The movement towards “strong is the new skinny” seemed positive at first, and hopefully it actually is in a lot of cases. However, it can also seem to be the new reason for disordered eating, or something resembling Exercise Bulimia. As the definition states, “Exercise Bulimia can sometimes go unnoticed because exercise is something that is seen as healthy but just because a person looks healthy does not mean they are. Compulsive exercisers will often schedule their lives around exercise just as those with eating disorders schedule their lives around eating (or not eating). If strong is the new skinny (ie: the new look girls and women must strive for at all costs in order for their bodies to be considered acceptable), then it’s not a win for us at all.
Things we can do to help our girls maintain a healthy body image:
- When you mention what you are going to eat before working out, mention how it will help you build strong muscles instead of how it will help you “slim down,” even if that’s what you think would be healthy for you.
- Avoid using the word “healthy” to actually mean “skinny.” They are not always one and the same, and if girls think they’re only healthy if they have 2% body fat, they’ll never feel good about their bodies.
- If you work out yourself or with your girl/s, make sure you mention that the benefits will be what your bodies can do, not how they will look after the workout. For example, “We’ll be able to ride our bikes further and faster if our legs are really strong,” instead of something like, “We’ll be healthier because our tummies will be smaller.”
- If you talk about changing what you eat so you are healthier, explain that you are eating protein to build muscle, or broccoli because it has calcium for strong bones. Avoid saying that you chose a salad because it has less fat or fewer calories than something fattening you might be used to eating.
- Avoid the idea that if you skip one day of working out you are “lazy.” The feelings that is conveyed on many Pinterest boards about working out are dangerously close to the thinspiration sites that people with eating disorders create to “inspire” each other not to eat. If you skip a day it might be because you have a different priority, that you don’t feel well, or that you needed a different type of self care. All of those are perfectly okay!
Of course we want our girls to be strong and healthy, but that doesn’t exclusively look like the photo above. When “strong” (specifically skinny and strong and still feminine) actually means “sexy,” then we are still teaching our girls to value themselves for how they look and how much they are willing to sacrifice to keep their bodies in a certain shape. Let’s make sure their minds aren’t tied up with thoughts of how much food/muscle/working out is acceptable. Let’s keep their minds free to focus on school, hobbies, healthy relationships, and dreams for the future.