We’ve all seen the memes. “Strong is the new skinny”. “Strong is the new beautiful”. “Strong is the new sexy”. Even “Strong is the new healthy” – I mean, come on, there’s nothing healthy about squatting 150 kilos if your joints, ligaments and vertebral discs are asked, is there?
For me as an aspiring strength athlete and a woman it seems this new trend is only another way of forcing us into a certain mold. A surely eye-appeasing mold for some, but still something that is defined by others. Society. Men. Other women. Marketers. Snake oil weight-loss product salespeople.
In the last few years, the pressure has been on for young women – and men – more than ever to fit (pun intended) even a more demanding stereotype of looking good. The fitness look.
I mean, come on, have you seen any “strong-is-the-new-what-the-heck-ever” memes / “inspirational” images with ordinary people in them? Even ordinary people who look like they lift? If you have, please send the link to me. Because what I’ve seen is photoshopped twenty-something fitness models in teeny weeny skintight attire. I guess some people are motivated to work out by looks. And that’s fine. But… Focusing on your appearance as the prime motivator for exercising can lead to some very unhealthy behavior models.
In the past, we women only had skinny, borderline or straight anorexic models to look up to, and all you “had to do” to try and achieve that “look” was to starve yourself. Or binge and purge, if you had bulimic tendencies. Nowadays, that’s not enough. You still have to starve yourself, but now you also must run or cycle for hours every day and lift hard and heavy. And have breast augmentation surgery.
I like how my body looks due to years of lifting. I’ve always loved toned, muscular physiques since my early teenage years. But it’s not my first priority. I don’t know if it should be anyone’s. My outside appearance is just a bonus. When I look at myself in the mirror, I can at the same time be satisfied and proud of myself and still objectively evaluate my physique. Do I need bigger and rounder delts? What about my thigh side sweep? Is my back wide enough? Even if I would in the future compete in figure, I don’t intend to ever let my looks dictate how I should feel about myself. A competition placement or having or not having washboard abs should never define your value as a person.
This is the kind of image that motivates me to keep on lifting:
Why do I lift weights? The reasons are numerous. Simply being strong is great. Lifting heavy shit I see men struggle to move, whether it be a bar loaded with plates or a huge couch, is awesome. I also crave the physical rush of endorphins, and the emotional high of accomplishment. My mood is so much better when I exercise regularly. I like to push myself and test my limits, but also enjoy the daily grind. Getting a new PR is always a great confidence booster, but just going in to the gym and doing my assigned workout is motivating for me. I like daily routines and can stand slow progress.
I also want to be as healthy and strong as possible when I grow old. With my numerous medical conditions – asthma, immunodeficiency, adrenal insufficiency, hypothyroidism, hypertension, not to mention my troublesome spine with scoliosis, spondylosis and olisthesis I would be so much worse if I wouldn’t keep myself in shape. Regarding my health, keeping my weight under control by exercising and eating a balanced diet is also important.
Lifting is a lifestyle for me. Your reasons to lift weights and what motivates you may be similar to mine of differ substantially. Find your own reason.
“Whatever your body type is, just use it.”
Hammer thrower Amanda Bingson, ESPN Body Issue 2015
Strong is just strong. Period. How about we quit continuosly looking in the mirror and concentrate on hitting those PR’s instead? With or without makeup. Nails painted or not. Wearing form-fitting, latest-fashion gym clothes or worn-out sweatpants with a baggy T-shirt. Not caring if it’s trendy, sexy, or even sane. It’s simply what we love to do. Lift.