Why the Phrase “Long and Lean” Holds Women Back
…And How to Frame Fitness Instead
I am a really, really positive person.
But when a new or prospective client concernedly cautions me that she just wants to be “long and lean,” I silently say a prayer for patience.
I think it holds women back.
I think it holds women back from not only achieving their health and fitness goals, but also from accepting themselves as they truly are… and always will be.
I’ve written about why strength training won’t make you bulky, and why you should make peace with your body, but the phrase “long and lean” (and how often I hear it) still indicates that we have a long way to go in the female fitness industry.
I’m not hating aesthetic goals. I personally believe that you can’t truly separate mind and body, and to some degree we will always be striving for aesthetic goals hand in hand with performance and health goals.
However, I find the phrase “long and lean” to be particularly troubling.
When a woman says that she wants to be “long and lean,” I am almost 100% certain – without being an actual mind reader – that they are picturing someone else, not themselves.
Comparison is a dangerous game, because we do not know why other people look the way they do – even people we know rather well. When you see someone overweight, you can’t over-generalize and assume that they’re lazy, sedentary, and binge eating every night. Similarly, when you see someone that looks trim and fit, you can’t assume that they’re hitting the gym every day, eating a healthy and balanced diet, and practicing positive habits.
Women can be “long and lean” for a multitude of reasons. Their leanness and frame could be part of their genetic blueprint. They could have excellent gym and nutrition habits. They could be ill. Or they could have an eating disorder.
You. Just. Don’t. Know.
When you compare yourself to an aesthetic ideal, you are assuming that you know far more about that person’s lifestyle than you really do.
And you’re setting yourself up for an impossible goal – looking like someone else.
Embracing the Best You
One very important concept to internalize is that you will always look like you.
You will always have your face. Your legs. Your arms. Your height. Your feet.
You will not magically transform into another person.
With proper strength training, daily activity level, conditioning, and nutrition, you can look like a really, really fit version of yourself. You may transform into a much more athletic, lean, shapely, tight you.
…But you’ll never be another person.
There’s no wrong way to exercise – if you want to get your sweat on in a conditioning class that uses light weights, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, if that’s what you want to do. Just don’t do it because you think it’s the only way you can get “long and lean,” or because you’re afraid of “bulking up.”
If you’re tall and lanky, you’re going to be a tall and lanky fit person.
If you’re short and muscular, you’re going to be a short and muscular fit person.
If you’re prone to love handles, you’re always going to be prone to love handles, even at a higher level of fitness.
If you have cellulite, using the elimination of cellulite as a marker of success is going to be a long, uphill battle.
Allowing Yourself to Love Your Own Results
If you hold up another person’s physique as your personal standard of fitness success, you miss out on the opportunity to celebrate your own success, whatever form that success takes.
Progress is progress is progress.
My recommendation for improving your mindset around self-acceptance and embracing your own journey? Here are four tips:
- Clean up your fitspo habits. If you regularly consume a large volume of media images that depict idealized and Photoshopped bodies, whether it’s pictures of actresses, models, or athletes, I would recommend unfollowing accounts and unsubscribing from magazines. I have no problem with Photoshop, but I think it’s more helpful to spend time with real people and see real bodies in person, in gyms, than to constantly digest a media-heavy diet of unrealistic, posed images.
- Focus more on your habits than on the outcomes. Instead of constantly worrying about your fitness progress, whether it’s a “magic number” on the scale or a “problem area” that you want to see shrink, spend that mental energy on creating a sustainable fitness-and-health-oriented lifestyle. I promise that you’ll see results without worrying about them, if you can get into a groove of excellent habits. You’ll feel better and look better.
- Work with a professional one-on-one, instead of comparing yourself to instructors in fitness classes or trying to exclusively follow online plans. Working with a coach, whether in nutrition or fitness or both, will help you clarify your goals and give you realistic standards with which to work (as well as a realistic and manageable starting point for yourself). You can see your coach as a real person, instead of as a posed, perfect image online, which is impossible to strive for.
- Remember that results take time, and be patient. Don’t listen to women’s magazines that promise quick results from this detox or that 3-day diet. If you really want to achieve a physique that makes you feel fit, proud, and powerful (and especially if this is a significant change from your current level of fitness), keep in mind that it could take months to achieve this, and a lifetime to maintain it. Don’t let this discourage you. In fact, I hope you’ll take this as an impetus to get started even sooner!
Remember that you never really know someone else’s world.
But most of all, remember to be the best version of you. Remember that you’re your own worst critic, and that no one perceives your “flaws” the way that you do.
Women come in all shapes and sizes. They also come in all fit and lean shapes and sizes – not just “long.”