Strong Is the New Skinny, My Ass! ~ Sandi Burden

Via elephant journal
on Oct 29, 2012
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Photo credit: ~ggvic~

The Same Old Message with a New Twist

I realize there are immense problems in our world. And, I realize I’m really lucky to live in a time and a place where I don’t have to worry (too much) about clean water, air or having the necessities for life. When I write or talk about things that go on in my little community, our country or in my little head, I don’t forget just how amazingly fortunate I am.

But—sometimes things just tick me off and I have to vent. Or, rant. Or, whatever you want to call it.

So, if you’re my friend or student you probably know by now that I have strong opinions about how the media portrays women. Sometimes I like to get on my high horse and ride him around town about those things.

I detest how we are sold a big load of horse “do” on what is beautiful for a woman, or what gadget, food or supplement we now need to help us achieve this idea of beauty.

The most recent ad I’m whining about is the Strong Is the New Skinny Campaign. Have you seen this ad? I’m not even sure what the ad is encouraging us to buy, but I’m pretty sure whatever it is—I ain’t buyin’. “Strong” is the new “Skinny?” Really? It’s so blatantly out there!

I can’t remember anything in my recent memory that actually makes its message so clear:

>>Skinny is really where you want to be, girl.

>>If you ain’t skinny, you ain’t pretty.

>>Wait! We’ve got a new standard of skinny for you! It’s called strong! You want to look like this now!

As I continued to reflect on what the ad was actually portraying, I realized that it is the same old message with a new twist. “Hey Toots, you’re not thin enough,” is now paired with the new, “Hey Toots, you’re not strong enough, either,” message. Well, crap on that, ya’ll.

Yes, it’s great we’re learning (and maybe the media is beginning to listen) that super skinny is not healthy, but this new standard of strength is not maintainable or manageable for the average woman, either.

For a woman to develop the physique these ads portray takes hours of training per week over an extended period of time. Instead of being cajoled in to eating Lean Cuisine after Lean Cuisine, drinking protein or supplement shakes or whatever skinny food is hot at the moment, we get to feel guilty if we’re not at the gym developing man muscles.

What if you’re a naturally skinny person? Well, that’s great! And, if you’re not a naturally skinny person? Well honey, that’s great, too.

What I would like to see us begin to strive towards is acceptance of our bodies in their natural state.

Where do our bodies naturally want to be when we eat healthy foods and engage in physical activities we love? I’m not talking about the body we can “achieve” if we are at the gym (or even the yoga studio) for three to four hours a day, seven days a week. I’m talking about the body that develops naturally when we engage in activities we love. I’m advocating loving the time we spend exercising, not hating every minute so we can end up looking like someone else’s idea of what is beautiful. I’m advocating being at peace.

In yoga, we develop strength to support our body weight relatively quickly. As one’s strength builds, our physique may change. This happens naturally, over time. This doesn’t mean everyone who practices yoga is going to look like the girl in the latest Strong Is the New Skinny (or whatever) ad! What this means is that we learn not looking like the girl in the ad is ok.

We gain an internal strength deeper than anything an ad can portray.

Naturally, I feel that practicing yoga is a good place to begin or to revisit. When we go to our mat, the chatter of the mind begins to slow, we learn to connect with our glorious bodies, to listen to our breath and to simply be present. We begin to love our bodies again or for many, to begin to love our bodies for the first time in our lives.

So, I hope you can find an activity (yoga, anyone?) you love that stretches and strengthens muscles and bones, gets your heart a pumpin’ and brings a smile to your face. And for goodness sake, eat a cookie. Life is too short not to eat a cookie now and then!


Sandi Burden is a lil’ ol’ yoga teacher in big ol’ Oklahoma City. When she’s not teaching Vinyasa or Gentle style classes or performing Thai Yoga Massage, she can be found playing with her beloved dogs, embarrassing her children or trying to fulfil her life long dream of kissing a Bison. For more information, she can be found on the big ol’ world wide web at or on Facebook at


Editor: Sara McKeown

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24 Responses to “Strong Is the New Skinny, My Ass! ~ Sandi Burden”

  1. Amen!!!!!!! Sick to death of media sending me advert or even subliminal images that I don't measure up because I don't look like the waif or now the waif with the biceps in their ads!

  2. Vision_Quest2 says:

    I have been waiting with bated breath for this discussion to finally reach EJ!

    It's about time.

    I'VE always posited: Strong is the new strong. Skinny just is.

  3. Imelda says:

    I soul heartedly agree!

  4. HJ cotton says:

    good for you sandy. We are proud of you.

  5. Jenifer says:

    I'm the same. I also point out to those who are utilizing this banner to motivate themselves (which I don't have a problem with personally) that *strong* doesn't always look the same.

