While spending sixteen months on my lovely couch binging Gossip Girl episodes for the fifth time, the only workout I can sustain was walking from kitchen to living room (about twenty times a day) during lock-down days. While I was wearing my yoga pants as loungewear just to feel more put together, at home workout videos were trending on YouTube. It was impossible not to see a yoga pose while scrolling through Instagram, yet, I opted for home-made bread videos. Finally, when summer arrived, I was desperately asking Google how to have a bikini body in three days. Ok, three weeks! Fortunately, social media was full of “fitspiration” that I needed. Those fit girls and boys should have known how to get in shape, those abs cannot be coincidence. I started to follow numerous fitness influencers and models who post their workout routine, personal trainers telling their tips. The result? I saved tons of videos to watch later and tried only one or two of them, for ten minutes. I realized that looking at beach bodies, lean legs and gym stories of fitness queens does not make me fit, it only makes me feel upset, guilty and lazy. There was something wrong here, than a question has popped up in my mind: “Do fitness influencers on social media really “fitspire” us”?
I was not the only one asking that question, two academicians in Paris School of Business have just written a research article asking “You follow fitness influencers on YouTube. But do you actually exercise?” (My answer is obvious at that point, I suppose!) The research concluded that fitness videos increase the intention to exercise for users who are already active but they do not motivate non-exercising group. I knew it, it’s not me, it’s fitness content on social media! My useless attempts to get motivated by fitness influencers and this research made me curious to dive deeper and understand better the impact of fitspiration content on social media.
Social media has been accused for body image distortions.
The consequences of overexposure to “perfect” bodies on social media can be hazardous psychologically. A recent study reported risks associated with fitspiration on social media clustering six themes: exercise addiction and compulsive exercise, body dissatisfaction and objectification, appearance-related anxiety and depressive symptoms, excessive control of eating habits, use of enhancing drugs, quality of life.
Most studies stressed on female body distortions as a result of social media content consumption however the effect is also significant for male social media users. A research conducted in Macquarie University provided evidence that shows the association between exposure to fit male pictures on Instagram and body dissatisfaction. 118 Australian men who are 17- to 27-year old participated in the study and results proved that viewing more fitspiration content was associated with higher appearance comparison tendency which in turn correlated with less body satisfaction, more appearance-based exercise motivation and less health-based exercise motivation. When health becomes a secondary motivation to exercise, exercising may cause more harm than benefits, due to excessive exercising, using suspicious supplements for muscle enhancement; thus, this findings deserve a careful consideration.
What lesson should we take from these studies?
Should we ban exercise content or close the accounts of fitness influencers? Of course, no. The only intention of this article is to warn content creators who share “fitspo” content to be a bit more careful considering undesirable effects of their content on psychology of their followers and their ties with them. I would like to conclude with some useful tips for content creators who would like to share content related to fitness:
- Focus on motivations beyond physical appearance: Rather than taking a photo in front of the mirror in the gym showing your muscles, why don’t you tell how you feel after good workout? Focusing on health and psychological benefits of exercise can be a smart strategy to differentiate yourself in a social media environment mad about appearance.
- Be relatable: I know, everybody shares their picture-perfect moments on social media, but I also know that social media users are sick of that fake perfection and looking for something real and relatable. As much as showing discipline and dedication to exercise, show your lazy days, tell your followers you also snooze your alarm sometimes and cancel your morning workout. We are not perfect in real life and when your followers see your imperfections, you will be perceived more authentic.
- Less selfies, more useful content: I know how much you have worked for that muscles and you deserve to show them on Instagram, but do you really need to? Of course, beautiful selfies bring thousands of likes but when they are repetitive, you can be muted forever. It is time to think about new content ideas. Tell about your favourite post work out meal, healthy recipes or favourite gym outfits. Inspire, rather than aspire.
- Don’t use body-hate language: Body hate starts from the language. In daily life, most of us don’t talk about our bodies compassionately. Fat jokes are hate speech, period. Even when you are talking about your body, let alone followers, choose your words kindly. When you say you hate your fat belly and cellulites, an adolescent girl can learn to hate her body, too. Obviously, you don’t want to influence them in that way. Rather than showing exercise as a way to fix “imperfections” such as cellulites, inspire your followers to exercise to feel more energetic, strong, healthy and positive.
What do you think about fitness influencers? Do you believe them to be influential in motivating their audiences to be healthier? Or are they just causing more self-esteem problems than the former? Let us know your thought in the comments below or hit us up on our socials.