We all know how addictive social media can be. A quick five-minute phone break soon turns into a half hour of mindless scrolling through our Instagram feed. Though it is heavily addictive and a major time-waster, we might convince ourselves it’s not so bad when we’re following accounts that promote health and fitness. So called “fitspo” accounts, which promote fitness inspiration, are run by influencers who share their fitness and healthy lifestyle tips with the public. Seems harmless, and maybe even helpful right?
Unfortunately, these fitspo accounts may actually be harmful to our self esteem and self image. The typical “athletes” body that the fitspo movement promotes is a really skinny body type that many people may not be able to obtain in a healthy way. As a consequence, people may turn to unhealthy dieting and weight loss strategies in efforts to chase after this ideal. There has been research showing that looking at fispo images on Instagram can heavily impact body image, and lead to lower levels of body satisfaction.
Many accounts also share before and after photos of people who have had success following workout plans or healthier diets. While nothing should take away from those individuals’ successes, it can be frustrating to see that people are achieving results when we still aren’t. These success stories may actually contribute to the problem, as we inevitably compare ourselves to people in the photo, wracking our brain for why it hasn’t worked for us. And unfortunately, those hot, tanned athletes promoting top of the line athletic wear may often be struggling with their own disordered eating habits and body image issues behind the camera. It seems like the fitspo movement might be promoting unhealthy social comparisons, and may be less of an inspiration and more of a hindrance to achieving health and wellness.
I’ve struggled with my own issues surrounding food and exercise for years, and I began following all kinds of healthy food accounts and fitness pages. And it left me feeling like nothing I did was enough. I would feel ashamed when I slipped up and had dessert, and try to punish myself with exercise the next day. I couldn’t understand why my body didn’t look like the ones in the pictures when I was trying my hardest to do everything right. Now I can see how unhealthy my thought patterns and behaviors were, but I think they were in large part influenced by what I was seeing online. I began to notice that I would feel dejected and drained after scrolling through those accounts. So one day I decided to unfollow them, and I think I’m better for it.
There is not one ideal “picture of health.” Unfortunately, the social media accounts we tend to follow tell a different story. We mindlessly worship toned, tanned, and tall models without stopping for a second to think about how exclusionary and unattainable this ideal is for so many of us. Fitness looks different on different body types, and some of those body types might not be skinny, or tan, or tall. Healthy diets might include cookies every once in awhile, and there isn’t anything wrong with that. Of course, there is nothing wrong with trying to inspire people to engage in healthier habits. But much of the content we consume implicitly tells us that if we don’t look a certain way, or eat a certain way, or wear a certain size, we’re doing it wrong. And there is nothing positive or inspirational about that message.
Social media is a powerful and pervasive tool, and can be used for harm or for good. But it’s up to us to choose what we want to see, and the messages we want to hear.