“Healthy” Isn’t The “New Skinny” & It Shouldn’t Be

I recently read Bust Magazine’s article (I use this term lightly, because it seems like a one-sided promotional piece) about Natural Model Management, a new modeling agency whose slogan is “Healthy Is The New Skinny.”

women's magazine covers with "we don't need a new skinny"
We don’t need a “new skinny!”

While I agree that the modeling industry always seems to be seriously f-ed up, and that it’s horrible that models either have to lose or even gain weight to keep their jobs, I take issue with the idea that we should let go of the skinny ideal in favor of a healthy ideal.

Substituting the skinny ideal with a healthy ideal just ends up raising lots of new questions and problems. What is health? Who is healthy? And why the heck are we supplanting one impossible to reach (for many) ideal with another one?

The dictionary definition of health is “the condition of being sound in body, mind, or spirit; especially: freedom from physical disease or pain.” How many of us can say that this is our current state? Most people I know, fat, thin and in between have something going on that would knock them out of this description. Allergies, nearsightedness, quickness to anger over thoughtless online articles, those are just the start of mine, and I’m sure you share a few too. And I’m, arguably, relatively healthy.

Click to tweet this: “Do we really need a ‘new skinny?'”

So what if you have more severe physical, emotional or even spiritual issues? What if you’re disabled, have chronic health issues, etc. Should you constantly be striving not to have them? And should you be shunned or otherwise left out of society? Absolutely not.

In recent years, we’ve seen a spate of seemingly body positive slogans like, “Real Women Have Curves” and “Healthy Is The New Skinny.” But these slogans inevitably leave a lot of people out and create the same us vs. them paradigms that the slogan promoters seek to change. Creating a new and limited ideal in favor of an old and limited ideal is never the answer.

Golda is a certified holistic health counselor and founder of Body Love Wellness, a program designed for plus-sized women who are fed up with dieting and want support to stop obsessing about food and weight.

11 replies on ““Healthy” Isn’t The “New Skinny” & It Shouldn’t Be”

the problem is that although this slogan and others like it attempt to superficially switch from an aesthetic paradigm to a health paradigm (as someone else put it), in the fashion industry and in most mainstream media we will ALWAYS be in an aesthetic paradigm, because that is what fashion IS.  so saying “healthy is the new skinny” doesn’t mean anything, because the aesthetic in that industry will always be skinny (or whatever society’s standards for “skinny” are – even looking very far down the road).  it’s dangerous because what we see from these models and in fashion is always going to be a skinny aesthetic, but now it has this label of “healthy” on it.  so even if people are striving to be “healthy” and not “skinny,” that image of what healthy IS is still going to look skinny, again creating impossible ideals and poor self-esteem.  because not only are you now just not skinny if you don’t look like a (skinny) model, you aren’t even healthy! (and imagine all the fat-shaming that would abound as the result)

I think the slogan “Healthy is the new skinny” isn’t really about what you look like, but how you get there, up until recently their has been a disbelief in our society that different sizes can be healthy. Some people are built tall and thin, some round and short, some people are healthy, some people aren’t. You can’t really tell by looking, anyway. Skinny in our culture always meant the good thing, their slogon just means that their agency is trying to be healthy by not having models that are skinny by living unhealthy lifestyles. If that’s true I don’t know but, I don’t see it as some attack or change on what  or people will look like.

I dunno, when I see “Healthy is the new Skinny” I think of someone who gets in a little exercise and eats nutritiously. They can be skinny, they can be overweight (by BMI standards) or somewhere in between but they exercise and they eat well. But then I could be negative and also make the argument that its just saying that being healthy is another fad and it won’t be long before skinny reigns supreme once more.

There is never going to be an entirely enclusive “ideal”, though. And the concept of “healthy is the new skinny” seems reasonable to me; the slogan is for an “ordinary” modelling agency, rather than a specific one, and given that “skinny” in the modelling industry is generally speaking promoting unhealthy standards that easily leap to states of obsession that are of a mentally ill type, the suggestion of healthy seems like a good one. There was something in Caitlin Moran’s latest (I think) book, that the revolution doesn’t have to be perfect. And if we can step away from actively encouraging ill health within an industry that promotes ideals and has such influence, why not go for the – as I understand it – relative ambiguity of “healthy”?

As a small chested woman, I always took offense to the “Real Women Have Curves” campaign. I don’t need more reason to feel like I am not fulfilling my society prescribed duties as a woman!

And while I see how the superficial logic of switching from an aesthetic paradigm to a health paradigm is a good idea, it clearly creates a whole host of other problems, as the article says. I recognize that I have thin-privilege and perhaps it is unfair for me to get bent out of shape about this, but people don’t believe me when I tell them that I have chronic health issues and physical limitations. That causes me great anxiety in many professional and social situations, feeling like I constantly have to explain myself because how I look doesn’t match my abilities. It isn’t anyone’s business!

I think this all comes back to women being treated as people, separate from men’s opinions about them or how they should look. Most of the magazines in the graphic all spend half their time talking about being sexier or pleasing your man, and none of that shit is for the reader herself. It’s all for the male gaze. Don’t get me wrong, I like looking good, but I kind of expect a little more from Bust. I am considered a straight size, but it sometimes makes me uncomfortable when someone comments on my size anyways, even if it’s “nice.”

Also, any time someone says something is the new something else, or the Canadian something else, or whatever, it’s generally insulting or vapid or tokenizing.

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