In the modern lexicon, words tend to change meaning all of the time. Societal stigma also changes and because of that, we hear more “this is the new that” statements everyday. Forty is the new thirty! Forty years on earth is still forty years. Society has just decided that it will place less judgment on 40 year-old humans. “I thought by the time I reached 40 I would have [fill in the blank with whatever cultural influences lead one to believe about their 40th year].” Cheer up, Friend! Forty is the new thirty!
Strong is the new sexy! That statement, in and of itself, is a sexist form of motivation. I’ve heard women say it, I’ve read it on magazine covers, and I’ve seen it on T-shirts. I find “strong is the new sexy” to be sexist. The phrase is packed with thinly veiled objectification.
I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know when I write that women are often viewed as property. To be clear, I am not in agreement with this mentality. However, as a cisgender male, raised by cisgender males, the misguided thought has been passed down to me. I challenge myself daily to think against my indoctrination. When someone is dehumanized into an object to be attained, the selection process resembles that of a Farmer’s Market fruit selection. Do you want her firm or soft, long or short? Either way, look past all human emotions and just see her body as an object to be obtained. As men, that’s how we’re socialized to think of women. That mentality generates scrutiny that women face regarding their appearance and it’s a never ending shit storm of annoyance. No, I’ve never been a woman. I’ve never experienced such scrutiny first hand. But, 90% of my friends are women and I hear the stories that drop my jaw in disbelief. The scrutiny happens with the elevator eyes and the long distance decision by the pursuer as to whom they will “spit game.”
“Forget about game, I’mma spit the truth! Won’t stop ’til I get ’em in they birthday suit!” -Ludacris
When a woman’s strength (read: muscular definition; not to be confused with her mental fortitude) starts being labeled as a determination of her worth (again viewing her as property) then society starts saying, “Strong is the new sexy.” I’ve been a Personal Trainer for over a decade and in all of that time, women still make the same request to me when we begin working together. “I don’t want to get too muscle-y!”, they say. I find it difficult not to roll my eyes when I hear this, for two reasons. 1.) Women, generally, have less testosterone and will not gain muscle as fast as men. 2.) So, what if they did gain muscular definition? Why would that be a bad thing? Throughout history, weak men have been threatened by the (mental or physical) strength of women. When you think of the term “ladylike”, what image pops up for you? She’s not muscular, is she? When you think of the term “butch”, what image pops up for you? Women have been socialized to look/act like ladies. It’s because of that socialization that some women apologize about their bodies.
I went to look at a friend’s tattoo on her leg and she said, “sorry, I haven’t shaved my legs.” When I asked why she was apologizing to me, she replied, “some people are weird about bodies.” I said, “Yeah, but it’s YOUR body. It’s not my place to have an opinion on it.”
Back to my point on socialization. Women have been socialized to not appear (physically) strong. Instead, they’ve been conditioned to be sex objects. Now that more women are working out with weights*, there are more women that are accepting their muscular definition. I applaud that acceptance. I think it takes a dark turn when the acceptance of a strong physical form must be diminished into “sexy”. The definition of sexy belongs to the owner of the strut. Culture should not define it. “The eye of the beholder” should not define it. Women should be able to look however TF they want without apologizing for hairy legs or objectifying their muscular definition as “sexy.”
I spoke with my friend, V, on the matter and here’s what she had to say when I asked her, “What are your thoughts on the phrase, strong is the new sexy!?”:
“…this phrase is simply jam-packed with interesting undertones. It always raises so many questions in me when I hear it. For instance, was strong not sexy before? Who is making this proclamation? How does one define “strong”? Are we now excluding other characteristics that used to be considered sexy in the past and replacing them with this image of “strength” instead? If I don’t look strong because of the particular characteristics of my physique, then am I not sexy? On a personal note, I live with a chronic disease and pain, which limits my capacity for many kinds of physical activity, and my muscles are smaller and relatively weaker because of this…so, am I not sexy? Often, when I hear this, it rings a similar bell as “Real women…” and “Real men…” Because, for the same reason that all people are real and you can’t define “woman” or “man” in a single, restrictive, exclusionary statement, neither can you define “sexy” in just one way. There is no definitive The Sexy- new or otherwise. So if a statement like this must be made, then I much prefer, “Strong is sexy.” Because it doesn’t preclude or exclude other ways of being sexy. I tend to struggle with phrases that attempt to raise up one physical ideal by knocking another one down- overtly or implicitly. Because to do so feels like an attempt to invalidate other ways of being and put a box around an experience that ought not be bounded.” -V
The next time you read, “Strong Is The New Sexy”, just repeat after me.
I don’t need anyone else to define my brand of sexy.
I don’t need anyone else to define my brand of sexy.
See you next week, Friends!
*-If you’re beginning a fitness program, study the overload principle. Lifting tiny weights for fear of gaining too much muscle mass is not going to make you stronger.