Let’s stop pretending that being fit and being skinny are the same

Shufei Ewe busts some myths about Instagram, fitness and body size for our second body positivity week article.

There’s a trend on Instagram for even the most allegedly ‘woke’ fitness accounts focus on physical appearance. They depict progress through photos of tight abs and abdominal lines. But for me, fitness is about more than just physical results. I exercise because it makes me happy. However, these accounts make it difficult to tread the line between liking fitness and self-acceptance. I am passionate that the two should not be mutually exclusive.

There is a misconception that fitness is all about being thin, weighing yourself and not loving yourself. This stereotype is simply wrong. Nobody should be able to tell from outward appearance alone whether someone works out.

There are lots of benefits to exercise – be it dopamine, toxin eradication or just the benefits of genuinely enjoying a sport or physical activity. Reducing exercise to nothing but weight loss is at best fallacious and at worst dangerous. Fitness gurus generally claim to have a one-size-fits-all regime and that losing weight can only be achieved through specific workouts – namely HIIT or cardio circuits. But when our bodies are so beautifully diverse, why is this not reflected in their workouts? Completely different sports have different effects on different people. To try to group them all with the promise that they will ‘change your body’ is simply unhelpful.

sophie tupper for shufei's body n exercise

People who want to workout should be free to enjoy fitness no matter what their size or their motivation. While we should celebrate people’s fitness objectives, we shouldn’t champion ‘skinny’ above all else. Strong and skinny are two completely different concepts.

I’m also all for not wanting to engage in any form of physical activity. This is central to promoting choice – you’re free to be on either (or neither) end of this spectrum. Crucially, when we talk about loving the way we look, then chastise girls for being proud their bodies, how can we ever justify self-acceptance? Just as I will defend someone’s right to wear whatever they want, I think it’s equally important to celebrate someone who is comfortable as they are or someone who wants to push their physical limits and feel proud about what they have achieved.

I cannot speak for everyone, but there’s one thing I firmly believe in. Health should not be defined by a shitty loose guide of the vaguest terms. People who fall above or below superficial standards or numbers for ‘health’ should not be discriminated against nor judged. Girls deemed ‘skinny enough’ not to need the the body positivity movement are equally entitled to self-love and self-acceptance. Size should never be used to invalidate people’s struggles with body image.

Women already suffer so much physical discrimination; this should not be perpetuated by the very industry claiming to make us well nor by ourselves. We get enough of it from the media. Instead, I propose that we rebel against these qualifiers, these narrow, pigeonholed stamps of approval, and love ourselves so radically that when others see us they will know exactly how it should be done. All bodies are beautiful, if we simply let them be.

Illustration by Sophie Tupper

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