CINCINNATI -- The theme “Strong is the New Skinny” released a wave of popularity among women across the nation over the past several months, showing that it’s not ideal to look like a toothpick. But new reports from CBC/Radio-Canada suggest otherwise.
It’s a concept that draws women away from skipping meals and reducing major calorie intake to eating much more, while working hard to get strong and fit. Women who believe “strong is the new skinny” want to gain weight and tone up, despite past body ideals that showed slim was the way to go. They packed the gyms and started new routines and lifestyles to gain muscle and strength … and weight.
But at the end of the day, looking “ideal” is just that – looking a certain way because that’s what you’re “supposed” to do.
What if we became blind to body image? What if we didn’t see fat, thin or any shapes at all?
That’s what local anorexia nervosa patient Sara Jean Waggoner is slowly working to do – help others to look on the inside, rather than at their appearance and the looks of others.
“Commenting on one's appearance reinforces the notion that the external defines our existence, thereby contributing to the deadly disease of anorexia nervosa,” Waggoner said. “Quite frankly, it's no different than me telling someone that they could stand to lose a few. It's terribly painful and not helpful.”
As CBC reported, being strong could become a new culprit in the body image battle women and girls have always faced. They spoke to a body image expert and a doctor who suggested the shift in body ideal to a muscular physique could be setting women up for more challenges - and keeping the ideal very narrow.
The wrong message may be received, causing girls to set unrealistic goals and set health interests aside.
An Ashland, Ky. native, Waggoner sees none of that after recently fighting for recovery during a several-month hospitalization at the University of Princeton Medical Center in New Jersey. During acute care inpatient treatment, she had to learn how to walk again, how to eat again and how to face the world again, free of judgment.
Waggoner has fought anorexia nervosa for almost 30 years, and has tried to be as hopeful as possible.
“This disease is deadly. It will kill you,” she said. “I have survived my own death bed too many times to count now, and it’s a miracle that I’m walking and alive."
Waggoner encourages others to turn a blind eye to external definitions of self. Too many women define each other by a number, by a size, by their weight and how they look each day.
But instead, researchers and eating disorder patients like Waggoner believe those external qualities could only cause more damage to self image. Because of her long battle, Waggoner said her body has been overcome by chronic kidney disease, advanced osteoporosis, refeeding syndrome and complications, cardiac complications, neuropathy of her hip and spine and pancreatic failure.
“A friend of mine saw me upon my exit from the hospital, hugged me and exclaimed, ‘it’s so good to see your smile!’” Waggoner said.
Her smile. A symbol of happiness and a little bit of relief, coming from Waggoner’s internal self.
So, while women follow diets, strain their bodies, run on a treadmill and do “x” number of push-ups per day, Waggoner feels a person should be defined by words that have nothing to do with what a mirror shows.
“Tell me who I really am,” she said. “Determined, strong, resilient, smart, sassy, generous … a person who leaves a good impact and impression upon others. The external does not define our human existence.”
Waggoner still has a long road ahead of her since her recent relapse. She says we have to understand who we are on the inside and what matters the most.
“Being a better human and being aware of what really matters,” Waggoner said. “It’s not the hair, car, style; rather, it’s the love, compassion, family and friends.”
She is grateful to now be discharged from Princeton’s care and to enter into a step-down transition to further her recovery, but she has to take it day by day and is certainly not in the clear.
“Anorexia nervosa is a chronic, fatal disease much like cancer that I did not choose,” Waggoner said. “It takes time and patience to heal. While actively fighting for recovery, I understand that at anytime, this ugly disease may rear its ugly head.”
Several studies, along with Waggoner’s struggle, show that body image could take a backseat to a new ideal – one that no one can see. It’s an image that goes deeper to unleash a person’s internal qualities – the ones that as Waggoner knows, are the ones that really matter.