Swimming Against the Current

(Photo by Maylin Rowe)

Swimming Against the Current
Learning Strong is not the New Beautiful

By Samantha Dammann

All humans, in some form or another, desire to be valued. For many women, their sense of value is directly tied to their sense of beauty. America’s beauty standard is constantly changing and is currently in the middle of a fitness craze.

“Strong is the New Beautiful” seems to be the mantra of the year. It’s promotion can be found anywhere from Instagram to the local bookstore. This movement was born out of the frustration many women felt over the pressure to be skinny, a pressure that has held American women in its clutches for the past several years.

When I first noticed that this movement was on the rise, I was excited. I figured that a movement focused on physical fitness and mental toughness would be a wonderful change for a society that struggles with both anorexia and obesity. As an athlete, I was also intrigued by the prospect of fitting society’s description of “beautiful.”

Unfortunately, this movement has not turned out to be the societal savior that I hoped it would be. Instead of seeing women encouraged to pursue healthy lifestyles, and to love the bodies they have, I see women who are embarking on unhealthy diets and young girls who are spending unhealthy amounts of time at the gym. Women are still enslaved under this new movement; they are just now enslaved to the gym instead of the bathroom scale.

Whether a woman finds her value in her feminine features, her toned figure, her chic wardrobe, or her ability to do pull-ups, she is finding her value in something that cannot sustain her. Her sense of value is greatly misplaced. A woman’s face will eventually wrinkle, her clothes will go out of style, her advancing age will require her to ease up on the pull-ups, and her muscle tone will fade away. What happens when the things that we place our value in are taken away from us?

I spent the fall of 2015 learning that difficult lesson, and allowing God to carry me out of this idolatrous mindset. That fall, I underwent surgery for an injury I sustained during my freshman year as a collegiate swimmer. I had not realized it yet, but I had begun to place my value as a person in my ability as a swimmer. I found myself thinking, “I might not be as glamorous as other girls, but I sure can swim a fast 200 fly.” I felt undervalued because I didn’t think that I met society’s standard of beauty, and I compensated for that feeling by setting standards that I could meet.

After my surgery, when I was no longer able to meet the standards that I had set for myself, God began to speak truth into my life. I am a child of God, and above anything else my value as an individual is found in him. Every human being on this planet has innate value and beauty because God made each one of us.

Professional surfer and motivational speaker, Bethany Hamilton, speaks out against this “exhausting and inauthentic” movement as well. She recently captioned one of her Instagram posts by saying this: “Our body is our vessel to rock our talents and our roles in life. So whether you are strong, curvy, lanky, tall, or short; use that able body and mind to rock what you are good at and what you are passionate about.” Bethany believes that true beauty is found in a life lived for a meaningful purpose, and I could not agree more.

God has given each of us special talents and abilities, and has called each of us to fill a unique role within the universe. Instead of trying to fit into a mold that another human has created, how much more beautiful would it be to wholeheartedly pursue the path that God has called you to and to love the body that comes from it?