    The models that they use in the "strong is the new skinny" campaigns are small women who come in a single body type (mesomorphs under 5 ft 5 inches tall), so they are both very muscular and very skinny. They may not even be strong — as compared to some of our NZ women athletes who kick some major butt and are — well, by media standards, fat, unattractive and decidedly un-strong.

    Strength also comes in many forms — not just physical. So, I point out that, for instance, the mother who is caring night and day for several children while one of them struggles with cancer is pretty damn strong even if she can't do one-armed pull ups and doesn't look like a fitness model.

  6. earthsky23 says:

    aged 57 now, with a life-time's history of abject couch-potato-hood behind me, I am AT LAST, discovering the absolute delight of 'strong' (aka muscle tone) thanx to my new-found practice/discipline … I wholeheartedly recommend daily repetition of 'the five tibetan rites' (utube) to anyone who has anything they need to fix, on any of the many levels … it is fabulously transformative, far and aWay the most timeEffective regime that I have discovered, in a life-time of searching … :~))) ………

  7. Taye says:

    I agree with your point that women should not have to strive to meet ANY standard of perfection, but when you say things like "we get to feel guilty if we’re not at the gym developing man muscles.", it totally defeats your point. They're not "man muscles" and women who enjoy working out shouldn't have to put up with those kinds of sexist criticisms.

  8. Vision_Quest2 says:

    Didn't catch that: "man muscles". But it certainly could work both ways. Like a shorter woman wearing a U.S. double-digit size, seriously buff, built stocky women are also not exactly welcome in many commercialized yoga studios. And I am talking surface appearance only, not the suspected possible use of steroids to get there.

  9. Sandi says:

    Oh my goodness Taye, you are right. I chose a poor couple of words to express my feeling about this. If a woman enjoys being at the gym and working out, that's great as long as the reason she is working out is from an internal goal and not a standard being set for her by the media. My point was that the natural state of a woman's body with all its curves and flaws should be honored and not denigrated.

  10. Vision_Quest2 says:

    The decision is quite a slippery slope, however. How do you unbundle cultural influences, peer pressure and the media from an internally-derived goal?

    I used to be a swimmer. Many of my goals had emanated from watching Olympians.

    When I found that yoga teachers had some kind of image to their goals (headstand in the middle of the room, handstand, crow held for a very long time) … I decided to take them up on their offers…up to a point … falling far short of THEIR posited goals.

    When seeking for an internal goal (which I had never needed yoga to get to–I have been an avid meditator for years) from yoga … all I read here is about getting a smile to my face and having that cookie …

  11. Heather says:

    The ad is something similar to this..

    There is a petition out to try to stop this holiday display re: Minnie Mouse being too thin!

    And I think, it is important!

  12. Vision_Quest2 says:

    So nice, I signed it twice .. no, I actually signed that and another petition about Barney's

    I would have shared it on Facebook if I were still active …

  13. Tippy says:

    I am amazed at the intelligent discussion this article has generated. (That's the reason I subscribe to EJ.) "Existence precedes essence" is one of my core beliefs. As we choose, we create who we are. The power of mass marketing is unrelenting. This article, and the comments that flowed from it, prompted me to think about my own struggle with body image. (Yes men struggle too). I took the opportunity to look at some old photos of me in Jr. High and beyond. I was skinny, but, what I believed was that I was fat. So I dieted, ran marathons, and basically tried to undo my real body. I'm 60 (next month) and I still struggle but this discussion we've had here helps me. I choose and create who I am with a little more awareness.

  14. phil says:

    I love the strong is the new skinny slogan, or I did until I read yoru article and now see it through a new lens. It's still telling people how they should look, but in a more acceptacle (to me ie equally shallow) way. Thanks for broadening my perspective.

  15. Korumaze says:

    Right on, Sandi!!!

  16. Korumaze says:

    In complete agreement with you, Jenifer – strong looks very different for everyone.

  17. LynnBonelli says:

    I've struggled with this 'movement' as well and watched many of my friends fall into the all or nothing trap exercising when sick and/or injured just because the are 'supposed to'. Seems like there is a rise in over-use injuries as well. I've finally come to the realization that I want to be able to sustain my lifestyle for a lifetime. And I don't think that means dedicating hours and hours a day of running and working out and beating myself up if I miss a day.

    Great article…thank you.

  18. nourishedexistence says:

    I feel like you might have missed the point of the "Strong Is The New Skinny" campaign. This is about EMPOWERING women. For too long, women have been bombarded with images of anorexic models with absolutely no muscle definition and told "This is what beautiful is." Well, Strong Is The New Skinny is out to change that. As a health coach myself, I absolutely promote strength. Women should NOT be thin as rails. Not only is it completely and totally unhealthy, lack of muscle definition and low BMI promotes cardiovascular problems, bone loss, immune system failure, anemia, lack of menses, and a whole plethora of other health issues. Strength is what women should strive for. Healthy, strong, confident, active, & alive. All of which shine with beauty.

