Strong isn’t the new skinny

If you want to believe the Instagram posts, it’s finally hot for girls to be athletic. It’s sexy to squat. It’s hip to be fit. Except it isn’t.

Recently, a trend towards the celebration of fitness has arisen on social media, like a phoenix from the ashes of super skinny models of days gone by. This trend is known as “fitspiration” and it centres on women encouraging each other to eat well and hit the gym so that you, yes you, can have a body just like this.

While this movement reaches towards something like a genuine appreciation for strong women, it falls short in two ways.

The first is that many of the women celebrated as so-called fitness models present the same, thin bodies we’ve always called beautiful — the only difference is that those bodies are now inside sports bras and spandex shorts.

These aren’t the bodies of competitive athletes, up before the crack of dawn for practice, eating whatever they need to fuel their training. These bodies are too often the result of crash dieting or other dangerous practices. Yet they rake in praise for themselves and cash for their sponsors posting scantily-clad selfies with sporty captions and endless hashtags. 

Raising them up as beacons of fitness sidelines the real-life athletes who rise and grind in pursuit of performance. By leaving the women who actually participate in competitive sport outside this “fit” ideal for women’s bodies, we don’t seem to be celebrating fitness at all.

The second issue I take with this trend pertains to what these women are doing — which is nothing. On Instagram, #fitspiration is attached to over 6,000,000 images. They mostly aren’t of women demonstrating their fitness so much as they’re of women posing in their underwear.

Strength and fitness don’t exist in visible six-packs or even bulging biceps. They’re skills we demonstrate through movement — moving ourselves quickly, moving heavy loads, moving with accuracy and technique. 

If we want to celebrate strong women, we need to concern ourselves with more than how “toned” she looks.

We need to consider what women can do — how they’re improving their bodies to perform better, how their training develops them into better athletes, better students and better friends. 

Real strength isn’t visible in a still frame. You need to look a little closer to see it. 

Kate is The Journal’s Opinions Editor. She’s a fourth-year Philosophy major.

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