The dominance that the online world has over our day-to-day lives means that we are more connected with the rest of the world than ever before. And whilst the growth of social media platforms has a lot of benefits (efficient communication, small businesses thriving and building of communities to name a few!), it can also come at a cost when it comes to our individual wellbeing. For me, I’ve noticed a significant decrease in my mental wellbeing since the rise of the online fitness industry in particular.
Thanks to the beloved Instagram and TikTok algorithms, my feeds are now dominated by fitness instructors, bodybuilders and anyone who steps into a gym at least 5 times a week - all because of one workout video I double tapped because I thought I’d actually be able to complete it without passing out afterwards. There’s an overwhelming amount of infographics explaining how much fat, carbs and protein we should be taking in and what numbers we should be seeing on the scales, on the weights and on our clothing labels. I’m going to be honest: I already had a difficult relationship with exercise, but this has definitely made it worse.
Before and after
One thing I started seeing a lot of recently on social media is before and after pictures. My feed was full of fitness influencers’ bodies going from a ‘regular’ looking body, to bulging muscles, rock hard abs and pretty much zero body fat. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure these people have worked incredibly hard on themselves to be able to achieve their goals, and bravo. However, many of these photos are showing a young person who has barely hit puberty! Our bodies change across our entire lifetimes. Using images of a body that is a lot younger and not gone through essential life changes creates a false image of success, making us viewers feel like we are not as hard-working or fit as these influencers. Many people on social media only highlight the good stuff - achievements, personal bests, days where they feel their absolute best. It’s rare that we’ll see a day of bloating or a lack of motivation, or how these bodies look during the menstrual cycle or after an all-you-can-eat buffet style dinner.
We get to choose what we put on our social media, so remind yourself that those choices are mostly the good parts, and that’s not a fair representation of anyone’s reality.
Lights, camera, filter
Trying to feel good in our skin is pretty difficult with the types of images we are scrolling across daily, especially when it comes to fitness instructors and gym-goers. Being in a gym with great lighting and mirrors galore is the perfect opportunity to *pose* and snap a pic. That word POSE is very important here. I live for the influencers online that are so brutally honest about their bodies, showing pictures that they’ve taken seconds apart showing how much posing and lighting can alter the way a body looks. So, as hard as it is to remember when our eyes fixate on the picture perfect bods of these workout warriors, know that regular bodies most likely do not resemble that image 99% of the time! We all bloat, we do not live in a world of perfect lighting, and our bodies change all the time. It’s normal for our bodies to look completely different from the moment we wake up to when we finish our last bite of breakfast, let alone throughout the rest of the day.
I would put myself under so much pressure to train in the gym 5 or 6 times per week, thinking that even one rest day was too much time off. All because I was seeing people fall in love with leg day and live off protein shakes, and these people looked incredible - and I wanted in. I was waking up at 6:30am to have trained my body to the nth degree by 8am, doing a workout I’d seen on TikTok. I wanted so badly to be someone who lived this lifestyle because what I’d seen on social media suggested to me that this was a successful way of living, so why did I hate it so much?
Success does not have to be early mornings and hardcore workouts. It does not require lifting weights or yoga mats. The pressure made me feel so angry at myself, and guilty for not showing up and trying to be a better me. But actually, thinking this way was what was stopping me from being the best version of myself. I can still look after my body and exercise in a way that I want to without being in a gym, without obsessing over macros, and without having a six-pack or a Kardashian sized bum.
When I started listening to my body, things made more sense: exercising became less of a chore because I was doing it in a way that I liked and made me feel good, and then I started seeing results - mentally and physically.
And don’t forget to rest!
We rarely see people taking rest days on social media, because it’s not really seen to be something to show off about. But in my opinion, it definitely is! Taking care of your body and allowing it to rest is crucial for gym gains and improvements, but also for our wellbeing. Resting allows us to recover and is also a form of self-care - and you know we’re all about that here don’t you?
Be grateful for your body
Our bodies do an awful lot for us, and no matter what they look like, we should be grateful for that. We need to look after them, yes, and that probably does include some form of movement. But we are absolutely not expected to be as shredded as a Calvin Klein model five minutes after we finish our workout. You can move your body in any way that works for you, and maybe consider limiting the type of content on social media that makes you feel bad about yourself, especially when it comes to exercise.
Seeing this side of the fitness industry had me paralysed when it came to exercise, because I felt like I was never going to be good enough. I had all these ideas spinning around my mind from what I was seeing online, but couldn’t take any action because it was so overwhelming. And from then, I really struggled to get back into the swing of things. So be gentle, do whatever works for you and make sure what you’re seeing on your screens makes you feel good!
Out of sight, out of mind: It’s actually really difficult for our brains to stop and remember that we’re only seeing the best bits, and not the hard stuff everyone goes through. Which can cause us to compare and feel bad about ourselves. If we can approach it consciously, we’ll find it easier to catch ourselves when we enter the comparison and negative self-talk loops we can dip into.