Is A Thin Body Celebrated More Than A Fit One?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
I'll admit it. I'm an Olympics junkie. I love watching almost any event- luge, snowboarding, aerials- even if I don't understand what's happening. I just enjoy the spirit of the Games and how young men and women are celebrated for their athletic accomplishments. I also admire the bodies of the athletes, so fit and strong. But I notice that many of them (especially women) do not have a body type that would typically be celebrated in the media. Most female Olympic athletes wouldn't grace the cover of a women's magazine or walk the runway at a fashion show. Why? Because even though they have the talent to win a gold medal, they aren't skinny.

Speed skating is a perfect example. Most female speed skaters have large quads that are built for power and strength. Skiers are another example. You aren't likely to find a thin downhill racer- male or female. They are also built for power. You'll see women like this on the cover of a fitness or sports magazine, but probably not on the cover of a fashion magazine sporting the hot new swimsuit of the season.

I've blogged many times about being a runner. Since becoming a marathoner, my body has changed. My legs are strong and my thigh and calf muscles are defined. But my legs would no longer be considered "thin" like they once were. In the past that has bothered me because, like many women, I've compared myself to the images I see on T.V. or in magazines. But more recently, I've embraced those changes and I'm proud of my muscles.

Women have asked me how to get "toned" without developing muscle. Some have told me they would never start running because they didn't want to become muscular. I respect that everyone has a different idea of the perfect body type. For some, that "perfect" body is thin and small. But for me, I'd rather have someone comment that I looked fit and strong than say I look thin. The best compliment I've ever received was from a woman who competed in Ironmans. She said, "Do you run? Because you look like a runner."

What do you think? Does the media celebrate thin female bodies versus fit and strong ones? Is that okay?

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I have always admired strong...Venus and Serena look like Amazons to me, and I do like the look. I don't aspire to that, but I have always liked developed calfs and arms---not overly muscular but well-developed. Report
I finally agree that fit is more important than thin too! I used to see them as synonymous. Report
I think society in general has gone mad for skinny looking people in the media. We dont have to buy into it though. We have a choice in everything we do. When I put something in my mouth its a choice. Not neccessarily a good choice. Nonetheless its a choice. I may not always be aware but I am trying my hardest to be more aware. Report
Maybe this isn't a great comparison, but my 83 year old mother is recovering from heart surgery. She has a very thin frame but has always had a pot belly also. Before she had the surgery she lost weight. Now her doctor is telling her to gain weight, and all she can say is that she doesn't want to gain weight. She eats HORRIBLY!!! For someone who doesn't want to gain weight she eats a lot of donuts and ice cream. Yet, she eats very little protein. She has Cheerios for breakfast every day, and very often her lunch is something like ice cream or crackers and cream cheese. So I think she has continued to lose weight. In the meantime, she looks like a scrawny chicken and a frail old lady (it really gets her goat to be referred to as "frail"). And she has no muscle. I think she would look a lot better if she gained some muscle. Report
I also believe people think more about a thin body, than being fit.. People are still getting it all wrong in their heads why they are doing the journey.. I am not your up and down rake, but I am darn robust!
Our societal obsession with thin is often equated with being fit, when often that thin person is not healthy. I vote for fit. I love my strong legs and body.... and being able to run and lift heavy boxes... that is more of an accomplishment than just looking good. Strength is also something that comes from within. Report
As I have matured, my goal has moved from being "thin" to being "FIT." As such, i have transitioned from fashion magazines to sports magazines, because that is where I find people I look up to. Sadly though, the fashion industry doesn't embrace athleticism.

I LOVE the way my runner's calves are toned--it bothers me that they won't fit into any beautiful knee-high brown heeled boots. Because athletic girls don't want to be feminine and wear anything other than sneakers, right? The paradigm needs to shift, and it will if enough people start demanding that "healthy and fit" is worth representing in the same way "skinny" has been for decades. Report
Sadly, your article is too true, at least with the current public image of skinny=healthy.
I'm still a large woman, striving to lose the rest of the sizes and additional weight that I gained when pregnant (my daughter is 16 now, so it's been an up&downhill spiral for years). I gained 20 sizes and went from a size 10 to a size 30 due to edemia and was high risk the entire pregnancy.

After my baby was born I quit my job to go to college, took three different exercise classes per week, and walked to every class on the multi-cityblock campus and around to errands rather than driving. I lost 12 sizes in clothes BUT rather than feeling good about myself, or feeling a sense of accomplishment I kept getting more depressed by photos of myself, buying clothes, and hearing "well meaning" comments from my friends and physicians about being overweight.

It took a long time to learn to separate myself from negative people, to build a "thick skin", and be comfortable with the thought that I would rather be healthy than what others deem I should be.

