing  sample (which I do #likeaboss) on the topic of health & fitness. What a wonderful, wonderful coincidence (or fate? who knows).

I got hired to write for Cody, a small startup that was developing a health & fitness iPhone app. My role was to create content for their blog. Specifically- write workouts and health tips that would eventually be offered within the app for users to browse (BTW, everybody should go download Cody, I like to think I made him really funny 🙂 )

And so, the heavy door into the world of fitness had been heaved open to me.

Becoming familiar with exercises, workouts, and fitness-lingo was a requirement of my new job. And, as one would expect; it is pretty much impossible to write instructions on how to do an exercise unless you can actually do the exercise yourself. So I found myself frequenting the gym more and more often out of necessity.

I’m sure I made a complete ass of myself the first few times I went, but eventually, with a lot of practice and a few (ok, a lot) embarrassing moments, I figured out the basics of the weight room and then (this is the miraculous part) began to really look forward to working out. This is coming from the girl that has always been notoriously un-athletic. Like, worst dancer on the dance team, slowest person on the Cross Country team (I joined because it was a no-cut sport, and I needed a P.E. credit), always picked last in P.E., ran a 11-minute mile bad. 

Like, allergic to exercise bad.

Ok, ok- Enough Rambling. What’s your point, Sophia?


5’5″ and 104 lbs. My waist was pretty much as wide as Eitan’s hand. And Eitan’s not a big dude (…sorry Eitan).

The time when I was my skinniest and most photographically beautiful (i.e. I looked magazine-cover-skinny) was also the time when I was at my weakest, in all senses of the word. I was constantly asking the guys downstairs to opens jars for me, and if they weren’t home, well then I was shit out of luck (and pasta sauce). Trying to carry my own suitcases while traveling between Seattle and Montreal was (pathetically) a nightmare. Even carrying pitchers of beer at the bar I was working at was a struggle for my skeletal arms. I was sleeping 12 hours a day and constantly tired. I’m sure that my brain wasn’t functioning all too well either.

Now I wonder how my life would have been different if people had encouraged girls (me) to be strong instead of skinny.

I think back to high school, when I put myself on a 1200 daily calorie limit, even though I was running 3-5 miles daily.  I attended a reputably rigorous high school with a 5 AP course load, woke up at 6:30 am, went to school, did extracurriculars, worked part-time, and often went to bed at 2-3am. I was counting calories, denying myself food, guilt-ing myself when I did eat, and even though I was never more that 120 lbs., I never stopped pinching my “fat” every time I looked in a mirror. I was hungry, angry, tired, and depressed all the time. And I was a teenager. Let’s not forget that part.  Teenagers are hellions.

But when I look back at my experiences, decisions, and accomplishments, I still wonder how different would my life have been if I had been encouraged to be strong instead of skinny. Would my grades have been better if I hadn’t been literally starving myself since the age of 13? Could I have gotten into Harvard instead of McGill? Would I have been a better runner if I had been encouraged to fucking eat instead of diet. Would I have had better relationships with my parents, sister, and friends?

Let me repeat: Strong > Skinny

It’s sad that only I came to this realization with clarity after seeing both extreme sides of the coin. I still can’t do a lot of basic things (chest to ground push ups still evade me), but the progress I have made so far has made me fully realize what I was missing when I was younger. It’s funny how the skinnier I desired to be, the weaker I got, and when I finally realized I had to gain weight, the stronger I got.

Actually, that’s not funny at all. It makes a lot of sense.

Since I started writing for Cody, and out of professional necessity, started working out, everything has changed.  Now when I look in the mirror (this is embarrassing  by the way, I can’t believe I’m admitting this online) I flex instead of sucking in. Now when I pinch my stomach, it’s to feel my abs, not to feel shitty about how much “flab” (real or imaginary) is sitting there. I no longer stare at the “calories burned” display on the elliptical, but how many plates I have on each end of the barbell. I can open my own pasta sauce jars now. I am moving soon and do not need the help of any hulking strong lad to transport my furniture. My goal has changed from “be a size zero” to do a motherfucking pull up.  I have gained far more self-esteem from being able to pick up heavy shit that I ever have from being able to zip up a skin-tight designer dress.  I became a more capable, energetic, independent, and mentally focused person once my focus shifted from what my body  looks like to what my body can do

But it’s just tragic – no sarcasm here- really really tragic how a large majority of young girls in America spend their time obsessing over their weight, devoting time, energy, emotions, and effort into being skinny.

