Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Truth About STRONG...

I am not Skinny. Never have been. I'm STRONG. I am a female with muscles, thick thighs, and broad shoulders. I do not look like a man. I look like a woman who takes care of herself and prides herself on being healthy. I am proud of my body, my energy, my strength, and my confidence. I am closer to 40 than 30 and I'm in better health now than I have ever been and certain it will continue to get better! But truthfully, it has taken me a long time to believe this. For a few years, I was terribly misguided by a gymnastics coach (who shall remain nameless) who told me to go home and lose several pounds before returning to the gym. This, you can imagine, led to some horrible decisions that took me down a road of incredibly unhealthy behavior that took years to overcome and build myself back to a healthy state. Thankfully, somewhere along the line, I made the very wise decision to surround myself with STRONG people. I'm talking about super-strong, super-healthy, super-fit, super-confident, super-FUN people that defy the norm and the negative, unhealthy images and ways of life that mainstream media shoves in our faces every day. These are the people that motivated me, inspired me, and educated me in the value of taking care of myself. But it is certainly a long, tedious road to understanding this valuable lesson. In my over twenty years of coaching gymnastics and working with young girls, I have found that the negative body image talk starts earlier and earlier. Sadly, it's not uncommon to hear a six year old say she "feels fat". In my gym, we are ALL about building self-esteem, self-confidence, and positive body images. We talk about being strong, building fitness levels, and fueling our bodies with good food for optimal performance. We do not talk about losing weight, or changing our bodies into something unhealthy in order to impress judges or win competitions. And still, these girls can't escape. It's everywhere. And it's discouraging. Still...there are small triumphs. One day, I asked the girls to look at some pictures. Random pictures of female models, actresses, musicians, athletes, etc. Many of the photos were of well-known celebrities, but some were not. I asked them to identify the images of the females they most wanted to look like. I asked them to identify which females looked the healthiest. It surprised me that almost all of the girls (over 20 of them!) didn't want to look like Hannah Montana or Angelina Jolie or some of the models in the pictures. Instead, they were drawn to the images of the random female athletes, claiming these women and girls looked "beautiful" and "strong" and "healthy". So I took out another photo. It was their team photo. I told them to take a good look at themselves in the photo. What did they see? I told them to look back at the photos of those beautiful, strong, healthy girls and women they so much admired. What did they see? And it was then that the comparisons were made and the happy realization that these girls were just as beautiful, strong and healthy as the girls and women in the images! Aahhhh....PROGRESS!

And there's more and more progress out there! Finally, websites, Facebook pages, and even retail ads are ditching their typical unhealthy, anorexic models and replacing them with images of strong, muscular, healthy people! Check out the new Nike ads...this is very, very cool! For those of us over the age of 30, who grew up thinking women shouldn't build muscle the way that men do...that it took away from the feminine quality that we are "expected" to uphold...
the time has come to CHANGE that old crap! Again, I say, take a look around you. Make some educated, truly objective observations about the health of the people in your life...or yourself.

What looks healthy to you? What looks CONFIDENT to you? Are you disgusted by the images of women who look strong, and healthy and confident? Or do they inspire you? STRONG is the new skinny. Strong is the new sexy. Strong is a balance, a way of life, a way of feeling, a way of inspiring, a way of conquering old, negative talk and instead, obtaining an enormous amount of positive gifts you can't get from a skinny, unhealthy way of life. And the truth is.... good health, confidence, energy, power, assertiveness, self-esteem, happiness--these qualities lead to the ultimate STRONG gift. Quality of LIFE! Who doesn't want THAT?

AND...How about the MEN out there? What images are beautiful to YOU? How do you feel about STRONG women? How would YOU describe a STRONG woman?


  1. Inspiring girl. Be my life coach. Also, let's talk about the male image. I have a lot to say.

  2. Nice post, Erika. I definitely spent many of my teen years obsessing about weight and being skinny and not able to appreciate the healthy body I had. But now in my 40s I'm stronger than I've ever been and I love being, feeling and looking STRONG!

  3. Great post Erika! Keep fighting the good fight!

    Strong women are beautiful. And strong doesn't necessarily mean loading a barbell up with a lot of weight. It's more how a woman approaches a bar. With confidence and determination. And that goes for anything in life, not just in the gym. Strength eminates from the inside out. Yes, sometimes women need to first build the outside first before they can be comfortable with what's inside, but it is a mutually constructive process. The most important thing is to know who you are, know what you like and then go for it. That's strong and that's sexy.

  4. Thanks Howie...GREAT point! Some of the strongest women I know don't necessarily have the biggest muscles or bench the most weight. Their confidence and pride in themselves is their greatest strength and their health and happiness are not only addictive, but a great lesson to those of us who tend to get a little "unhealthy" over our bodies and physical appearances.

  5. Nice post Erika. Sorry it took me awhile to check out your blog. I like the message here and as someone who works with kids too (yes, I still consider teenagers kids), it's refreshing to see that you're helping build a positive and healthy body image in young girls. Believe me, by the time they get to me (at the ripe age of 15) their sense of self and body image is totally screwed up. I really like the activity you did with your girls, something like that could really benefit some girls I've worked with, except I could see most of them picking Angelina Jolie or one of those lollipop-looking girls who are so skinny they look like bobbleheads. Anyhow, keep up the good work and check out one of my blogs too. I'm inspired to post again. It's been awhile.
    (My reflections and experiences being funemployed)
    (Writing pieces, prompts, info, and my life as an amateur writer)

  6. Strong on the inside is absolutely important, but I want to argue that strong, physically strong, on the outside is important as well. It demonstrates that we're not weak little waifs, that we can do for ourselves.

    For example, when people are watching me lift an extremely heavy and awkward carry-on into the overhead bin with relative ease I always get two responses. First, people see the heavy bag and rush to help. When they see how easily I manage (before they get there) they often remark on how strong I must be. This comes from men & women both. Even now, while I'm hopping around on one foot and crutches, people constantly remark on how easy I make it look. This is because I'm strong enough to do so and I thank CrossFit for every horrible pistol, ring dip, and handstand they've made me do.

    I guess my point really is that it works the other way, too. Being strong on the inside allows a woman to build physical strength on the outside and feel confident in how it makes her look. The physical strength allows the rest of the world to see that strong really is sexy. Here's to helping pave the way for many more strong, healthy women in the future!

    Great post, Urby, and thanks for sharing it on SINS, too. :)