Strong is the new skinny.

This is a sports meme and someone took offense to it lately and I’m trying to figure out how I feel about it. I apparently read it differently than the person who was complaining because they were somehow offended and I am not.

I read it with the logic going from what was perceived as desirable then was “skinny” regardless of health consequences. What is desirable now is “strong” and the packaging isn’t important. I don’t remember where the outrage came from in the post I read, but it was there and I find nothing outrageous in the line.

I’ve been working toward “strong” for a while now. I’ve leaned out and actually recaptured some muscle definition. I’m not looking like I did when I was in my thirties and playing racquetball for ten hours a week. I’m not working out ten hours a week. And I’m thirty years older now. But where I once had flab, I’m getting actual muscles.

I want to be able to lift heavier. I want to be able to run farther, too, but there are times when I think my heart rate is just going to be too problematic to allow that to happen. I’m getting stronger in such tiny increments that it is often impossible to see from a day to day perspective. I have to think back to when this started and remember what it was like then compare that state to what I’m doing now.

When I began, I was overweight or at least weighing more than I wanted to weigh and it was one of the prime motivators. What I was doing wasn’t working and I wanted my clothes to fit better. Well, they certainly don’t fit better now. They are all way too big. I worked hard to accomplish the things listed in each WOD and as I grew, I shrank. I also learned I wasn’t eating as clean as I imagined and that much of my diet wasn’t really all that good for me. It wasn’t helping me build muscle and I needed more muscle to lift heavier. The size became unimportant eventually and I’m now worrying about getting too small as I continue to improve.

Yesterday I did 50 pull-ups (half with even less band assist than I have been used to using) and did so in just a few minutes. When I began this nonsense, I could manage a few ring rows at a time and it would have taken me far longer (if it was even possible) to do those than it took me to do 50 actual (band assisted) pull-ups yesterday. And I would have been totally spent and done for the day.

After the 50 pull-ups was 100 wallballs. And I did them. All. Using the RX weight for an old fart. When I started, I was using the kid 4# ball and couldn’t have managed to eke out 100 even with that. My legs would have given up the ghost and I would have simply been in a puddle on the floor disgusted with myself. And that would have been without anything else on the menu.

I want to be strong. I want to be stronger. The only way to get from where I am now to the land of stronger is to keep moving, keep trying, keep being disappointed and yet coming back for more, keep growing. I think it is an admirable goal.

If we held out “strong” as a goal for teenagers rather than “skinny” would it help with body image? Some of the strongest women at my box are not svelte, lean, muscle machines. They have rounder bodies which accomplish many wonderful things that I can only dream of.

We probably should hold out no goal for anybody else. Goals should be internally driven and match the person’s own mindset. But society is good at imposing ideals. Photoshopping is ubiquitous and so to help with this nonsense, “everyone is beautiful” is a meme even though it is patently untrue and you would have to be a moron to buy into it. Besides, beautiful is a superlative and if everyone were beautiful, it would be the average and you have just negated the definition of the word.

It is my belief that goals work better if they are internal things rather than external things. The appearance of the package isn’t nearly as important as what one finds inside. The goal of strong or smart or kind or moral or helpful … any of these seems preferable to skinny or beautiful which is shallow and unimportant.

And so, strong is one of the things I’m striving toward. I want to be better at it than I am now. I may have waited too long and may never be able to recover from the inertia. However, if there are younger people out there who need to choose a goal, let me propose you choose strong. It gives much more satisfaction than skinny. AND it is far more useful. You can open your own jars when you are strong.