It’s tragic because you have to the think of all of the potential that is lost when a whole generation of girls care more about fitting into minuscule pants instead of… oh I don’t know… running for student council, pursing a passion, studying, volunteering, playing sports, working, furthering woman’s rights… the list could go on and on. My main point is, girls waste so much time on being skinny – because we are taught that is is important if we want to be successful- when we could be devoting their efforts to becoming so much more powerful than simply skinny.

What’s even worse is the following scientific truth I’m about to acknowledge, that NOBODY BOTHERED TO TELL ME when I was an insecure teenage girl, that really would have helped me out: Muscle is approximately twice as dense at fat. 

Or, for all of you visual people:

Left: Me at 104 lbs. Right: Me at 126 lbs. Notice a difference?.... yeah, that's what I thought.

Left: Me at 104 lbs.
Right: Me at 126 lbs.
Notice a difference?…. yeah, that’s what I thought.


Anyway, I think it’s time I brought this blog post to a conclusion and made my point:

Dear Society: Please assist me in convincing young girls that “strong is the new skinny”.

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 ass- 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 kick-ass.

Spread the strength.



653 thoughts on “This Trendy “Strong is the New Skinny” Thing (and what it could mean for the next generation of girls)

  1. Ugh.

    1. You don’t need to bash on a natural body type to promote strength as a desirable trait to have.
    2. Not all 104 lb girls are starving themselves.
    3. Suggesting that by being buff you will “never be a victim” is absolutely reprehensible to my mind. Horrible things can happen to anyone, and of all the things that victims (especially sexual assault victims), blame themselves for alread “if only I had been STRONGER” should not fucking be one of them too.

    • 1. Just because something is “natural” doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Any person that was to lift heavy ass weight and eat a caloric surplus would gain weight, that’s simple thermodynamics. There’s a difference between accepting things you can’t change (e.g. permanent injuries, genetic disorders, even body proportions) and accepting things that you can and SHOULD change, especially for your physical health.

      2. I agree, but the author never insinuated this. There are many people who are that weight and very strong and healthy (usually they’re pretty short mind you) but it should be apparent that the author is talking about people who are UNDERWEIGHT, as in, weak, bony, and malnourished.

      3. By being “buff”, you’re greatly improving your self esteem, confidence, and have the physical formidably to actually RESIST being a victim. It’s not an absolute solution, and no one should be disregarded just because they’re strong (this is part of why male rape isn’t taken seriously) but it’s an improvement no matter what.

      In fact, I was bullied, harassed, and emotionally abused when I was younger. This has driven me to want to get strong and empowered as a result. It’s something that doesn’t require any physical altercation; the results and appearance it produces speaks for itself (especially for men, since they actually have the ability to get big).

    • I think she means “victim” in the psychological sense. As in “perceiving oneself as helpless against circumstance”. The opposite being, feeling strong and capable. Of which, physical strength is a component.

  2. Although to be honest, a much better overall solution would be to just teach girls to be less vain in general. Being athletic is definitely better than being malnourished, but if girls are simply replacing one body obsession with another, all it will end up doing is create a new “feminine ideal” that millions of neurotically obsessed young girls will find it impossible to live up to. I mean look at some old photographs and paintings from previous generations. That exact cycle has been going on for centuries. Women didnt always desire to be super skinny, you can find plenty of old magazine ads trying to sell weight gain pills to women. But the obsession with physical appearance itself has remained unchanged.

    • Vanity to me feels like the byproduct of confidence, but I honestly don’t think that it is vanity that makes women sacrifice so much to have these (my opinion, gross) “model” bodies. I think that having women value their bodies in such a way that they believe eating and exercising correctly is better than not eating is so much more valuable just due to the benefits of exercise. I think it’s easy to train the mind to tell itself in order to eat this much, I have to exercise this much too is a great way to get people to understand the balance required for a good body, rather than just saying oh I ate this, I need to either A) Throw it up or B) not eat anything tomorrow.