People on here inspire me and keep me focused. I am ever grateful that I found this stie. Report
This is a great blog. I would have be strong and fit than thin. I'm working on it as I hope you can tell by my profile photo. My legs and arms are becoming more toned the more I work out. :) Report
Last summer I attended a workshop with a woman whose upper arms looked like those of a healthy man. Not huge or cut like a body-builder but unmistakably powerful. I didn't want to be a stalker, but I did catch myself staring at her arms enviously. Turned out that she competed in the U.S. women's rowing team at the Barcelona Olympics. She'll never get a Victoria's Secret modeling job but I'd be thrilled to live in her body. Good thing, too, 'cause my genetics make me a lot more Carol Feeney than Angelina Jolie. Yay for bodies that can DO things! Report
I don't really care what society likes. I don't think skinny looks good. I'm a woman and I want a muscular body. I think it looks great and it sure feels great. I love the power that I feel when I'm on skates and I'm speeding along and my legs are getting a great workout. Same thing with a bicycle. Report
I wouldn't say that society celebrates "skinny" over fit, rather I would stipulate that it is Fashion that does so. My husband, and most men I have spoken to, has said that for a woman to be attractive she needs to have something for a man to grab hold of, she needs a little "meat on them bones". I think that healthy feeling is different for every woman, for myself I'd be happy if I could get rid of the excess weight around my abdomen and have more defined muscle tone, for someone else it may very well be to just fit into that pair of skinny jeans without having her lovehandles hanging over. Report
while the media may celebrate skinny, they don't report what it takes for these celebrities to get the bodies they do. we do not have access to the things celebrities do (cocaine, personal trainers and photoshop) but they think we should look the way they do anyway? really? whatever. when was the last time you saw a skinny celebrity look happy? they're always miserable! they can have their size 2 jeans if it means missing out on what they want to eat or drink or do and have their behavior plastered all over the internet, television and magazines.

the media doesn't care about us, they care about what they have to sell, which is an image designed to make us hate ourselves. we need to remember that. Report
I think this is a great question. I started with SparkPeople about a year ago now, and have gone from a size 14 to a size 8-10. Now that I'm in maintenance, my goal is to build muscle. I constantly see the surprise from people (usually women) when I say this. But I've recently started buying Oxygen magazine, and I've really come to find now its the fitness models' bodies that I want to achieve for myself, rather than the thin models from the usual gossip/style magazines. I think the fitness models' bodies are just absolutely amazing and so strong and healthy, and they have a very strong focus on eating well (getting the rights levels of carbs and proteins and healthy fats), rather than focussing on starving themselves! I think they are the kinds of bodies we should be striving for! Bring on the muscles :) Report
Average Woman - size 12 to 14

