“she doesn’t even have boobs, it’s gross.”
“she has a huge ass, I’m jealous—”
“but like just all muscle.”
“when they get too muscular tho, it’s like you look like a man. Like not to be mean but no tits at all, it’s disgusting.”
My all-girl group text was blowing up with clandestine criticisms of someone’s Instagram account, a girl we used to go to high school with who had gone from one extreme to another: she used to be a thin model with an unfortunately stereotypical eating disorder, too skinny to be true, now she was a weight-lifting, clean-eating, bikini-competing fitness model.
Too muscular to be anything but “manly,” as it would appear.
Lately it seems like we all know someone, whether it be a friend in our own circle or someone a few degrees removed, whose life is dedicated to fitness, and whose Instagram account is dedicated to displaying that life. Of course, any Instagram account dedicated entirely to a certain lifestyle is grating and easy to make fun of: rich kids, crossfit evangelists, foodies who seem to have a bottomless budget to match their brunch.
Yet there was something particularly nasty and familiar about the way my friends were dissecting this girl’s aesthetic; it was fundamentally tied to her body, to how she was supposed to look, to what a woman should be like, should look like.
It brought me back to middle school, when I was so thin my spine showed through my shirt when I bent to sip water from the fountain and I got called “stegosaurus,” by the same girls who would praise me in the same day for being “model thin.” I felt good about being skinny and terrible about being bony; for years, I wouldn’t know what it was like to just feel good.
I think a lot of us have experienced that goldilocks effect — never being enough of the right thing to escape criticism.
I can’t imagine what this shit talk session would have looked like in the ‘90’s — would we be critiquing the girl for being bigger than a size 2? I don’t know, but I suspect that pointing out her small tits and huge ass and specific amount of muscle, her “brolic”-ness, her “cannon ass thighs” isn’t progress. It’s just as fucked up — she’s too fit and it’s gross, she’s too thin and it’s gross, she’s too —
I’m not so naive as to think that we’ll ever stop praising fit bodies, ones that are inoffensive to us, ones that are neither too thin nor too powerful: Chrissy Teigen, Adam Levine, Beyoncé, the brothers Hemsworth, Ryan Gosling. It’s not like they don’t deserve the praise, after all. But the way we idealize those bodies as being perfect, being just right, just feels creepy. Can we ever collectively quit critiquing the transitional ones, the ones that aim to be something else other than aesthetically pleasing?
When I started to write this, I wanted to talk about how annoying it is that we seem to put fitness on a pedestal, via Instagram, via pseudo-health consciousness that relies on suspicious nutritional facts pasted on a picture of Whole Foods groceries. I wanted to start off with how my friend posted one of those cheesy images of a girl lifting weights with a quote on it: “Real women move weight.” I wanted to talk about how fetishizing fitness doesn’t do us any good, how shaming people about their non-fitness doesn’t help.
I still want to talk about all that, but not as much as I want to stop talking about it all in general: no more group text shit talk sessions, no more hate-reading, no more following just to scoff. A peaceful silence that leaves room for something else. Something better, even. Healthier.