On a normal day, it’s nothing to scroll through a social media feed filled with picture-perfect meals, airbrushed selfies and #unfiltered workout snapshots. In the latest trend to hit social media, celebrities, influencers and friends alike are sharing revealing images masked as fitness updates.
Rippling abs, peachy bottoms and bursting biceps are filling our Instagram feeds – a platform, according to Avocado Social, that is primarily used by 18 to 24 year olds.
According to one clinical psychologist, not all fitness posts are created equal.
“Some may have genuinely good intentions, and be sharing their own journeys and the end results in the hope they can motivate and inspire others,” Dr. Genevieve von Lob, author of Five Deep Breaths: The power of mindful parenting, tells Yahoo Style UK. “There is a growing online fitness community which is helping to provide support for those who exercise at home and who may not otherwise be part of a physical, visible community such as a gym.”
“For many though, they may have been drawn to the celebrity fitness and social media arena because they have underlying insecurities, a lack of self-esteem and are looking for validation from others. By posting revealing selfies of themselves to their followers, it’s about getting those likes and that validation from others,” says Dr. von Lob.
Jessica Pack is a 28-year-old landscape architect from Georgia, USA. Passionate about fitness and boasting more than 197,000 followers, she spends her evenings and spare time working as a personal trainer and influencer. Often sharing meal prep tips, workout routines and body photos, the fitness influencer doesn’t shy from sharing a peachy selfie from time to time.
“I post bikini pictures for a few reasons. Coming from a place where I used to hide from my own body, I literally would avoid mirrors at all costs, it now is a form of self empowerment to embrace the wonderful gift of having a body that allows my soul to live,” says Pack. “I also do it to encourage other women to realize that fit and strong bodies aren’t just what you see on magazine covers. Fitness, health and beauty come in all shapes and sizes.”
While the fitness blogger admits these images receive a greater response from her followers, Pack injects regular reminders of body positivity for her followers.
“We live in a conditioned culture that has unrealistic expectations and standards for women in not just how we look but act, behave and think, and it is really easy to feel not good or adequate enough,” says the 28-year-old. “Social media has made it really easy to over consume content that continues to set unrealistic expectations for not just ‘body goals’ but lifestyle… as well.”
With 83 per cent of the UK’s adult population now tweeting, tagging and liking on at least one platform, social media consumption is at an all-time high. According to Dr. von Lob even if an influencer has good intentions, how this content is consumed varies according to the audience.
“Social media is certainly an aspect of growing up that young people today are having to face which previous generations did not,” says the psychologist. “Whilst there are many young people who love social media, and have a positive, healthy relationship with it, for some, particularly those who are more vulnerable to emotional difficulties and lower self esteem, it can most definitely affect their mental health and cause increases in anxiety, depression or self destructive behaviours.”
This doesn’t mean that social media should be banned outright, however, with Dr. von Lob explaining it can not be the sole element responsible for causing mental health difficulties. In fact, she credits today’s media savvy generations for using social media in an effective way.
“In my experience the younger generation is far more emotionally self-aware than their parents’ generation, and willing to confront problems and talk about their difficult feelings,” she says.
Accredited dietitian from Sydney, Australia, Lyndi Cohen has built a following of more than 57,000. Sharing her favourite body positive influencers and wellness tips, the blogger regularly speaks about the blurred lines between Instagram and reality.
“Our idea of what a healthy, balanced body looks like is wrong and it’s doing more harm than good,” she tells Yahoo Style UK. “You don’t need to be a lean Instagram model with abs and a low body fat percentage to be healthy.”
The health blogger believes a number of influencers post picturesque scenarios to portray a ‘perfect’ life – and while it may be completely self-serving, it makes health and wellness seem even less obtainable for the average person.
“Many fitness bloggers use social media to share their highlights reel, complete with perfect breakfast bowls and workout selfies in crop-tops, but neglect to talk about the challenges of every day life,” says Cohen. “This sets a really high, and often unachievable standard of fitness for the every day person. Instead of inspiring people to exercise more, idealised fitness and health accounts can make exercise and healthy eating seem even more out of reach.”
A concern Dr. von Lob also shares, she worries social media – combined with societal and peer pressure – could be an additional layer inhibiting this generation from reaching their full potential.
“So many young women are silently battling feelings of inferiority because they do not feel they measure up to the air-brushed versions of the feminine ideal promoted on social media, in the fashion industry, or the carefully-filtered selfies posted by their peers. I see this problem all the time: so many girls are convinced they are too fat, too thin, too short, too tall, or they don’t like their nose, thighs, freckles or hair,” says the author. “Many others simply live with the constant nagging voice of their ‘inner critic’, or even the cruel voice of bullies, telling them they are weird, ugly or fat.”
While most can set boundaries around the media they are consuming, Dr. von Lob warns that acknowledging curated realities and separating from it can be two different experiences.
“Many of these young women can see right through our appearance-obsessed culture, but struggle to believe they will amount to anything or achieve any worthwhile goals in a society where looks count for so much,” she says.
When it comes to the smart consumption of social media, fitness blogger Pack suggests being selective with who you follow.
“It is really important to follow others that only make you feel better about yourself… Mostly I want women to realize they are completely in control of how they think and feel,” she says.
While the driving force behind this fitness trend seems to be dependent on the individual, the resounding sentiment is that this industry thrives on making the average consumer feel inadequate. A marketing technique that has been in practice for decades.
Similar to Pack and Cohen, Dr. von Lob puts the responsibility back on our society to support young women in recognising their potential.
“As a society we need to start with the younger generation, and help young girls to start valuing their potential to grow into strong women who can stand up for that they believe, regardless of what anyone else might think,” she says.
“We need to help them learn to appreciate their bodies less in terms of the outer appearance, and more in terms of health and vitality. It’s about learning true self-acceptance.”
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