It’s time to diversify what ‘healthy’ looks like. This account is doing just that…
The people who society tells us are healthy and the people I see on my gym floor, running past my window or upside down in the yoga studio, actually performing health, are very different. The former, sold to us from a young age and, thanks to social media, emphasised daily, is a very specific look. Namely, young, thin and muscular, according to a study by Australian universities that analysed the content of fitness images online.
But the latter is a hugely diverse mix of people, from big to small, some with loads of muscle mass, others less so, some sweaty, others not, some enjoying cardio, others struggling to get loaded barbells off the ground. It feels weird to have to write this in 2020, but there is no such thing as a vision of health because health looks different on everyone.
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Societies narrow-minded image of health is literally life-destroying: we know that people in larger bodies aren’t given the same access to medical treatment, while others are deterred from reaping the huge benefits of exercise because they believe that they don’t look as though they belong on the gym floor. In fact, being sweaty, not liking how their body looks during exercise and not appearing feminine have been listed by This Girl Can as key reasons that so many women avoid training.
That’s sad but it’s not surprising. Although I don’t follow many #fitspo accounts on social media, my explore page chucks them up at me every so often. Despite the fact that I have been consistently training for six years, I will still catch myself feeling like I should look more like these people online in order to actually be fit.
But then I stumbled across a page that felt different. @seemystrong’s feed features women lifting heavy barbells interspersed with others underwater in swimming hats. Some are doing a classic muscle pose, proudly showing off arms of all dimensions, while others have candid red-faced smiles. The page was created by journalist, weight lifter and Strong Women Collective member Poorna Bell, who says that she wanted to inspire, empower and heal those of us who have had bad experiences in P.E. classes or the gym that left us feeling as though exercise is not for us.
“I’m talking about strength in the most absolute sense of the word,” she says. “It doesn’t have to mean weight lifting, it could mean running, yoga, swimming, dancing, whatever makes you feel ao amazing in your body that it feels like liberation and joy. Because first and foremost that is what physical movement of any kind should make you feel like.
“Social media might not make you feel that your body, whether that’s race, size, age, ability, disability, religion, sexual orientation is represented, but it is here.”
Poorna collates the grid by asking women to DM her their images and stories and shares them on the grid to create a diverse and necessary view of training really looks like. Those women are in their 50s, in wheelchairs, fighting cancer, coping with mental health disorders… the list goes on. They are also proud, whether they are doing one press-up or ten.
It’s a stark reminder that fitness is different for everyone, and we are all motivated by different things when it comes to exercise (physical health, hitting PBs, raising money for charity, our jobs) and that there’s no ‘right’ way to exercise. Here, we see stories from the likes of cold water swimmer Emma, horserider Khadijah and diver Kia, who move their bodies in brilliant ways many of us haven’t considered as exercise before.
Like Strong Women, the idea behind See My Strong is that fitness is too important to miss out on because of barriers that we feel have been put in place. Whether you follow the account as a reminder that you have as much right to be in the gym as the guy next to you, to find a new sport that you hadn’t thought of before or to prove that we all have battles, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we are starting to see true health – and there’s not a clothing size or deadlift goal prescribed.
Follow @StrongWomenUK on Instagram for the latest workouts, delicious recipes and motivation from your favourite fitness experts.
Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).