  3. Thanks, glad to know when people see me, I’m of the a “spindly, heroin addict” body type. But I guess I’m used to that by now. I’m 5’8, 102, and yes, I have always looked like this, and no, I don’t take any active measures to maintain this weight.
    Most girls are insecure about themselves. I’ve spent my entire life hating my body because I was afraid of comments much like the ones you just said. I fight every day to feel ok with myself. There are other body images promoted as sexy (porn stars, “real woman have meat on them”) that extend beyond just being thin. Grow up.
    If there’s never anything wrong with fat rolls (which there aren’t), there is nothing wrong with a size zero.
    I don’t appreciate articles that galavant around preaching self acceptance and care and then throw insults like this around.
    Aside from that, I agree with you. Fitnesses goal should be health. Unfortunately that hasnt been my only motive: I’ve also, heaven forbid, wanted to bulk up (i.e. caring more about my attractiveness than health). Whenever I talk about my plans to eat healthy, or work out, or actually AM working out, I get a lot of shit for it because “you’re already skinny”, “if anything you need to GAIN weight”, or “I’ll disappear”. That stigma certainly needs to change but shaming different body types has no place in this arena. It’s just as hateful and harmful as the “expectations” you felt you had to live up to.

    • I don’t see how this article in any way bashes your body type; it only bashes the social stigma that drives women to strive for that body type even if it isn’t natural or healthy for them. Since you apparently didn’t starve yourself to look that way then that’s just your body. No one shamed you into feeling you had to look that way. Frankly I think it applies quite well to your situation, since naysayers are apparently discouraging you from your health goals based solely on your current slender size.

    • What I get from this article is that the writer is trying to convey a sense that girls and women should be encouraged to be strong (emotionally and physically) in our own right. For you, that means a natural 5’8″/102lb frame. I don’t think this writer is hating on skinny women; she’s just acknowledging that your body type has become idealized and is only natural in some cases (like all body types!). I believe, and I think this author might share this viewpoint, that as long as a woman is healthy and self-confident, her focus will shift away from being so image-conscious.

      I don’t think the writer, or society in general, is in a place where your body type would be considered “undesirable”. In fact, it’s precisely the opposite.

      As long as you feel happy and healthy, that is the goal!

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  6. Hey lady. Perfection. I shifted my point of view this way about two months ago and I have never been happier and more comfortable in my own skin.

  7. While I agree that “be strong” is a much better message than “be skinny”, I have to point out that this is really really ableist. Not all girls (and people of other genders) can be strong. Thanks for implying that disabled/ill girls cannot have “higher self-esteem, respect, ambitions, and worth”, will be victims, will not be healthy, leaders, confident and kick-ass.

    • I disagree. Everyone can be as strong as THEY can be and strive to reach their individual potential. A person in a wheelchair or with a debilitating disease may never be able to bench press their body weight or be as strong as a generally healthy person, but people of ALL abilities should be encouraged to be as strong as their individual circumstances allow. The point is that we should strive to be the best in ourselves and not compare our abilities to those of others (or to some advertisement’s implication that you have to be skinny like some super model). It is the act of bettering one’s self that results in the higher self-esteem, respect, etc. This example is extreme, but I sure as heck respect the many wheelchair bound exercisers that I see in the park every day. They can finish marathons, and how do you think they’re self-esteem is doing? Hopefully pretty well.

      • I agree, everyone has their own potential and can be as strong as they can be (as long as you’re including mental health and taking into account the often difficult relationship disabled/sick people have with their bodies).

        However this is not what is being said here. The pictures and phrases like “Teach them that “exercise” means running, jumping, sweating, grunting, working hard, and kicking ass” speak for themselves. Sophie is just replacing one body standard for another and still leaving people out.

      • I think someone in a manual wheelchair is more likely to bench press their own weight than someone who relies on their legs to get around. I have a friend who works to keep her weight down specifically for those times she has to pull herself up the stairs with one arm, dragging her wheelchair behind her. That’s how she gets into clients’ houses.

    • The article was clearly directed at women who are dealing with image issues because they don’t matcha certain physical sstandard, not men, not women who are not dealing with image issues, not small children, and not quadraplegics. I’m not sure what the issue is. Sophie is relating her own experiences as an able-bodied woman who has struggled with an unhealthy physical ideal. Every article doesn’t have to address every segment of society.

      • Well put. I find if frustrating when people can not glean out of articals and information the point. Sophie’s points are well made and well taken. As th emother of 3 teanage girls I see the issue on a daily basis with all three of thier friends. I starte crossfit 6 months ago (at 48) to get strong and healthy. 2 of my three have joined me in the adventure and they are thriving! I have posted this blog up on all my Crossfit friends sights as required reading! Strong is always better no matter what your circumstance…young, old wheelchair rider or ill! To ague otherwise is a misguided view.

