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A Healthy Curiosity: How body image had a makeover

March 22nd 2016 / Peta Bee


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Between Barbie and #ThisGirlCan, a desirable body image is no longer about being skinny and is instead about strength and tone. Peta Bee reports

Only those truly dedicated to self-deprivation are still pursuing a concave stomach and thigh gap. Everyone else, it seems, has moved on. After several waifish and miserable decades in which skinniness was considered the ultimate reward for all of our gym effort, it is out with the skeletal frame and in with athleticism. A six-pack has become as desirable as a stick thin waist was in the Nineties and has, thankfully, usurped the size-zero look of the Noughties.

Even Barbie has come on board with the trend for the healthy new body image; the dolls’ manufacturers, Mattel, finally conceding that their petite frame and pipe cleaner-thin legs are no longer aspirational to a generation fixated with being fit, lean and strong. The ripped midriff has become the holy grail of workouts, ab-flaunting the equivalent of flashing your cleavage. A toned thigh draws far more envy than a thin leg and a bicep shaped by boxing is the body part to be bearing this spring.

We want a body shape that screams clean living and workout commitment, not one that suggests we are exhausted and hungry. And our role models are sportswomen and those who are prepared to admit they work hard to achieve their Olympic levels of definition. Take the Victoria's Secret models whose enviably sculpted physiques are the result of high intensity training sessions or the London fashion set who obtain their honed bodies through exhaustive workouts such as the now infamous Barry's Bootcamp.

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It’s a sea-change that has occurred partly out of a growing sense of disillusionment with the pursuit of fraility, but one that has also been buoyed by the efforts of a gym industry keen to see women embrace fitness in a new light. There’s been a huge growth in gadgets and workouts designed to accentuate female muscular definition, from classes that use battle ropes and medicine balls to Olympic lifting, HIIT and boxing, from which devotees emerge with a rock-hard physique.

Even the more sedate end of the fitness arena – barre classes, Pilates and yoga – are luring along newcomers with a promise it will make them leaner and longer, not just whittle away their fat. We exercise to achieve a body that functions and performs well, not just a frame that looks good in the mirror.

On social media, the power of an athletic female physique has inspired many a motivating hashtag, with fitspirational burying thinspirational as the obsession of choice in 2016. From the ubiquitous #strongnotskinny to the impressive #thisgirlcan campaign by Sport England, which has inspired almost 3 million women to become more active in the year since its launch with images of real women working out to captions such as ‘Damn Right I look Hot’, there is a swell of enthusiasm for pursuing the kind of ripped body shape once flaunted only by top sportswomen like the Olympians Denise Lewis and Jessica Ennis-Hill. And the best part is that what was once an unrealistic goal now seems within our grasp.

How do you feel body image has changed and what do you make of the Barbie makeover? Let us know in the comments!

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