Beauty ideals are forever changing, and for the past few years, the fitness industry has reshaped what we consider to be beautiful.
More and more people go to the gym every year, and in the UK, 1 in 7 person has a gym membership, according to the State of The UK Fitness Industry Report.
This has created a shift in cultural beauty ideals: strong has become the new beautiful.
For some, this is a way of empowering women. But mental health professionals say we need to be careful with beauty ideals, as they can be very unhealthy.
Fitness is empowering
‘I think strong is the new beautiful. I am constantly working on building my strength, as I feel that this is a highly attractive quality. It shows determination and hard-work and promotes a healthy body image for an individual to strive towards’, says Bryony Warren, a local paralegal and gym enthusiast.
Bryony first started going in order to lose weight, and spent most of her time doing cardio. But a couple of years later, she discovered weight lifting.
‘It completely changed my fitness goals and my reasons for going to the gym. I wanted to gain muscle and get strong, rather than get slimmer’, she says.
Is strong the new skinny?
Professionals often argue body ideals are unhealthy, even those who seem healthy. For years, women were pressured to be skinny, and now, they are pressured to be strong.
‘Being strong is a healthier goal than being skinny, but it’s still an ideal that maybe is unobtainable for a lot of people. I think it’s still problematic’, argues Dr Peri Bradley, a Bournemouth psychologist.
‘Especially with social media, I think it’s more of a problem because it means that you are bombarded with it almost 24 hours a day.’
‘I do think it puts an awful lot of pressure on women to be a certain way’, she says.
But Bryony disagrees.
‘I think that society’s views on the ideal body have shifted. There are so many girls on social media promoting fitness and weight-lifting who show that it’s empowering for a woman to be strong and healthy, as opposed to super skinny.’
Being strong physically… and mentally?
Fitness is often seen to be just about getting the perfect body, excluding a lot of women from the industry. But really, fitness is often also about mental wellbeing.
“I think fitness is inclusive of all body types. Being strong doesn’t mean looking a certain way. People should want to get fit and strong because of how it makes them feel and the confidence it gives them, not just how it makes them look”, Bryony says.
“A strong body image is a more positive thing, however probably more positive is This Girl Can campaign, which promotes less ideal bodies which I think is healthier, and promotes the idea of women being strong mentally as well as physically”, says Dr Bradley.
Body ideals… all about capitalism?
Dr. Bradley goes on to say that we must not forget the ideal body is always linked to economics and capitalism.
‘This strong image for women is still coming from selling things to women like a gym membership, gym clothes, diets and things like that’, she says.
The fitness industry is a growing market, and was never designed to empower women. It was designed to make sales money.
But women like Bryony have found a way to use this industry to their advantage, by becoming physically and mentally stronger, and creating a new image of modern women – independent and strong.