    • I feel as though you are a person who has difficulty expressing your opinions in the real world so you resort to be snarky on the internet. Otherwise, you would see the wonderful message in Sophie’s article. This article is an eloquent way to state: there’s a problem with our society’s obsession with women being thin and it’s psychologically damaging; it’s much better to encourage exercise and gaining strength for both the physical and mental benefits. Period.

  8. Love this. Have been discovering this myself as I put on clothes I once wore when I was a skinny 130 lbs. I’m now 140 lbs and can wear them just the same. Amazing the difference muscle makes.

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  12. I cringe whenever an unhealthy friend tells me they’re eating lo-fat foods and counting calories for dieting rather than eating enough nutritious foods to sustain their energy levels. We’re all in our early 30’s so it’s a stigma that we grew up with and getting women/ladies/girls my age to change that mind set is really difficult.

    As far as going for strength over skinny, a lot of my girlfriends, myself included, don’t want the body builder, manly-look that can come from lifting weights. I did CrossFit for a long time and incorporate WODs into my workouts at the Y, but now I also do yoga to help keep my muscles lean rather than built. Again, it’s hard to convince people you can be strong without looking like a man/woman. I’m proud and completely unembarrassed to tell anyone and everyone my weight: 145 lbs, give or take, on a 5′ 6″ frame. That’s muscle bitches.

    @angry cripple: I dont’ know how you’re crippled (guessing you are based on your name) but anyone can do anything – just about. Better nutrition and basic exercise will get almost anyone off of medication and living a healthy life. If you’re a quadriplegic, then no, you’re most likely not going to get strong. But I’m guessing you’re not focusing on fitting into the hottest Louis Vitton dress either. Plus, I don’t see anywhere that Sophie is saying that crippled people can’t be leaders, respected, follow goals or are worthless. I have 2 words for you: Stephen Hawking. Maybe you should read up on him, his struggles and most importantly, his accomplishments.

    Sophie, you kick ass. If I had a daughter, this is what she would be learning.

    • You don’t get a “bodybuilder, manly look” by just lifting weights, unless you think Jennifer Aniston looks like a man. You get it from lifting HEAVY weights, supplementing high calorie/protein diet likecrazy, and even then women lack the testosterone to build masculine muscle mass. Which is why female bodybuilder-types have to resort to steroids. The idea that lifting weights makes a normal woman into a behemoth is the biggest misconception in women’s fitness.

      • I know. That was my point. Many women (not all of them) tend to generalize that lifting weights at all will result in a more masculine body.

      • Okay, I misread your comment. And yeah that’s about as true as saying if a man *doesn’t* lift weights he will start to look like a woman. Female muscle looks great, and I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone would think it’s a good idea to go out into this world and not be able to lift one’s own weight.

      • Omg, THANK YOU! I am so sick and tired of ignorant people telling me I’m going to look like a man when I tell them I’m increasing my weights. Such a big misconception..and I think a huge reason why women don’t get into doing weights. I think cardio, yoga, and all other things are absolutely wonderful but so are weights. You just have to know what your end goal is and tailor your activity towards that goal. There is nothing wrong with doing weights and yoga and running. Mix it up! Working out should be fun…and if it’s not, it’s time for a change so it can be fun once again. 🙂 thank you for clarifying!

    • I used to eat well and exercise a lot. I was fit. That didn’t stop me from getting dilated cardiomyopathy due to a genetic predisposition at age 25. I would die if I went off my meds. It’s really disrespectful to tell a chronically ill person “Better nutrition and basic exercise” will magically make their illness go away, basically blaming them without even knowing anything about their condition.

      Did you read the last paragraph? “Make them exercise instead. Teach them that “exercise” means running, jumping, sweating, grunting, working hard, and kicking ass…….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 kick-ass”. Also, did you look at all the pictures of able-bodied, fit women? You really don’t see where Sophie is tying peoples worth to their fitness?

      Stephen Hawking may have many accomplishments, that doesn’t change the fact that he and people like him wouldn’t see themselves in magazines, ads, etc. in Sophie’s ideal society. Besides Sophie did not mention Hawking or any other disabled person, she clearly addresses an audience presumed to consist entirely of able-bodied people (“running, jumping, sweating, grunting, working hard”).

      • Actually, I wrote this whole post sitting at a bar after work one day. when I wrote this I expected my audience to be about 50 facebook friends.

        My blog is not HuffPost or Shape magazine. This was a deeply personal, revealing post for me- one that I hesitated to share even to my small friend circle. I had not expected it to go viral, nor had I expected it to be scrutinized by half a million strangers.

