First, I would like to state that the purpose of this piece is not to be a scrooge and ‘hate’ on people’s, achievements or positive lifestyle changes. I don’t want to stop people inspiring others or reflecting positively on all the hard work they have put in to achieve a goal. In fact, if the world had more of the above, it might well be a better place.
The real purpose of this post, is to help those that wish to tell their positive stories through the medium of ‘fitspiration’, to do so a little more safely. To do so with a little more consideration and in a bit more of a helpful way for those they are looking to inspire.
I get it, instagram is a really visual platform. Its great for demonstrating this type of thing. Transformations, inspirational slogans, etc etc. The problem is, how YOU interpret your body is different from how others do. How OTHERS interpret images of you body, might also not be how you think they do. Body image, and body image development is a multifactorial and complex construct. To think that we have millions of people with no understanding of this sharing, posting and re-sharing images of themselves and others is as unusual as it is worrying. Part of the problem is, that many of those perusing these images will have poor self-esteem and with it, poor body image. Unfortunately they are searching for solutions in a dangerous place.
One of the key offenders are post (usually females) that have found the gym - #strongnotskinny #transformation hash tags in abundance. You know, those before and after images, not of people having lost weight, but of underweight people who have developed new musculature. The posts often come with a text below describing how they used to think it was all about being skinny, but now they have new found confidence and self-esteem in their physical ability and changed their lives.
Don’t get me wrong, the changes they have made are great. The boosts to the confidence, physicality and self-esteem should be applauded. Really, these changes are SO hard to make and the effort that must have gone in is truly remarkable. But when you are trying to demonstrate its NOT all about the way you look, don’t ruin it and use imagery of your popping abs to demonstrate this. The irony is just too much. To me, all these post suggests is that you have just swapped one body image ideal for another. It's very fashionable to be strong and ripped at the moment. It wasn’t so much the case 20, 30, 40 years ago. Are these people REALLY looking to only motivate, or are they just out looking for likes, shares, or approval?
Numerous studies have demonstrated the negative impact that looking at images of others can have on different people. So to layer further irony on this mess, it is actually likely the people you are seeking to inspire you might be doing most damage to.
How to help improve body image
So, what can we do about it? Well, a solid principle for anyone looking to inspire others on instagram about positive lifestyle changes is to DE-EMPHASISE body image. Instead of focusing on the aesthetic, promote the idea of body mastery.
What new functions or skills does your body have that it didn’t before? Skills and physical qualities are tangible, predictable, measurable and scalable. Subjective ratings of how what our body looks like in skimpy clothing on filter level 1 trillion are subjective, distortable, inconsistent and changeable. Emphasise the positive qualities, behaviours and skills that will help others on their journey. What lessons of hard work, persistence, creating new habits, learning from mistakes, getting back on track do you have to share? THESE are the things that will help your audience move on to better times. Not stimulating some short term drastic changes boosted only by a degree of self-hatred or dissatisfaction.
This has been a difficult post to write, and will likely be largely misinterpreted. So be it. Its out there now.