Social Media. Love it, hate it, can’t live without it.
When I was in college, I was nominated for the superlative “Biggest Social Media Whore” my senior year. This was 2012. The age BEFORE instagram. I didn’t win, but I like to think that I probably would now if I were to do it all over again.
It’s no secret that I’m an avid social media user. I have almost 2,000 instagram posts, over 8,000 tweets, and 2 facebook pages that I post on almost every day.
When I first started powerlifting, instagram wasn’t even popular yet. Sure, I had the app installed on my phone, but I had maybe 5 followers and no idea how to use it. Within my first year out of college and my first year of powerlifing, instagram BLEW up. Everyone was using it. Now, if you search #fitspo on instagram, you’ll get over 32,000,000 posts.
I slowly started posting about my lifting more and more, but only pictures because it couldn’t do videos yet! I searched for fitness and lifting accounts and followed every one I could find.
As instagram became more popular and added videos, these accounts started getting out of control. My entire timeline was videos of itty bitty girls showing their #workoutoftheday, pictures of ripped abs next to ice cream #cheatday, oiled-up photoshoots of girls in tiny shorts with their asses sticking out #glutes #belfie, and a constant stream of “email me for programs!!
I scrolled and scrolled always thinking things like:
First of all, what gym do you go to that allows you to workout in basically underwear?
How do you workout with you hair down and perfectly curled? Doesn’t it get in the way?
There is NO WAY you ate that.
Isn’t it a little unprofessional to be posting pictures that are basically soft-core porn when you’re asking for clients?
Slowly, I started hating myself. I’ve never really been the most confident person on earth, but I’ve also never completely hated my body as much as I did during this time. I thought I would never be good enough. I thought I would never look like “them”.
I should also mention that during this time, I was living by myself in New Jersey, miles away from my family and friends, and I was in an emotionally abusive relationship. This guy was the one who introduced me to powerlifting and was my first coach. And instead of trying to help me feel better, he poked the fire. He used to tell me things like “yeah, you will never look like that if you keep eating the way you do”, and “you just don’t have good genetics for lifting”, and “just take steroids” (which I did not do, for the record). When I told him I might want to get into fitness modeling, he literally laughed in my face and told me I wasn’t pretty enough.
I moved back home to Boston 2 months after that relationship ended.
I un-followed all the accounts that made me hate myself.
And it was incredibly freeing.
I am a fitness professional with a great job, why do I need to follow “fitspo” accounts? I don’t.
I’m also a powerlifter, why do I need to follow bikini competitors and Jen Selter and fitness models? I don’t.
Instead, I found accounts that motivated me and made me feel great about myself. Ones like Girls Who Powerlift, Girls Gone Strong, and Grrrl and athletes like Marisa Inda, Gracie V, Rheta West, and Kimberly Walford. Strong, powerful women who lift other women up instead of just showing off their bodies. Women who don’t post product endorsements every other day. These are women that inspire me to be a better lifter. These are women who I can look up to and not hate myself.
I no longer follow bikini competitors or fitness models unless I know them personally.
I have NOTHING against those women. Prepping for a bikini or figure competition is not easy and I have a ton of respect for people who do them. However, I can now recognize that looking at their progress pictures and stage pictures and everything else they post is very bad for my self-esteem.
Social media has been connected to body dysmorphia. Body dysmorphia is a condition where a person becomes so preoccupied with their appearance that it begins to negatively affect their quality of life. Symptoms of BD include:
-being extremely preoccupied with your appearance
-strong belief that you have a defect in your appearance that makes you ugly
-belief that others notice your appearance in a negative way or mock your appearance
-engaging in behaviors aimed to hide or fix a perceived flaw
-attempting to hide perceived flaws with makeup or clothes
-constantly comparing yourself to others
-always seeking reassurance about your appearance from others
-having perfectionist tendencies
-avoiding social situations
This can lead to other issues like eating disorders, personality disorders, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, and obsessive exercising.
Social media has become such a huge influence on our lives that it can be difficult to separate “real-life” from “online-life”.
Luckily, I was able to recognize what was happening to me and put a stop to it. But some people can’t and end up taking extreme and sometimes dangerous methods to try to look like the girls they see on instagram.
Unintentionally, these instagram accounts are doing the exact opposite of what they are trying to do-instead of being “fitness inspiration”, or “fitspo”, they are causing young girls to resort to eating disorders and over-exercising and unhealthy cleanses and the use of drugs to get that “perfect body”.
The girls in those pictures do not actually look like that.
The fitness models in the magazines don’t actually look like that.
Celebrities don’t actually look like that.
And genetics DO matter. You can’t change your DNA.
Knowing that I had started developing body dysmorphia and seeing what these instagram accounts did to me has made me much more aware of what I post. This is part of the reason why I never post my own progress photos or gym selfies or pictures of my butt/abs. I try to make my posts inspiring and motivating. As far as gym stuff goes, I typically only post videos of me actually lifting, so you can see the work that goes into it. Exercise isn’t sexy! You work hard, you get sweaty, you make ugly faces. I post my meal prep and food so you can see that I eat boring stuff like chicken and broccoli. It’s not all froyo and donuts you guys!
Of course I’ll throw in the occasional flex photo, bikini pic on the beach, or picture of something particularly yummy that I thoroughly enjoyed eating. But if you look at my instagram feed, those pictures are few and far between.
Instead of trying to get as skinny as possible with a flat stomach or 6-pack abs and an unhealthy body fat %, the focus should be on health. We should be teaching young women that exercise can be fun and enjoyable. We should teach them healthy nutrition habits and how to make positive lifestyle changes. We should teach them proper form and execution of exercises. We should teach them that it’s ok for women to lift weights and be strong. We should teach them that increasing flexibility can improve their quality of life. And we should help them get on the right path towards body positivity and self-love.
If you know someone that you think might have body dysmorphia, talk to someone you can trust! Body dysmorphia is considered a mental disorder and can be diagnosed and treated by mental health professionals.
If you are reading this and are in a similar situation as I was, I urge you to take a look at your social media account and the people you follow. Everybody is different, but for me, it really helped to unfollow people who made me have negative thoughts and feelings about myself. You might not even realize that you are comparing yourself to others until you take away the opportunity to do it.
Bottom line? Make health your goal and don’t let social media and the fit chicks of instagram make you feel bad about yourself.
For further reading, check out these articles:
Why ‘Fitspo’ Should Come With a Warning Label
Social Media Influences on Muscle Dysmorphia
The ‘Ugly Truth’ About Body Dysmorphic Disorder
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