Diet culture has hijacked the word “strong.” If you’ve scrolled on Instagram for more than five minutes, you’ve seen it in action: women posing with barbells with one ass cheek popped out and a caption about how they’re focused on health and strength after years of dieting or eating disorders.
Now, don’t get me wrong, for some this sentiment is genuine. However, for the majority of folks, an obsession with fitness and “getting strong” is a transfer of compulsive eating disorder and diet mentality.
This transfer makes sense: if you’ve lived for years with diet culture telling you how to micromanage your body, then leaning into recovery can feel destabilizing. Folks often want guidelines to feel anchored in life without food rules. Look further, though, and you’ll see that it’s the same old shit packaged a new way. Instead of your eating disorder or diet culture telling you what to do, it’s your personal trainer, or some social media influencer.
At its core, “Strong is the new skinny” is a phrase rooted in and validated by diet culture. Diet culture (our culture, really) is obsessed with the notion that thin or a certain type of hard body equals healthy. Taken further, it subtly suggests “if you have a big ass and thighs but are physically strong, then you’re allowed to have a little more meat on your bones.” In essence, strength becomes just another standard to live up to.
Side note: Western medicine has digested social messages (read: those unfounded by solid research studies and based on cultural norms and stigma) and preaches thin = health without the science to back it up. In fact, some doctors even get paid by pharmaceutical companies when heavier patients lose weight. Thus, even though weight is not a good indicator of health, doctors may prescribe weight loss based on financial incentives, even if the patient’s health issue has nothing to do with weight.
Striving for strong (and what we see in those images: healthy/skinny/fit/able-bodied/light skinned/able to afford the gym, “clean food,” etc.) is a distraction from the real issue: our culture says fat folks (and all other marginalized/unseen groups) don’t matter.
Instead of “Strong” as the new skinny, let’s ditch the whole paradigm of diet culture. How about we think about being strong and healthy in a variety of ways that matter. Let’s hear it for:
- Emotional strength (read: vulnerability)
- The courage to face diet culture demons even if you don’t love your body
- The strength to leave toxic relationships
- The fortitude to create and hold boundaries around your time, energy, and money
- Relationship strength
- The strength to choose what physical health looks like for you (and you alone)
- The ability to take breaks and care for your mental wellness
- Spiritual strength and connection to something beyond ourselves
- The burst of energy you need to play with your kids even when exhausted
- The strength to give and receive help
- The gumption to call out wrongdoing
- The chutzpah to start a creative enterprise
- Dealing with your own self-doubt
- Saying goodbye to things
- Welcoming in the new
- The strength of an embrace or touch
You see, there are so many other kinds of strong. Strong is not the new skinny. It’s much more than that. I’d love to hear how you find your brand of strong in the comments below!
If you are stuck in the “strong is the new skinny” vortex and want to get out, give me a call! I’d love to help.