HEALTH, FITNESS AND BODY SHAMING

#fitspo #fitsporation #instafit #transformation #beforeandafter #beachbodyready #strongnotskinny…

I won’t lie, I’ve probably used some of these hashtags myself in the past. But what do they actually mean?

On a surface level, they seem to inspire change: create a better, thinner, stronger you. But step back for a moment and consider…is this a healthy message? Scratch the surface and aren’t these images and tags really just telling you that you are not currently good enough the way you are? That if your body doesn’t look like you spend 12 hours a week in the gym, then you are unhealthy and inadequate.

  1. This isn’t true – there is no one image of a healthy body.
  2. How realistic are these images – they seem to be mainly of people sucking in their tummies and contorting their bodies into positions that no one could realistically hold for more than 7 seconds without getting cramp or falling over.
  3. Do they actually inspire you, or do they just make you feel shit about yourself?

It is so common these days to see people controlling their bodies with exercise, deeming an ounce of fat or excess skin to be part of an unhealthy, bad, ‘before’ body. I don’t want to sound preachy or unfeeling about this, because I understand this mindset. We’ve all grown up in a society that bombards us with diet culture and guilts us about body image from every possible angle. I know what it’s like to constantly compare myself to others and feel less in comparison. It takes a lot of mental strength to ignore this and I won’t lie and pretend I am fully there yet. But, I hate that exercise and fitness has become so ingrained in this toxic concept.

We need to be physically active in order to maintain healthy bodies, but that doesn’t mean our bodies need to look a certain way. Physical activity unites us; it transcends culture, race, gender, age, physical ability, size and shape. Everyone can do it in a thousand different ways. Being active strengthens our bodies and minds; it makes us healthier physically, and happier mentally.

We need to approach exercise from the view of what is does for us on the inside, not how it makes us appear on the outside.

Here are a few more points that are entirely my opinion:

 

  1. Your physical appearance does not determine your health or fitness.
  2. Joining a gym is not the answer to being more active.
  3. No one gives a shit about your latest workout.
  4. Exercise needs to be enjoyable to be sustainable. If you hate it, you’re not doing what’s right for you and you probably won’t do it for long.
  5. Everyone lies (or at least exaggerates) on social media, so never compare your body, your life, your workout, to someone else’s insta post.
  6. You may receive a moment’s worth of validation from a gratuitous social media post, but you have probably just made someone else feel inadequate. Was it worth it? (I have definitely been on both sides of this myself)
  7. ‘Before and After’ photos are redundant. Unless you die after the last photo, your body will continue to change throughout your life:
    a. That’s not a bad thing
    b. You’re probably sucking in your tummy anyway
  8. “Getting fit” doesn’t require huge lifestyle changes, you don’t need to be an elite athlete to lead a healthy life.

I want to expand on that last point a bit, because getting fit doesn’t have to mean going to extremes. That is what I find so detrimental about these hashtags. They can put people off even trying to be more active because to go from zero to “#instafit” seems like way too big a challenge.

Even these online trainers (e.g. Kayla Itsines and Joe Wicks) who promise results through short HIIT workouts that fit “neatly into your life”, can be problematic because they inadvertently promote their own body/lifestyle as the end result.

Kayla and Joe don’t have bodies like theirs through doing 15 minutes of HIIT per day. They workout constantly (it’s their job), they do a shit ton of strength training and are also blessed with good genetics. I’m not saying to not try these plans if that is what is going to kick start you in to a more active life, but if you don’t look like Joe or Kayla in 3 months time, don’t give up on being active. [Side note: The language used can also be really awful. Kayla’s #BBG tag makes me fume. It stands for Beach Body Guides…seriously Kayla, every single body is beach ready. You don’t need to look like a fitness model to wear a fucking bikini. Stop with the body shaming].

These short workouts can be great, but I hate the thought of anyone being on a rigid training schedule, even if it is only 15 minutes per day, because when you miss that day or two, you are going to feel crappy and guilty. This is not good for your mental health and therefore not good for your physical health.

So, what is the solution you ask me? It’s not easy, but I believe that the best way to maintain an active lifestyle is to stop focusing on body image and to do forms of exercise that you genuinely enjoy. That may be full week of bootcamps, spin classes and weight training; or it could be gardening and walking the dog. Any of that is fine if you are doing it for the right reasons.

Body image is on the forefront of all of our minds. The first thing I hear from all of my clients, male, female and of any age, is that they want to lose weight or change some area of their body. However, after a quick chat with them, I discover that what they really want is to feel better; to move more, have more energy and feel good about themselves. With that, I know I can help them, primarily because all of my sessions and classes take place outside and doing physical activity outdoors is hella good for you. It’s been shown to improve self-esteem and reduce feelings of depression within as little as 5 minutes.

I am going to do a series of posts over the next couple of months which cover different ways of being active. A lot of it will be focused on outdoor exercise as that is my bag and every week more studies are being published about how great it is. However, I will cover a myriad of different things from team sports to wild swimming to spin classes. I will also keep talking about body image because I think it is important to address this culture of body shaming within the online fitness world. Only by addressing it can we instigate change.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to comment.

Leah x