        I am sorry if I offended you and other people who disagree with what I said, but I am also kind of tired of being vilified for not anticipating everybody’s differing opinions on this topic.

      • Sophie, I didn’t mean to instigate anything. I just wanted to express my gratitude that someone who’s been the ideal of ‘skinny’ understands that’s not the healthiest way to be. My favorite CrossFit shirt actually says ‘Strong is the New Skinny’ and women at the Y always positively comment on it.

        @angrycripple (btw, that’s a really offensive username) maybe you should check out this link for some inspiration. And I’m sorry too I said anything to offend you.

      • Sophie, I didn’t mean to instigate anything. I was just happy to see that the Strong is the New Skinny message is getting out there. One of favorite CrossFit shirts has that across the front and I always get a positive comment from the women at the Y.

        Angrycripple (btw, that’s a really offensive username), I didn’t mean to upset you in anyway, shape or form. Take a look at this link though for some inspiration.
        I know it inspires me.

      • What I said was, “Better nutrition and basic exercise will get ALMOST ANYONE off of medication and living a healthy life.” I’m merely saying that I’ve seen firsthand what a good diet and exercise regiment can do for people who have high blood pressure, insomnia, even diabetes. I’m not so ignorant to discount medicine altogether. If I get cancer I’m not going to try to beat it with a workout and a salad. {For the record, my grandfather is handicapped. Wheelchair, disability van – the works. I’m not expecting him to lift weights. And he’s on medication he’s needed for decades and will need until the end.}

        And this article isn’t aimed towards young girls who are crippled. It’s geared to young girls, who are able bodied, and are battling, dangerously in some cases, with the ideals that have been set up by our society to be ultra-thin. Are you going to get mad at Vogue for never having a handicapped person on their cover? When was the last time anyone saw a leading lady with crutches? This isn’t about overcoming disabilities. It’s about being healthy and realizing that skinny doesn’t necessarily = beautiful. My body type isn’t set up to be anything smaller than a 6 which is almost + size in the fashion world, but I don’t feel like I’m unattractive. That’s her message.

        To be honest, in my ideal society no one would be crippled or disabled. Everyone would be healthy and strong. I know that’s not realistic. And neither is writing to please everyone.

      • Sophie, if you put stuff on the internet people will read it and criticize it. I believe I did so in a polite and respectful manner. It’s just part of the game.

        I’m not vilifying you. I’m also not trying to single you out. Many, if not most, able-bodied people are ableist to some degree (just like most white, straight and cis people are racist, homophobic and transphobic, respectively). I would, however, like you to make an effort to change your attitude. Write as if disabled and sick people were part of your audience, because we are. You could have made the exact same point without implying problematic things about us.

      • What ‘problematic things’ did she explicitly make against people with disabilities? I think you’re reading way too much into this article and trying to start an issue where there really isn’t one. The title is “Strong is the new Skinny” not “Strong is for everyone except people who are disabled.” I’m sorry if you’re not bodily able to do the things she’s talking about in this article but I don’t see how she’s excluding the disabled and/or sick population specifically. I’m not going to read an article about living with disabilities so why would you read one about exercising if you’re not able to?

      • Barbara,

        “And this article isn’t aimed towards young girls who are crippled”. Precisely the problem I am pointing out. Think about it from the perspective of the crippled girl for just a moment. Constantly and systematically left out, every time with the same excuse that you can’t please everyone. And what exactly makes you think I’m not mad at Vogue?

      • She could have written about her personal experience with exercise. She could have challenged the notion that your worth depends on being skinny. She could have talked about the benefits of exercising and encouraged people to exercise if able to. You see? Exactly the same thing without ignoring the existence of disabled folks (with does not imply making it about us).

        I don’t think you realize that this isn’t an isolated instance of these kinds of attitudes. It’s society that is ableist and disabled people face that ableism every day. And it would be nice to see able-bodied people challenging the standards which we fail to achieve.

      • Barbara:
        I don’t think you get to tell angrycripple that she should be offended by her own username. You don’t decide for oppressed people what they can and cannot say about their own situations and lives. She’s got a chronic illness, she can refer to that how she wants.

  13. Glad you put this out there. I’ve been trying to convince the women in my life these ideas for years, but they tend to discount it, because I lack the female perspective. Perhaps I can point them to this post, and they might start to be persuaded. Thank you

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  16. Hi Sophie,
    I loved this post, especially because it was candid, unpolished, and clearly echoed your thoughts. Although some may argue that you are simply replacing one obsession with another, being obsessed with fitness can make you better.

