To be honest, the social media frenzy of fitness rather than thinness is just as damaging as its predecessor.
The movement away from body shaming and into body positivity has swerved quite far from starvation and into emphasizing the necessity of ultimate health and fitness as the way to love and fuel your body and be happy. But I feel just as much like a piece of shit looking at women with muscular bums and rock hard abs who can run six-minute miles now as I did looking at tiny-framed women with prevalent collar bones and dainty limbs when I was 13. Idealizing any sort of body type will make everyone without that body type feel less than, and I think this insistence on #gainz will be revealed to be just as conducive to disordered eating and body dysmorphia as things like thinspo have proven to be.
Five steps back. Health is important. We should encourage each other to lead reasonably healthy lives. The recommended 10 (they increased it last year and I talked about it for weeks) servings of fruit and vegetables per day should be a top priority. We should be taught not to pump ourselves full of sugar, real or fake, and how to balance our diets. Exercise is key to mental and physical health.
However, moderation in a health-focused eating and exercise routine is just as important as it is when deciding on dessert. Obsessing over these things is remarkably easy to do.
Not everyone has the time to work out extensively and intensively enough to look like Insta-famous fitness gurus, but many of these women, who I truly believe have the best intentions, give off the vibe that they are “just like you!”
Moreover, I haven’t looked much into statistics, but from what I see a lot of these social media gurus are white, further narrowing their marketed image of ideal beauty in an additionally harmful way. They also tend to be wealthy enough to afford the gym memberships, beautiful health food and cute workout clothes that allow their lifestyles to seem so accessible and carefree.
“I’m at XYZ University and here is how you balance friends, school, a diet, 2.3 hours of exercise AND drinking as much as you want every single day!”
I have watched this YouTube video. I came out of the experience, not encouraged or empowered, but in a haze of “Why do I feel like I will never be able to have a week as productive and positive as that 15-minute video was?”
More importantly, I felt even worse about my body than when I’d looked at those ballerina-esque photos in middle school. Now, not only was I not thin enough, but I was not healthy, happy or full enough of natural and raw foods, either. I did not have a cute and fun raw vegan power brownie recipe to share with anyone, let alone a transformative “fitness journey.” And all I’d been innocently searching for was some advice on creative ways to eat a sweet potato and where to buy vegan running shoes.
I appreciate the trend towards balanced, natural eating and balanced, natural lifestyles as much as the next seldom hair washing vegan: fueling your body rather than starving it, working out to be happy and strong rather than to look a certain way, filling your stomach with fruit and vegetable based meals rather than fake sugars and pre-packaged, minimal-calorie carbs. However, all of these things seem to come to a head in a new troop of fitness celebrities who, for the most part, do look a certain way. They should most definitely not be shamed for looking that way or for creating lives around fitness. I don’t think, though, that they should be portrayed as the attainable norm, either.
I don’t want to feel guilty for eating a soft pretzel because HappyHealthyVeganTulipBabeFitness would never let that kind of thing enter her body and be a bad vegan like me and I guess now I need to do her detox workout and run 10 extra miles this week for good measure when HappyHealthyVeganTulipBabeFitness’s whole message is supposed to be to exercise not for punishment but for happiness. But then all this happiness is coming from working out and having #gainzforgirls and a certain kind of food…but isn’t that a disordered relationship to health, as well?
I think what’s important to realize is that glorifying any body type or lifestyle as what you must do to succeed in happiness and health, whether that be through weight loss, general health, a bigger butt or just feeling better about what you eat, quickly slips into the danger zone. Just as casually counting calories easily turns into obsessively restricting calories, casually working to be a muscular goddess fueled by raw and natural foods easily turns into punishing yourself for eating store-bought cereal and missing those five extra minutes of ab work because you stayed up late finishing your final paper. Balance is not achieved simply by virtue of deciding you’re going to be balanced.
Presenting the fit gal as the alternative to planning down to the macronutrient or excessively exercising, while positive in its intentions and possibilities, seems to tend toward even more body consciousness rather than less. Many of these YouTube and Instagram stars have stories of restrictive eating turned bingeing turned a switch to intuitive, natural eating turned having effortless abs and their own line of yoga leggings. And these stories are powerful and inspiring. But I don’t want to be inspired to center my entire life around fitness, a fad these same well-intentioned women are leading. I don’t want to be told that I have to be constantly detoxed fresh from the gym to love myself, just like I don’t want to be told that I have to eat two almonds and a stick of celery a day to love myself.
This is not to say that this path won’t work for some people; in fact, I know many women and men whose lives intuitive, natural eating and getting intensely into the gym have turned around. But for some people, especially those who latch onto something new and aim to stick to it fully, who most need flexible body positivity, it can too readily cause even more anxiety and guilt surrounding fitness and eating instead of alleviating that pressure. All I’m saying is that making any one lifestyle into THE path to happy, healthy and lovable is unsustainable and unfair, and this focus on body-positive health, rather than ridding me of my insecurities, has just helped me to discover new ones.
An addition was made to this article Oct. 7, 2017.
Erin, thank you for the well written article on our daughter Becca Richison and her good friend Whitney.
So fun to have good writing and correct press.