The endless scroll of perfect bodies on instagram impacts everyone that uses the platform. The word that people most often use to describe their favourite accounts and the associated content seems to be ‘inspirational’, but increasingly, more and more people are choosing the word ‘narcissistic’ to describe what they see in their feeds.
We know how bad social media is for us - first from whistleblowers that have come forward with direct, internal evidence, and also from documentaries like ‘The Social Dilemma’ that have outlined the toxic and destructive nature of social media. The well has been poisoned.
I’m not denying that many of these ‘perfect body’ posts are inspirational. You can see that these people work their asses off. Maintaining ‘figure competition’ level physiques 24/7 is not easy. Even describing it as ‘not easy’ is a vast understatement. To look like this on a daily basis for months and years on end hints at a lifestyle that is hyper restrictive in almost every conceivable way, from diet, to exercise, to sleeping patterns to the amount of time you have to devote to other, non-fitness aspects of your life like family and friends. The level of discipline this requires is Herculean.
But I wonder, is this healthy? What does looking like this cost these people? Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally? What toll does this level of restriction and deprivation take?
Have we entirely ceded what we classify as ‘fit’ to these Marvel Superhero looking types? We’ve noticed that when we post images to celebrate ‘average’ or ‘normal’ bodies on our account, we get people asking us in the comments if we are still a fitness company, like fitness can only be recognized at the extreme ends of the perfect body spectrum. This is a huge concern for us, because real, authentic fitness should take into account a balance between people's mental and physical health. Real, living fitness is a journey. It’s the messy and uncomfortable bits between the before and after pictures. Fitness is not a VIP club where the bouncer gets to look you up and down and decide if your body type is worthy to belong. This pressure to be perfect has the effect of intimidating people to the point where they feel like they can’t participate.
Anyone that posts on Instagram is looking for attention. That is the principle currency of social media. You might approach it differently, if you have a private account, or just a few friends and followers. If you consume content, your attention is up for grabs, and anyone that can get you to pause the scroll long enough to command a like, a share or comment is winning the attention wars. By engaging on any level with the content in your feed, you are setting up a cascading effect of data triggers that shifts the algorithms to bring these accounts either more juice or less. No one truly understands how this works because they keep the inner workings of the algorithm secret, but the more spectacle, the more emotional reaction posts generate, the better.
Because the average engagement rate on instagram is just 0.96% for businesses, the likes, comments and shares are getting harder and harder to come by. More and more stimulus is needed to trigger the reactions and behaviours that marketers are looking for. Content has to stop you from scrolling, or it’s essentially useless - a waste of time, money, resources. This puts tremendous pressure on influencers to stand out from the crowd of 1 billion people that use Instagram every month.
As users, we scroll through content so quickly, that pausing to think about what we are dumping into our brains and how it is impacting us is not something most of us take time for. There is nothing nuanced about the way we consume the feed - we typically either ‘like’ something, it has zero noticeable impact (we don’t engage and keep scrolling), or we hate something because it’s been designed to purposefully make us angry or emotional to get an engagement.
When you slow down and take the time to consider what you are looking at, and ask some questions about the intent of the stimulation - because everything has an intent - you can start to see things that will make you question ‘fitness content’.
Looking ‘perfect’ and being ‘fit’ are not the same things. Not by a long shot. When you look at ‘perfect body’ content on instagram, before you immediately categorize it as fitness, remember that you don’t know if this person is strong, you don’t know if they have any endurance or agility. Can this perfect body do 20 minutes of HIIT? Can they pull their own body weight up? Can they do 10 pushups? Do they understand basic human physiology the way a certified personal trainer world? We infer that people are ‘fit’ in a very similar way that we decide that someone isn’t - by a very cursory, shallow assessment of what they look like - all inside a fraction of a second, or the time it takes our thumb to advance the scroll. At some point in the evolution of social media content, being perfect edged out being fit, and now the two are so interchangeable that we have lost our ability to separate them in our perceptions. Models, with ‘perfect’ bodies, including those heavily enhanced and altered by surgeries are now posturing as ‘fitness’ personalities, based solely on what they look like.You can’t judge a book by its cover.
There are people that will jump out in front of this and say that deconstructing the content that is flooding into our senses is being ‘judgemental’ - to these people I say that yes, it is, and that more judgment not less is what is needed. We have the right to question what we are consuming. It doesn’t say anything in the terms and service about not being permitted to question what is being purposefully targeted at us. When content is created and published with the intent of ‘influencing’ or manipulating us into taking an action, or purchasing a product or service, we have the right to push back and ask - what is going on here? Is this legitimate? Is this good for me? Do I really want this? Is this healthy?
I have a friend that refuses all forms of social fitness content and calls it ‘plastic fantastic’. She told me recently that ‘I look at these images of these women with perfect bodies, and I wonder to myself - god, beautiful effort and determination, but what else do you do? I fight for the time to get an hour to workout a day. I can’t even imagine how much time that would take, even just to maintain that physique. I’m thinking, where is the balance? Next I start trying to figure out what parts of her body are real, and which parts have been surgically enhanced. I’m not sure if this is in an attempt at making myself feel better, some kind of mental self-defense from the artificial beauty ideal that is literally screaming in my face, or if I’m just being a bitch. What I do know is that it doesn’t make me feel good. I don’t care what people do to alter themselves - it’s none of my business. But if they are presenting themselves as fitness or health / wellness experts then obvious enhancements have the effect of disassociating me with the content. The more artifice, the less I find that I want to take them seriously. I find it hard to look at selfie poses - especially the ones that are overtly sexualized. Anything like this just screams narcissist to me. I’m aware that strong women don’t tear each other down, but if I’m feeling all of these conflicting emotions as the observer of this stuff, what are the women producing this content thinking? Are they just as conflicted? Do they care? Are they aware of the impact these images and videos have on the rest of us that aren’t chasing after the ideal?
The top 10 fitness accounts on social media have a combined reach of over 150 million accounts. That’s a lot of influence. None of these accounts are representative of body types outside of the beauty ideal. You might not find a diverse representation outside the top 1000. We see this as a problem, and an opportunity. At BodyRock we’ve been pushing a wider range of body types in an attempt to help normalize the ‘normal’. More body types need to be associated with fitness, so that it just doesn’t become the domain of the perfect people. By democratizing fitness, by showing that you can get started and get involved no matter what your shape or size, we can start building a healthier, happier society that sees the beauty and value in all women - not just the ‘perfect’ ones.
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Our coaches are real people, that show up for you from the heart. We have some great beginner programs designed to get you up and moving again, and we can progress you as you get stronger to more advanced workouts. You can stream our classes from anywhere, and we have a solid community to back you up. Right now you can get a full year of BodyRockPlus for just $69. Use code: XMAS69 to get this exclusive rate.
I haven’t noticed a diversity of body type on the Bodyrock website…. Just the same less than average body fat, oiled up pictures that the above article is criticizing.