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  18. This is really inspiring to women in their 20s…when you’re young and the world is yours for the taking. I found this blog offensive but I reminded myself that I was once young, sure of myself, certain I’m always right and thought the world was entitled to my righteousness.

    When you get to mid 40s, and still a size zero perhaps due to a genetic predisposition,or a thyroid disorder, cancer or some other chronic illness, you tend to have compassion and not marginalize skinny women, fat women, women who can lift 300 lbs, women who cannot. Just do your thing, accept everyone and recognize the dignity that every human being deserves, regardless of physical or mental prowess.

  19. Reblogged this on Musings of a Transient Soul and commented:
    Eerily similar to my own thoughts on exercise and working out. Feeling strong is one of the most amazing feelings in the world, especially for women. I go to the gym every day, I lift weights, and there will always be time in my life for me to do so because it’s such an integral part of who I am. I don’t know who or where I’d be without it.

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  22. re: Drad:
    I think that focusing on building a strong body can actually shift a person’s goals away from body image somewhat. 🙂 I started out trying to lose weight, but at my job I was starting to build arm muscle… and suddenly everything shifted, and it started becoming less about being thin, and more about being fit, and then about feeling healthy, and then good nutrition… it cascaded from a looks thing into a health thing. I mean, I still pay a lot of attention to how I look, but now I let how I FEEL guide it. If something feels good, I find myself being proud of how it makes me look, too. Like, it feels good to have a little fat because if I lose too much I feel tired and weak. So when I successfully maintain the right amount of fat (not too much or too little) I feel proud to show it off, because I feel like it shows I am being healthy. I guess this is vain, but it’s all ruled by health, because THAT is the part I’m proud of.

  23. I would also like to point out that I now see a growing number of young women who are equally obsessed with being irrationally fit as we were with being thin. Crossfit, super spinning, over-running, Insanity, these are all fine if not obsessive. One shouldn’t be unhealthily thin. But it’s also possible to go way overboard with fitness. Whatever happened to moderation?

    • Nobody ever did anything great exercising moderation. It is actually healthy to be a bit obsessive at times. The key is to do it within healthy limits.

  24. “Strong is the new skinny” is a clever campaign aimed at reclassifying the “correct” body image of women as anorexic-skinny-but-action-figure-muscular and redefining “strength” as characteristic of a certain appearance. It’s a confusing campaign (but let’s face it, all great advertising campaigns employ some measure of Orwellian doublethink). Google “strong is the new skinny”; the women portrayed are dehydrated, faux-tanned, greased-up fitness models, many of whom have undergone breast augmentation surgery (see the link at the end of my comment; hardly an embodiment of the campaign’s tag line). Virtually none of them would be considered strong in a measurable sense. (Google “Olympic female weightlifter” or “Westside Barbell female lifter” for that.) This is actually a really, really smart advertising trend by the $28B supplement industry: (1) appeal to men by showing misogynistic imagery of women while (2) paradoxically targeting a new female market by planting the suggestion that weightlifting (and its accompanying dietary supplementation) may be an empowering means of self expression and liberation, so long as your endgame is to look like this photoshopped professional model. This is just another evolution of the “how a woman should look” campaign, brought to you by men in the advertising sector.

    I dislike this trend. I think it’s misogynistic and downright weird. Societal molds are, by definition, oppressive, whether they encourage girls to be skinny, strong, healthy, or anything else. Be content with who you are and what you’re doing; find something that makes you happy, popular advertising campaigns be damned. If what makes you happy incidentally makes you strong, skinny, or healthy, you’ll probably be a happy strong, skinny, or healthy person; but if someone thinks that becoming “strong” (read as: anorexic-skinny-but-action-figure-muscular) to fit a societal mold at the behest of this trend movement is a panacea for unhappiness, she’s going to be unhappy with the journey and sorely disappointed by the destination.

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  26. Fabulous article. While there are some over generalizations, the basic idea that we are all wasting our time achieving an unachievable goal is right on the mark. Skinny girls never feel skinny enough, while the abilities you gained by getting stronger were immediately beneficial. They made you less dependent on others, and added a confidence that anorexia never could. Maybe not every girl needs to do major weightlifting, but eating enough so we can do the things we enjoy and not compromise brain function is valuable. My daughter will hear these concepts as well, and I thank you for sharing them.

