The fitness craze has well and truly hit the UK. Total industry involvement is up 5.1% from last year, meaning 1 in 7 people in the country now own a membership to a gym. The new fondness of fitness is obvious on social media sites too, with numerous individuals creating their own progress accounts, and fitness bloggers such as Kayla Itsines attaining a huge following of 16 million on Facebook. And there is no denying that the various fitness plans and programmes that these social media health pros are providing are massively improving the lifestyles of so many individuals. You only need to have a quick scroll through ‘before and after’ photos on Instagram to witness the weight loss and muscle gain made, and the pride people feel because of their new fitness regimes is obvious. The British public are becoming so inspired and are so keen to improve on themselves and their diets; it’s very positive that this is the direction the country is heading.
Yet, I can’t help but focus on the very negative effect that I believe this craze is having on our generation- the unhealthy obsession with unreachable perfection. As wonderful as these ‘progress photos’ may be to the individual in them, what implication do they have on the viewers whose looks hold far more of a resemblance to the ‘before’ photo than the ‘after’? These seemingly positive displays of ‘improvement’ can actually be very damaging to those who see them, and leave people questioning whether they too need to change their bodies because of the insinuation that their current states are not desirable. The media tells us that the way we look is not good enough unless we have the certain features that they decide are attractive. They tell us what we should aspire to have, inferring that what we do have is wrong. It’s like the famous Mean Girls quote- “I used to think there was just fat and skinny. But apparently there are lots of things that can be wrong on your body.” We don’t think there’s anything wrong with the way we look until the media shows us otherwise. Magazines, TV and social media all present us with images of these people they believe we should want to be like and it leaves us wondering why we don’t look that way and how we can change.
This has such a powerful effect on us because it is simply human nature to compare ourselves to other people. And, to a certain extent, there is nothing wrong with that; it’s normal to want to be a bit more like a person you admire. But what really concerns me is when this want becomes an obsession and someone’s life becomes completely devoted to changing themselves to be like another person, something which is obviously impossible. Many fans of famous bloggers religiously follow dietary recommendations and exercise routines just to achieve a body to match their idol but seem to be missing the very simple and obvious fact that no two people are the same. People’s bodies are largely down to their genetics and different people’s bodies require different nutrition, care and exercise to look a certain way. We see that someone has a big social media following and we immediately take that as validation that they are an expert in what they are talking about, that they know all about nutrition and they can lead us to our desired looks and lifestyle. And whilst many fitness bloggers are great at what they do and are fully clued up on their subject, not everyone who preaches about the importance of working out is actually qualified to do so.
One of the most damaging aspects of all of this though is probably the unrealistic nature of it all. You are not seriously trying to convince me that these men and women with solid abs have them all the time and don’t ever get a little bloated? Or that they don’t have rolls of fat when they lean over or sit down? No one ever posts the unflattering photos on social media because (understandably!) no one wants to look bad on the internet. But it’s lead to social media being very false in the way it portrays individual’s lives and looks. It’s rare to find a photo online that’s not been edited in some way or another, even if it’s just the addition of a filter. Don’t get me wrong I LOVE Instagram filters and I’m pretty positive that the majority of users regularly add them to their photos. But it’s important to remember that photo editing is a way of altering a photo, and just because the picture features no blemishes or cellulite, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t there.
I want to make it really clear that I am in no way against wanting to look good and improve on yourself by working out. I (try to) go to the gym regularly, I like to eat fairly healthily and I absolutely love social media and the odd posey photo. But I just think the world needs to calm it with the focus on physical attractiveness. Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder and in my opinion no one has the right to determine the level of someone else’s attractiveness. We should be embracing all the different shapes and sizes of people, not just picking one size and trying to make it fit all. Besides, attractiveness is so subjective, we’re all attractive in various ways and that should be celebrated, not changed.