Muscles, and Are They Pretty?

The amount of effort being put into promoting the idea that “strong is the new skinny” is enormous. It’s a Facebook group with 110k likes. CBC News calls it a trend. It’s on tank tops everywhere. It’s a slogan that is used to sell protein powder.

Protein powder or anti-diarrheal?

This slogan could be great if, say, it were used to encourage women to work their way up to being able to deadlift 2x their body weight. But the problem is that the focus  seems to be on adding “skinny with no muscle” to the already very long list of types of women’s bodies upon which are are supposed to frown. “Strong”, in the opinion of the many pinterest and tumblr users who repeat the slogan,  actually refers not to strength and the ability to lift heavy things, but to thin, conventionally attractive bodies gasconading a bit of tricep. If we were talking about promoting strength, the attribute, rather than the physical appearance of slight muscle definition on thin bodies, then:

Crossfit is certainly not innocent: First of all, this video is horrifying. The camera angles are straight-up lecherous. “I have an idea, let’s open with a scantily clad woman doing double unders, face not necessary, and, ACTION”. A good rule of thumb is that if you are filming a woman, be sure her face is at least in the shot.

It’s just such a problematic video. I mean, specious reasoning abounds, like I don’t think Andrea Ager has much clout in asserting that Crossfit won’t make you bulky. Or when she’s like, “Hard work and the way that your body looks go so hand-in-hand, but I think people either want to do one or the other.” What? Anyway, maybe the editing was weird or something and there were a few positive moments in the video such as, “I’m not working out to look good. I’m working out to be strong, to be fit” so let’s forgive individual quotes and look at the clip at large. The thing that drives me crazy is that this video seems to intend to empower women. Let’s think about that!

  • Being anti-thin bodies does not empower women
  • Being anti-fat bodies does not empower women
  • Permitting certain behaviours in women based on the reasoning that “guy friends like it” does not empower women
  • “Muscle enhances a woman’s looks” does not empower women
  • Promoting the idea that the way a woman looks is the most important thing about her, or even an important thing about her, does not empower women!

The main argument of the video is that Crossfit will help you LOOK a certain way, rather than Crossfit will have you be able to DO certain things, and that’s what is most disappointing. The women in this video are so capable! Let’s celebrate that, instead of leering at sweat drip down their sternums.

I should note that my experience with Crossfit has shown this attitude of “looking strong is the new looking skinny” is not the norm. I really never hear people talk about working out for the sake of appearance at my gym or at any of the gyms I’ve visited. We get really pumped for each other when we hit new PRs but it’s never in a “now boys will like you!” kind of way. Honestly, if it weren’t for stupid promotional videos such as this one serving as counter examples, I would probably argue that Crossfit is inherently empowering to women. At my gym, instead of “strong is the new skinny”, we’re more of a “doing your best and improving is the new caring about how you look”, but I doubt we’ll see that printed on a t-shirt any time soon. To close, I will leave you with this much more positive video, a response to the question “why can’t women do pull ups?”: (Interested readers can also read this)

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3 thoughts on “Muscles, and Are They Pretty?

  1. Oh man, that video. I am so torn on it. On one hand, your criticisms about it are very astute, but at the same time, it’s always good to see women actually DOING things instead of just standing around looking at weights while wearing a g-string. I also liked hearing the women talk about how strength training has improved the way they think and feel about themselves.

    It’s one of those instances where I feel like I know where they are going and that some of the stuff works really well, but then it misses the mark in some very subtle but important ways. In fact, that’s how I feel about the whole “strong is the new skinny” concept. Good intentions but still so loaded with problematic baggage that I cannot get fully on board with it.

    • I think you’re right that there are some positive aspects to the video that I didn’t highlight. It’s for sure better than women posing in front of weights. And the message “women must be strong” is arguably better for women that the message “women must be tiny and weak”… but only marginally!

      A friend from the gym who had read this post told me that this video sort of makes her feel good, because she’s really muscular and all her life, her family has told her to be careful not to get any bigger and to stay away from weights. So I do now see how this video is positive in that way as well.

      But still problematic!

  2. THANK YOU! I loved the line, “the focus seems to be on adding “skinny with no muscle” to the already very long list of types of women’s bodies upon which are are supposed to frown.” The campaign “sounds” good, but when you look at the heart of it, it’s just another marketing campaign with the same message as the rest (You’re Inferior without this product).

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