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  28. I think you still miss the point because you appear just as vain as when you were skinny. And you seem to still spend just as much time in pursuit of your appearance as when you were. If your only message was: it doesn’t matter how you look as long as you are healthy and happy, then I would agree. But you introduce a new ideal that girls should try and achieve – biceps and a 6 pack- which, as other readers have pointed out, is not always healthy in itself. Reading between the lines, it seems that instead of finding the answer to happiness and self fulfillment, you have just found a way that you can live with yourself for eating.

    • Please show me where I said all girls must have 6 packs and biceps. Please, also show me where I defined what strong “looks” like, since I was under the impression that strong is a capability that transcends all body shapes. Thanks.
      Also, please stop creeping outside my bathroom window, because I don’t know how else you could possibly know how much time I spend on my appearance.

  29. Great article!

    The fact that a girl should be viewed as “attractive” when she is strong as opposed to skinny is definitely something society should switch over to. If you are working on having good musculature for your body and eating right, your body will work better, period. If you try to stay “skinny” with almost no muscle mass, and starvation dieting, then your body will not work at it’s best.

    This is not rocket science, of course, but it seems to need repeating anyway in our culture with it’s current obsession over “skinny”.

    Okay, to the folks taking issue with her writings…

    @AngryCripple: Not everything written about people is going to be about you or your situation/pet crusade. Stop harassing people. Your posts make as much sense as someone going into a post about Cats as pets and complaining that the author didn’t write about Dogs too. The post was not about dogs, it was about cats. No amount of righteous indignation on your part is going to change that. If you feel so strongly about the subject of disabled people and image problems, you are free to go start your own blog (literally, they are free) and post about it. But this post was not about that and you need to stop harassing the writer over choosing a different topic and audience to write about/for than the one you wanted to read about. She is the author and it is her choice, not yours.

    @Anyone with issues about “attractiveness”/”vanity”: Regardless of whether people like it or not, judging “attractiveness” is part of the human make up. It’s one of the first ways we start recognizing people who could be potential mates. Because of this, wanting to be attractive and judging attractiveness is *always* going to be part of human psychology. So, making sure that our definition of “attractive” is actually something healthy, like being fit, instead of unhealthy, like being skinny is definitely worthwhile and should not be condemned. Further work on reducing people’s/our culture’s obsession of attractiveness should definitely be worked on as well. No doubts there! But since you will always have “attractiveness” in human psychology, it’s important to make sure it is in a healthy form when it does show up. Because most people will be concerned about it at some point in their lives, whether you want them to be or not. So let’s set them up for health and success, not failure and disease.

    • Ironic that people are seeing their own insecurities in an article about letting go of superficial insecurities.

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  31. I completely agree with this message. That said, I can’t find anything that would suggest that Socrates said that. A very similar quote attributed to him references men, not women. We shouldn’t be that surprised since ancient Greece was pretty darn sexist.

    Even the quote that is commonly attributed to him (“No citizen has a right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training… what a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.”) is more than likely just a paraphrase. On top of that, Socrates didn’t write things down, it was his students Xenophon and Plato that did, each of which present a different version of Socrates. For each student, there are then different translations which interpret the writings slightly differently. We can see this in the source material for the above mentioned quote [1].


    • your stuff is interesting but I find the form I’m getting it in somewhat unreadable, or should I say arranged in such a way that it’s difficult and tiresome to follow. Marion Toepke McLean, Dexter, Oregon

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  33. This piece is an inspiration for some scared mothers of teenage daughters. My girl is constantly in the mirror pinching things and saying she thinks she’s “finally” losing weight. I force her to eat a balanced dinner and make her stay for conversation so she can continue to pick at the food on the table. I have recently lost a significant amount of weight and am currently rebuilding muscle. She should join me in this adventure!!! That way she can be the shape she desires and I can be satisfied because I know she’s healthy!!!! Thank you!!!!!!!

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  35. Sophie, loved what you had to say, so great! Do not apologize for any of it! Some people are hellbent on being negative and that is not your fault. You have a great message and it is not your responsibility to custom fit it to each persons desires. Keep speaking out!

  36. All other points aside, speaking as a guy: yeah, strong is actually way more attractive than just skinny. Good post. Never read any of your stuff before, but I may make a habit of it now.

  37. I loved loved loved loved loved your post. I just started crossfit (a 3 day intro) last week, and I’m looking forward to going to the gym for the first time this coming week!