    As Sophie (of says:

    Dear Society: Please assist me in convincing young girls that “strong is the new skinny”.

    Encourage them to eat. Don’t let them diet. Discourage the idolization of anorexic and bulimic celebrities. Make them exercise instead. Teach them that “exercise” means running, jumping, sweating, grunting, working hard, and kicking ass- it doesn’t mean flapping their arms around in some trendy, overpriced Trogalaties course, or running on the elliptical until they pass out. Help them realize their own strength. All of these things will help girls realize their full potential, both physically and mentally. It will help girls become self-confident, capable, and literally and figuratively strong. A girl who is encouraged to be strong instead of skinny will have higher self-esteem, respect, ambitions, and worth. She will never be a victim. She will be healthy. She will be a leader. She will be confident. She will be kick-ass.

  19. Schmidtrobb says:

    I both agree and disagree with your critism of this campaign. I am a woman who has struggles her entire life with body image….always trying to achieve the tail thin look of the supermodels in the magazines, and often attaining this goal. It never failed that wen I was at this ridiculously thin weight – and happiest with how I looked- others would comment on how terrible and sickly I looked. When I put on weight, not only would the self loathing begin, but the voices of my abusive father would start echoing in my head telling me how fat and imperfect I looked. For a little over 2 years now I have been running and cross fitting. I am 20 pounds heavier than I was at my skinniest adult weight, and most of my “skinny clothes” still fit me (although u look different in them). How is this possible? Because my body has been transformed by MUSCLE. I’m not huge and bulky, but definitely have defined muscles, abs, thighs, traps, biceps….I LOVE MY MUSCLES AND IFOR THE 1 st time in my life I am beginning to love my heavier not rail thin body. You know what though? People are still critical of my body….maybe more now than ever. Sometimes the comments from others expressing, ” Whoa look at you thighs!” Or “Whoa, flex!”are flattering. But they still are telling if the fact that I, as a fit, strong, healthy, somewhat muscular woman, am not the accepted norm in society. For theses reasons and more I love the ” strong is the new skinny” movement. I appreciate the campaign spreading awareness. I appreciate the campaign planting the seeds of acceptance for women who aren’t afraid to be strong and muscular. I appreciate the campaign showing women what they could possibly achieve with their bodies. I do agree that the pictures and models they choose to represent the campaign are on the pretty extreme end of muscular. I do wish they would throw in some models who like me, have stretch marks, imperfect boobs, and a hint of a muffin top mixed in with their muscles….but I think that will come with time I also have MANY friends from my gym who compete in crossfit fitness and who look like those muscular women in the ads and then some. They meet daily with negative comments from both men and women for being to bulky and masculine. I am overjoyed for them that their is a campaign of acceptance for them.

    Women who look like the models in these ads exist ( granted the ones I know don’t USUALLY work out covered in baby oil while wearing a thing…) and they need our support. The campaign isn’t perfect….but nothig ever is. I, for one, am thankful for it.

  20. Schmidtrobb says:

    Lots of typos in my comment… Sorry…. Limited time and typing on a phone will do that… I hit send before I had a chance to read over it. Anyway, it should read struggled, not struggles; rail thin, not tail thin; I look different, not u lol different; thong, not thing; and overjoyed there, not their. Hope that helps my comments to make a little more sense. 🙂

  21. Heather B says:

    I do agree with your article….. for the most part. I highly disagree with your “muscles of a man” statement. That’s absurd. I work my ass off doing Crossfit ONE hour per day, not three to 4 hours per day, and have “woman” muscles. And proud of them. I also stretch & do mobility work in that one hour period. So, for you to speak about all women embracing their bodies, using the word “man” is offensive. I am a STRONG FIT WOMAN!

  22. Heather B says:

    CROSSFIT changed my body completely!!!!! WHOO HOO! I don’t look like a man! I look like a strong woman! KEEP IT UP!!!!!! ☺️

  23. Laura says:

    I whole heartedly agree with your statement–a person should not have to do or change anything about themselves in order to please society. This can go with anything in life. Many women tire themselves thin by trying to be perfect role models– fill up your schedule with fifty different colors of markers and go to every society event that makes you look "successful". In every area of life, men and women alike, are living a life that is not authentic to them so they can relieve societal pressure. However you look at things, people can be insulted by ANYTHING! Homes and Gardens magazines…can be just as insulting as a women with muscle. Anything can speak a message of "who you are not". Everyone has their thing or something that they use to fill their days with, a certain passion or activity. Without these things in life, who are we besides clusters of atoms? It takes years for many people to find ones spiritual self-but, simply put, in todays society…nobody's got time for that. Although I do think that is the ideal 🙂 I however do think that it is beneficial to oneself to be always critically analyzing the messages that they "think" that the universe is trying to shout out to them. Its a big waste of time to be concerned about it. Instead have a cup of tea and relax 🙂

  24. Laura says:

    Well said!!