Social Media and Self Esteem

Our health idol, Rosie, is here to break down the good, the bad, the ugly, the fake, and the bad. Did I mention bad?.....

“'If you don't know what you want,' the doorman said, “You end up with a lot you don't”'

Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

Ever open Instagram and just see pages and pages of picture perfect girls looking amazing at the gym, hanging out in bikinis, effortlessly rocking through every arm balance and handstand variation imaginable (probably on a beach)? Yeah, me too. Ever look at yourself and think – that's not me, but it should be? Once upon a time, me too. We see flat, toned tummies, flawless hair and make-up; no dimpled asses or thighs; no lumps or jiggly bits where their leggings cut in ever so slightly and their tanks are a little on the fitted side. No red faces, contour on fleek, no unshaven armpits or frizzy hair. Everything is rock hard, everything looks perfect – must be perfect, right? Of course not.

It may sound obvious, but you don't know what is behind the mask. Behind that highlight reel could – and often does - lie a multitude of issues, mental health issues like depression, anxiety, disordered eating, obsessive behaviours (such as over-training), body dysmorphia, fertility issues, I could go on. We've seen a few influencers admit to disordered eating to maintain unsustainably low body fat levels. Could be that aspirational fitness model you follow would just love to casually head out for a slice of pizza and beer as casually as you or I do.

I'd like you to consider a few things before you feel inferior due to something you see on social media. The first is profit and what drives the industry. Aspiration, inspiration, right? Wrong. Money makes the world go round. A large portion of fitfluencers/influencers/fitness bloggers are being paid for their pictures in order to help sell products. We're seeing more accountability at the moment, with people now having to declare whether something is an affiliated product or advertisement (here in the UK, at least) – but the fact is, we've gone years with a complete lack of transparency. Whether it's a supplement company, a clothing company, holidays, foods, you name it – you've been sold it as part of that perfect life package by some girl or guy on social media.

The second thing is what we're aspiring to – usually someone skinny or shredded. With the exception of some incredible body positivity bloggers in the fitness industry, we're usually sold the age old diet narrative: shrink to be better. As a feminist, and from a philosophical as well as physical point of view, I fundamentally disagree with being told to take up less space in the world to make myself more appealing (jump on the gain train with me, ladies). Whether it's from systematically disordered eating, photo editing software, or both, endorsing this 'smaller is better' narrative in it's new, outwardly healthy guise is doing us no favors. Unless your weight means you are at risk of diabetes or heart disease due to your weight, the size you are is just fine.

This brings me to my third point – acceptance. Laura Thomas PhD (she's a clinical dietician, definitely find her on Instagram) talks about 'body neutrality.' When body positivity is just too much of a leap. Years of conditioning and bombardment of unrealistic ideals has meant that many of us feel inadequate. Psychologically, can you just switch off existential self loathing crises? Sometimes, and for some people, body positivity is just as unrealistic an ideal as starving yourself to a six-pack in three weeks. We just can't undo years of being harsh to ourselves. But we can start with accepting the things we cannot change – what's feasible for me? Start there. The more we accept inwardly, the less we need outwardly. Acceptance of ourselves is the biggest, and most direct challenge we can make to a culture which is geared around selling us quick fixes to 'improve' ourselves. As a trainer, I've worked with such a wide variety of clients. As a corrective specialist, I've worked with people to heal post surgery, post injury, those with hereditary musculoskeletal dysfunction or lifestyle induced muscular imbalance which we need to set right with weeks and months of corrective work. Sometimes it isn't as simple as a pair of leggings, or a shake, or a yoga retreat.

Laura Thomas, PHD is a HSR Instagram approved follow!

Finally – I break everything down into enjoyment vs punishment. Particularly when it comes down to health and fitness. Is this bike ride or run or workout enriching me? Or am I punishing myself to try and undo something I perceive as damaging to some ideal I'm striving for? General population has come to adapt frankly unrealistic bodybuilding methods and approach towards diet into everyday. We talk about cheat meals, keto, macro splits. For many people, especially when you are starting out - it doesn't matter. Even professionals find it difficult to adhere to these strict diets when they are preparing to become show lean, which is very small period of the year when they are competing in bodybuilding or physique competitions. Ask yourself – are you dipping in 9 layers of fake tan, putting on a sparkly bikini and strutting in front of judges this summer? No? Then just eat your veggies, keep moving, drink plenty of water and YOU WILL BE FINE without all of this confusing bullshit. Find something which makes you feel good and strong and keep doing it. Try a martial art, go to pro wrestling training, ride your bike, try boxing, a pump class – anything. You are the boss.

The issue of the social media highlight reel and the pressure it puts on women today is a major one, and one we need to address. It could be the fact that the person has abs, is skinner, runs faster – my answer is the same: if it inspires you, keep it. If it makes you feel bad – delete it. Get rid. I'm not saying, cut it out forever – I'm saying, it's not positive. We need to focus on ourselves, on our own productivity and happiness in all areas of our lives, because after all, we are here for a good time, not a long time.

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