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  39. Thank you for this. I spent years as a teenager obsessing about my weight in pretty much the exact ways you describe. I tried to exist on watermelon and fruit only. I ate plain canned tuna and tomato soup mixed with water and thought that was a diet. I would later binge on 12 pieces of toast with jam and hate myself for it. I remember writing diary entries about how I wanted to do things like go to a pool party or a school dance but… I needed to lose weight first. This started at age 11. I have never been significantly overweight and I look back on these photos and wonder…why? Why did I waste all this time and energy feeling this way? I was never flat out anorexic but my habits and ideas about how I should look were pretty harmful. I also know I was completely clueless about exercise. I would schedule myself to go running every day after school and give up, probably because I had only eaten a banana.

    I am now 24 years old and have become more interested in the idea of food as fuel and nutrition to feed my body. I started running and found it meditative and inspiring. Training for a race, and seeing myself reaching the goals I set for myself makes me feel stronger than ever. I started taking a weight lifting class at my gym twice a week. Most exercises use weights that are only 5-10 lbs or your own body weight. These are all exercises I have learned and I can now use them outside of class whenever I want. I firmed up completely and realized that I never wanted to lose weight, I just wanted to be more toned. Its not about losing weight, (although that happened without me focusing on it) its about feeling active and empowered. Its about reaching goals and pushing yourself to try new things. I wish I knew these things when I was 11-21 years old. Thats 10 years I wasted feeling awful about my body. Please note that I have never been fitness crazed, and I’m still not. I just know that its smarter to focus on goals based on what your body is capable of, rather than what it looks like.

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  42. Thank you. This article is perfect, and has inspired me to get some upper body strength because I’m a large person… but that doesn’t mean I don’t need my boyfriend to open jars for me! So I’ll look into this whole strength thing. See what I can do and how to start.
    And don’t listen to the complainers and naysayers. On the internet the most politically correct post will still magically find a way to upset people. There’s no point in trying to understand their motives, empathize with them, or further bare your soul to them. Just do what you do and love life. Keep inspiring the people that are able to see the positive message. Thank you.

  43. Thank you. This article is perfect, and has inspired me to get some upper body strength because I’m a large person… but that doesn’t mean I don’t need my boyfriend to open jars for me! So I’ll look into this whole strength thing. See what I can do and how to start.
    And don’t listen to the complainers and naysayers. On the internet the most politically correct post will still magically find a way to upset people. There’s no point in trying to understand their motives, empathize with them, or further bare your soul to them. Just do what you do and love life. Keep inspiring the people that are able to see the positive message. Thank you.

  44. Way to substitute one unrealistic body ideal for another. Hats off to you. Michelle Obama has a juris doctor from University of Chicago, but all the media types can talk about are her amazingly chisled arms. Whether it’s waif or buff, you’re still focusing on women’s bodies, rather than their hearts, minds and spirits. You have not advanced women as people one tiny bit. Just a different-looking sex object.

    • And the pictures you selected to go along with your post make it transparent that you are promoting a body ideal. You picked pictures of thin women who happen to be physically strong. You have no pictures of larger women who happen to be physically strong (like most of the female Olympic weightlifters). The message here is it’s good to be strong so long as you’re still conventionally hot.

      • The photos are of athletic women. And specifically, the article is about CrossFit which is at times extremely aerobic. Athletes generally have lower than average body fat. The fact that all you can see is that they are “thin” suggests that you’re projecting your own insecurities onto this post. It would be like complaining about the lack of large women represented in a soccer league.

        As for being judged on appearance, that’s life. Men are judged that way too. Being “frantic and insecure” is a choice, and the opposite of that is to become confident and secure. One way to do that is to find an “impossible ideal” and achieve it. The writer, along with many women, does this through CrossFit. Whether it is to reach an aesthetic goal or a performance one, that is her journey.

        Why should she apologize for it, just because you don’t relate, when clearly many others do?

  45. Perhaps it’s difficult for you to fully embrace the proposition that women should not be judged on their appearance since you are conventionally attractive and benefit from it. Your compromise seems to be that yes, women will continue to be jugded by their looks rather than their contributions to society (and should be so judged?) so we should promote more “healthy-looking” figures to young girls. Unfortunately, the new figures will make girls just as frantic and insecure as the old ones and society will still undervalue girls and women.

  46. But it’s just tragic – no sarcasm here- really really tragic how a large majority of young girls in America spend their time obsessing over their [unchiseled arms and uncut stomachs], devoting time, energy, emotions, [money into various supplements and muscle builders] and effort into [loking like fitness models].

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