New Clothing Line Champions ‘Strong Is the New Sexy,’ but Is It Healthy?

The chiseled physique is still not representative of—or attainable for—the majority of women.

The We Are Handsome show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia 2015. (Photo: Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

Apr 15, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

With legislation to outlaw super skinny models in the works in the world’s fashion capital, one brand on the other side of the world has opted to feature something other than protruding bones: strong athletes with bulging muscles.

Australian swimwear line We Are Handsome debuted its activewear collection for women and men Tuesday night in Sydney as part of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia.

(Photo: Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

It ditched the runway and took attendees off-site to a tennis court, where fitness enthusiasts, yoga teachers, ballet dancers, and pole vaulters demonstrated their athleticism during the show. Instead of high heels and handbags, the models carried tennis rackets and jump ropes, showing off flexible yoga poses instead of the traditional strut.

“Times have changed, and girls who are active are the new shape. Strong really is the new sexy,” the brand’s cofounder, Katinka Somers, told Daily Mail Australia.

Although some media outlets have heralded the brand as teaching body positivity through its model choices, these toned “non-models” don’t differ too greatly from those ordinarily featured in fashion shows and have bodies that are still a far cry from that of an average woman.

The show falls in line with the trend of “fitspiration” or “fitspo,” in which fit women are paired with phrases such as “You can feel sore today or sorry tomorrow” and “Suck it up now and you won’t have to suck it in later.” But messages of fitness paired with lean athletes can have the opposite effect of the healthy ideal they allegedly promote.

(Photo: Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

Women shown fitspo images reported feeling intimidated and discouraged, according to a recent study from Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia.

“They are usually emblazoned with an inspiring message such as ‘Be fit, be strong, be the best you can be,’ ” Marika Tiggemann, head of the study, told Australian Women’s Weekly on Tuesday. “But what that seems to encourage in the women they are aimed at is a feeling that they will never be able to live up to that idea, coupled with disappointment in their own bodies.”

That’s in part because the models—both in fitspo ads and in We Are Handsome’s show—represent a narrow range of what it means to be healthy, strong, or otherwise “in shape”: not just having a flat stomach, but a six-pack as well.

For the fitness connoisseurs used in We Are Handsome’s show, maintaining their bodies is a full-time job. One of the models, yoga pro Lindy Klim, works out for two hours every day, according The Daily Mail.

While fitspo often uses phrases such as “no excuses” to encourage working out over dieting, most people in the world have a number of other goals and commitments that take precedence over two hours of daily exercise.