Whilst thin may no longer be quite as in as it once was, we are now seeing a migration towards the ‘new skinny’.
No longer is ‘thin’ the epitome of beauty. But before we celebrate our newfound freedom as body-positive women liberated from the shackles of impossible beauty standards, look around. Nowadays it’s the lean, toned, muscular (but not too muscular) look, and the curvy (but not too curvy) look, that are the desire of so many health-conscious women. An improvement on thin? Not really. This ‘thin-but-fit-but-with-curves-in-the-right-places-but-no-cellulite’ ideal can generate a lot of anxiety and compulsive, unhealthy behaviours. Maybe even more so than the old ‘thin’ ideal did.
Nowadays it’s hard to dodge those stupid memes about the new skinny. You know, the ones proclaiming that:
‘Fit is the new skinny.’ Or:
‘Strong is the new skinny’. Or even:
‘Curvy is the new skinny’.
As if we needed yet another standard to live up to replace skinny! #facepalm
The fit ideal
Whilst thin may no longer be (quite as) in, we are now seeing a migration towards the fit ideal.
The fit ideal, or even the fit-with-curves ideal, are new ideals that are frequently celebrated and portrayed as ‘real’ – as in ‘real girls have muscles’ or even the seemingly more inclusive (but clearly far less inclusive when said aloud) ‘real girls have muscles AND curves’.
In all honesty, this new fit ideal is just another unrealistic and painfully limited aspiration of beauty – albeit disguised as health – that excludes the majority of women while pretending to accommodate them.
We really may as well be saying ‘spiky, scaly, hermaphroditic, and with rainbow DNA is the new skinny’. It would be just as ‘inclusive’.
When will we all just make peace with the fact that women come in a billion different shapes, sizes, sexual orientations, colours, degrees of ability and disability, and body compositions, and that ALL of these bodies are okay?
We have shifted (even slightly) a narrow standard of beauty that places pressure on women to conform, with no regard given to which of the billion different and natural body types an individual was born with. Yet, we see the same obsessive, compulsive, unhealthy thoughts and behaviours that ‘the old skinny’ standard generated – restrictive dieting, compulsive exercise, dangerous overtraining, and yes, body hate.
Exercise as penance
So along came those ridiculous ‘the new skinny’ memes. Suddenly women find themselves in the mindset of ‘Okay, I’m not trying to lose weight through dieting, but I’m going to have a fit / lean / muscular body if it kills me, goddammit!’ Which is kind of the same thing.
Look around and you see it everywhere in popular culture images aimed at influencing women. No longer is the thin-to-anorexic model the epitome of beauty. Nowadays it’s the lean, toned, muscular (but not too muscular) look, and the curvy (but not too curvy) look that are the desire of so many health-conscious women. Talk about a hard-to-hit target!
Instead of, ‘I must restrict my food as much as possible’, the new obsession is, ‘I must follow this clean eating and exercise plan as perfectly as possible’. We have simply substituted one obsession for another.
It’s still an approach to weight control. It’s still a diet.
In fact, this new incarnation of dieting is arguably more dangerous than its predecessor because it’s done in the name of ‘health’. The relentless pursuit of a toned and fit body under the guise of health can be just as potentially damaging as the pursuit of thinness for the sake of beauty.
There are a number of ways dieting can be hidden under the guise of health – also known as ‘I’m not dieting’-dieting. Although good ol’ dietary restriction is still a big part of this new game, we are now seeing some newer dieting behaviours, mainly focussed on exercise as penance for eating ‘bad’ foods.
- Exercise in the form of weights.
- Exercise in the form of running or Crossfit.
- Exercise that is not only intended to burn calories, but to shape, tone, and trim down to that perfect new ‘fit’ ideal, too.
- Exercise that is done because our bodies are ‘not yet good enough’.
- Exercise as penance. Exercise as a means to an end, rather than exercise for pleasure, enjoyment, and the true physical, mental, and spiritual health this fun kind of exercise automatically brings.
The problem with ‘the new skinny’
Look, I love resistance training. My trainer is the best. He’s also my friend and our sessions are more of a soul revival featuring quality heart-to-heart conversation than they are exercise. Resistance training has made me strong, able to carry my tantrum-throwing toddler across the never-ending car park at Bunnings without slipping a disc. The problem isn’t with resistance training, Crossfit, or any form of exercise. The danger arises when exercise is used as a tool for weight control, and THIS is the problem with ‘the new skinny’.
As long as we’re engaged in any behaviour designed to control our weight – be it food or exercise-related, or even just stressing about what foods we should be avoiding even if we’re still eating them (otherwise known as ‘emotional restriction’) – we are still on that same old dieting treadmill. That same old diet cycle that has been repeatedly proven to cause physical, emotional, and mental damage, some of it permanent.
So watch out for this modern form of dieting and the inane ‘new skinny’ memes that promote it. Eating and working out just to fit the ‘fit’ ideal is a form of dieting that’s disguised as health, but that brings about anything but.
‡ Casey Conroy
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