Average Model / Singer / Actress - Size 0 to 2

Quite a difference there! And no surprise that eating disorders run rampant among young women who aspire to these careers. Thin is in. Healthy is out. Janet Jackson is probably the only woman I've ever seen who is a size 0 and looks fit, muscular and healthy not waify skin and bones. Just look at Brittany Murphy who recently DIED due to complications from years of being an anorexic. Clearly, it's more important to the media to be thin than healthy. Report
I loved watching the Olympics and hearing the announcers give the athletes stats - height, weight etc. Most of the female athletes were average height 5'5"-5'-8" and 150-170 lbs. It made me feel good that they were not 'skinny', but healthy, muscular, strong women. Report
I do think that our media glorifies thin and not fit. Our magazines are full of thin (some to thin) models and actresses. Our young girls as well us women look at those photos and do compare. I agree that I would rather be known for being fit and not thin. I would love to see a change in how we look at women and well everyone. We are to focused on the outside appearances and not those inside. Report
When I say I want to be thinner (out of a bad habit of wordage really), I always immediately correct myself & state I want to be toned!!! I have recently discovered my biceps & I love it!!! My deltoids & triceps are still trying to hide but they are getting there!!! Skinny really isn't cute, it's just skinny. Toned is awesome :-) Report
Ever since my weight loss, I have now been labeled, "Skinny." I tell those who comment like this, I am not skinny, I am lean. I guess I don't like the word skinny because it makes me think of the many famous women who are flaunted in the media, who are actually extremely thin. I prefer those who are are the covers of Shape magazine who look lean, healthy and have muscles to show for their commitment. Report
I am proud of every muscle I have! Report
I find it almost offensive when someone calls me "skinny." I've worked hard to lose a lot of the squish I previously carried, but am in no way, shape, or form skinny. I'm short, stocky, and strong and wouldn't have it any other way. Report
The media celabrates a thin body absolutely, as well as the fashion world. But I would much rather have a fit. My body tends to be naturally more of the muscular build than a slender build. I like the media would perfer a thin body but I realize I can not totally change my body type. SO I think it also important to work with what you got. Most men would rather a women with a fit body than a skinny body. Especially if it is thin and not toned, yuck!
I am proud that while I am a work in progress. I have recently (in the last 2 months) become a runner) and look forward to having that fit muscular body when I reach my goal. Report
I completely disagree with this post. For it to be accurate, Lindsey Vonn (who is at the top of healthy BMI, and not just from muscle) would not have been the covergirl of these games-- Julia Mancuso is thinner, but she wasn't as celebrated. I completely disagree that we need to be thin to be celebrated by society-- I honestly think this is a myth. Were it true, supermodels would still be on the cover of magazines rather than actresses (who tend to look more normal). Report
I think it all depends on which magazines you're looking through and what shows you are watching. If you pick up a fashion magazine, ofcourse it's conventional to see thin women on the covers and throughout the magazine. But there are many magazines tailored to athletes and runners (such as yourself) which celebrate an athletic and healthier looking person. Unfortunately for film and television, the lens adds atleast 10 pounds and people tend to try to look thinner so as to come across "normal" or thin. We live in a country where obesity is so prominent and I guess this makes being thin so grand because it is "unattainable" or just plain glamorous for that very reason. This year, the ladies participating in the Olympics have done a lot of posing for Sports Illustrated and they looked sooooo great so maybe the athletic body is being celebrated more and more...let's hope we keep going in that direction Report
I think thin is more celebrated. I prefer a fit, yet balanced body. For me, while I admire what it takes to acheive it, the speed skater body is unbalanced. The legs are disproportionate with the upper body. Looking at athletes, I think divers (both springboard and platform) have the perfect build - strong yet elegant. Report
Thin can be healthy, too. However, I'm far from being either one of those. However, I think the media puts too much emphasis on being thin over fit. Fit is the way to be, no matter what your size. I would rather weigh 200lbs and be solid muscle than be 120 with no endurance, energy, high cholesterol, bp, etc. Fit, in my mind, is the best you can get your body to be. After all, your body will only lose so much weight, and then it gets "happy" at it's final destination. Not all of us are meant to be what the guidelines say. I'll never be 110-125 for 5'3. My body doesn't like to be that thin. Lowest I've ever gotten to was 140. Fit is it! Report
Oh, yeah. I've been told how to be healthy by skinny family members, often while they are eating dounuts, chips, drinking sodas, etc. These people don't exercise on a regular basis, they are just naturally skinny. Really hurt. Made me feel like they didn't care about my health, just the way I looked. Report
I absolutely believe a thin body is more revered than a healthy one! How many times have we seen a "plump" trophy wife. No offense intended toward anyone. Report
It's funny how the 'beauty ideal' for women has changed over the centuries based on the amount of food available. Look at the paintings and sculptures from hundreds of years ago and you'll see curvy women as the embodiment of Venus. Now that food is plentiful (in the West at least), the ideal is thin... sometimes VERY thin.

All this is to say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder at any given time. And I'm tired of the beholder telling me the way that I should look. I strive to attain my own personal definition of beauty. And if that includes biceps and quads, so be it. Report
That's an awesome compliment from an athlete like that! Report
I definitely think the media promotes skinny bodies. And perfect teeth, silky smooth hair, perfectly made-up faces, fancy clothes. How young girls who watch t.v. can feel good about themselves is beyond me. I don't see a lot of promotion for fit, strong, and healthy. It's not okay. Young people (and not-so-young) are being influenced to look a certain way, and that sometimes leads them to make lifestyle changes that can be drastic and cause illness (bulimia, anorexia, drug use, cutting, etc.). The olympics are a great way to show people that fit and strong can be special and beautiful. Report
I am pretty muscular from weight training, and I often get negative comments from people. My sister said that I was "getting" fat, and could stand to lose some weight. A co-worker said that I was getting "too muscular", as if a woman could get too muscular without the help of steroids. I have stopped trying to educate people on the benefits of weight training. I just let them see me lift something heavy with ease and leave them with their mouths hanging open. :) Report
Thanks for a great article.

We are in the middle of a health crisis in this country and the media has yet to embrace it. Instead they continue to promote this unattainable ideal of what women should look like.

I am 55 and am in better shape than most people I know although I would not consider myself thin, just "normal" for my height and weight. Today I took two one-hour spinning classes back to back in honor of vets. About a month ago I walked nine miles around the perimeter of a park in Vancouver with my husband. Neither activity left me tired or sore. I am no Olympic athlete but I am fit. Why do we need the Olympics every four years to promote healthy and fit men and women; where is the media the rest of the time? Report
Every time I see things from the media and hear the words "they say" I remember something I learned from one of my motivational classes "Who are "they" and what makes them the expert?" The media tells us one thing, but we don't have to listen.

