Search up #StrongNotSkinny in your Instagram browser, and you’ll be hit with an entire feed of sculpted, predominantly female bodies, macro-friendly meals, and the inevitable ‘progress pic’ where born-again gym fanatics pose next to a snap of their former thin, unhealthy selves.
The term is often immersed within a paragraph of other hashtags such as #GainingWeightIsCool and #BodyPositivity — all seemingly positive, empowering and for the greater good of millennial-kind, right? Well, I have my reservations… Here are my two cents.
A major theme I’ve come across through my Insta-scrollings is the abundance of health and fitness influencers, many of whom are bodybuilders, who openly share their history with eating disorder through throwback pics and lengthy, raw captions detailing their experiences. Now props to them, it takes guts to bare it all on such a public platform, and it’s a topic that warrants more open discussion. But there’s a certain responsibility that comes with sharing that information. Once it’s out there, suddenly you’re no longer just a fitness blogger; you’re somebody’s role-model for recovery. Everything you post from that point onward will, some way or another, be seen as a blueprint for success – ‘if she can do it, so can I.’
Having personally suffered from eating disorders in the past, the movement has left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Not only does it contradict the whole ethos of body positivity, but I believe it is having a potentially dangerous influence on the thousands of people, particularly young women, who are in the process of recovering from disordered eating. If you’ve ever suffered from an eating disorder, you’ll know that the recovery process is a long, tough and often grueling journey where triggers can be found around every corner. Now I’m not saying it’s impossible to recover while getting serious about your fitness, but to me, it seems counter-productive and, more importantly, damaging.
I've done a lot of rethinking as to who and what I follow on social media. So maybe it's silly to overthink something like that, but really… if you're using social media on a daily basis, how do the things you see affect you? Are you mindlessly scrolling through post after post of unattainably fit-bodied women, eating weird protein powder laced concoctions and posing happily with their flexed muscles after rocking their workouts EVERY SINGLE DAY? Just because they may slap some inspirational quote in the caption, does not necessarily make them a good role model. Not if they make you feel bad about your own body, diet, or workouts. Or, do you ever read posts that are so negative and full of complaining that it puts you in a downer? You may not even realize, but constantly viewing so much comparison or negativity can really impact your way of thinking. It did for me. Heck, I stopped following PETA because they posted more hate on other HUMANS than they did about treating animals ethically. Don't be afraid to weed through your "following" list. Look up to people who are REAL, and who practice the same balance and happiness that they preach. Just as you want to nourish your body by feeding it healthy, wholesome food, shouldn't you nourish your mind by feeding it uplifting, positive content? Choose wisely ✌
At this point, I’d just like to establish what it means to be ‘body positive’. As I understand it, the term refers to the celebration and acceptance of one’s physical body whatever it may look like — thick, thin, bumpy, smooth, toned or not, the premise here is that all bodies are ‘good bodies’.
And while there is absolutely nothing wrong with celebrating your hard-earned abs and squatted booty under this hashtag (it is meant to be inclusive after all), this isn’t about skinny shaming or anything of the sort. The trouble starts to arise when physiques like these are associated with a ‘recovered’ ex-eating disorder sufferer. Not only does it foreground the physical side of recovery above the more crucial emotional and mental side, but there is also the suggestion that to be healthy and recovered, your body has to look good, and that’s hardly ‘body positive’ material in my eyes.
Eating Disorder Revisited?
When set in the context of a muscle-flaunting gym selfie, the term ‘strong, not skinny’ implies that strength is something that can be viewed from the outside. Granted, your body may be physically stronger and even healthier now that you’re eating enough to fuel yourself, but your lean-muscle mass says very little about the mental and emotional hurdles you have overcome – and isn’t that the important part?
What I’m trying to get at here ultimately is that the notion merely perpetuates that age-old Eating Disorder logic that your success is determined by your physical appearance, and that’s not a message we should be spreading.
Changing the Conversation
While often overlooked as such (and I sigh as I type this), an eating disorder is a serious illness, and just like any other, the recovery process requires rest, nurture and time. I mean, you wouldn’t force someone recovering from pneumonia to start working towards a deadlift personal best, would you?
Unfortunately, however, this is the effect I fear these accounts are having — teaching people, particularly young women and girls, that rest is for the weak, and the only way out is through further exertion and restriction.
So, to all the Instagram fitness personas out there who have found recovery through exercise, good on you. But please, for the sake of your impressionable audience, stop aestheticising eating disorder recovery — the two do not, and should not, go hand in hand.