Celebrate the fit person, no matter their size or shape! Report
My best friend and I have had issues with this in the past. Even fitness magazines have changed, ten years ago the covers were graced by muscular, fit women, but if you've looked at a fitness magazine lately, the women tend to be much much thinner, their muscles are defined, but not nearly the way they were in older magazines. Report
Wonderful blog!!! I would much rather be a size up with a muscular body than look like some of those scrawny models/actresses! My goal is strength, not being skinny! Good for all of us who choose health over thinness! Muscles are sexy! Report
I definitely think the media focuses on thin over fit. I think they make the wrong choice! Report
I agree with all those who have posted in favor of fitness. If you are aiming to be fit, then you are aiming for the best body YOU can have; instead of aiming for something arbitrary like thinness. Your body was designed to be taller or shorter, rounder or thinner, and we should celebrate that because all of these types and variations can be beautiful. :) Report
Good blog, well put! Report
Why is it an either/or question? I am 5 feet tall, 52 years old, and weigh about 90-92 lbs. I also do 3-4 spin classes a week, yoga, and 3 strength training classes. I am stronger than the 20 somethings in my office. The 70 year old owner of my company bluntly told me he prefers women with some curves.

I was not born with the hour glass figure and will never have that type of curvy body regardless of how much exercise I do or weight I gain. But I am most definately fit and extremely strong.

I would rather look like an athlete than the emaciated models we see; but being on the thin side is definately more healthy than all the risks and illnesses obesity can trigger.

Our children are developing adult diseases (type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholestral) because obesity has not only sky rocketed in adults, but children as well. And when I hear people complain about being overweight and wonder why, I dont have much sympathy when I see them eating fast food every day for lunch.

Being fit and healthy is a lot of hard work, dedication and determination. One of the reasons I stay thin is because I try to eat as clean as possible and it is pretty hard to gain unnecessary pounds when your diet consists of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats , whole grains and the good fats (we use olive oil for everything.

I'm not an athlete yet, but I will be someday. I would never sacrifice the fitness I have today to look like most models. But being thin, in and of itself is NOT unhealthy.

I so much want to learn how to roller skate. I can't beleive the picture shows skaters. After watching figure skating on tv all week, I decided to take up skating. Men and women skaters have great bods, not thin and not full of big huge muscles. I hate the big muscle. I want to look lean and fit like a skater. So no thin is not in, shapely and fit is in. Anyone know how to roller skate without falling down all the time?
I agree that I think over all men want us to look frail! Since I started getting fit, my calves have grown! My legs are powerful and I love it! But, my once cute and sexy boots don't fit! As for swimsuit models.... I'd rather like to see a wonderfully fit woman sporting a nice swimsuit than a thin rail of a woman with nothing but boobs showing off a teeny top! what's the point? I am anti-media altogether, so I do think thin is celebrated over fit all the time! But, too many of us buy into it all! Report
I fully agree that the media tends to prefer thin to fit. But it is far more important to be healthy and fit than to meet a certain weight or thinness. I'm trying to teach my kids that difference. Report
I have been weight training since my teens. It has always been my passion.
I vote for fit rather then skinny any day. Muscles are much more attractrive Report
Yes, THIN is much better, since it is much more realistic. Few people will EVER do Speed Skating for hours on in and have those "thighs." When I was growing up in the '50's and '60's EVERYONE was slim and it was NORMAL. Now we have so many fat people from living on JUNK food, that we have lost what a real body should look like. I can show you my high school annual and you can see we were all HEALTHY then. Report
Shelleybelle, I am SO GLAD you posted that comment! I have always wondered how "they" managed to always look perfect, and you are a witness that they don't! Also Sparkenista! You have done a lot for long-suffering womanhood. Now on with our fitness journey!

It depends. With runway models, absolutely they celebrate thin. In most other media, it has varied. And every now and then a plus-sized woman gets a lot of hype. I remember when we got tired of hearing about J-Lo's butt. And look at how much hype has been put on Kim Kardashian these days. It just depends on the flavor of the day. Report
I like it so much better when folks compliment how fit I look rather than how skinny or thin I am but that's just me. Report
Has anyone seen the new SI swimsuit edition? There are many athletes in bikinis within those pages.

I also think some of the Olympic woman athletes are not featured not due to there size but due them not be conventionally beautiful not a size issue.
in this country we celebrate thiness but that is backwards we should be praised because we are healthy and fit. not all countries think being thin is good. Report
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