Fitness Culture on Social Media: Don't be Fooled by Appearances
TW: disordered eating, calorie counting
I used to believe health and fitness were solely based on external appearance, how often one physically exercised, and how much weight one could lift. The mentality of “never skip a workout”, “no pain, no gain”, and “no excuses” was embedded into my mind from a young age. I listened and lived by these toxic quotes, because that is all I knew.
I would see this unhealthy way of life being promoted everywhere. In line at the grocery store checkout I saw magazines with weight loss advertisements, toned bodies plastered all over the internet and in commercials. All these forms of media promoted one body type: SKINNY. It didn’t seem to matter how you achieved it, or how you were feeling. It does not matter if you lost weight due to a traumatic event or a health issue; people see skinny and instantly say “wow you look great” and “good for you”. We live in a world where being thin is constantly celebrated. We have seen it on toxic television shows where losing weight was made into a competition in The Biggest Loser, or when it was for revenge in Revenge Body With Khloé Kardashian. Being skinny was aligned with being happy. And who doesn’t want to be happy?
All these media sources were promoting being skinny and healthy, but these two terms do not equal each other. As a young teenager, I was skinny, too skinny if you ask some people. But the only thing that mattered to me was going to the gym six to seven days a week to achieve the illusion of health. It did not matter if I was sick, sore, or in pain, I had to go to the gym. I was always told “no excuses”, and I was not prepared to make any. I would spend hours doing all forms of cardio, counting how many calories I burned, and comparing it to the calories I previously ate or planned to eat. Exercise and fitness became a form of punishment towards my body. I would exercise to work off my last meal and to earn my next. If I could not see the outline of my abdominal muscles, I would do 50 extra crunches. There was a time where I did not get a consistent menstruation cycle as I did not have enough body fat. If I were to start my cycle, I would excessively exercise, because I believed that was a sign of me gaining weight.
We live in a society where we are pushed to constantly go, work harder, move faster, and be better. I felt like everyone around me was encouraging this behavior, from fitness instructors to coaches and teammates, whether it was intentional or not. I remember being in a workout class, pushing myself to my limit, and having the instructor come to my station, and tell me to move faster. I avoided that class for months because not only did I feel embarrassed, but I felt truly ashamed of myself. Was the instructor right? Could I try harder? Did this person know my own body and limits better than myself? The answer was no.
Exercising can be such an amazing outlet for stress, help improve your sleep, and boost your energy and mood. I was miserable, burnt out, and unhappy because I was exercising for the wrong reasons, and with the wrong mindset. I noticed a shift in my mentality when I began to make small changes. I deleted my social media accounts so I was no longer engaged with toxic accounts or seeing harmful advertisements every day. I stopped taking exercise classes with instructors who shamed and embarrassed others. Most importantly, I realized that no one knows my body better than myself.
I know my limits, when I should take a rest, and when I should exercise my mind rather than my body. I once believed fitness was all about what your body looked like or how much you could lift, but mental strength is just as important. I value my days off by journaling, stretching, walking, meditating, or sometimes just laying in bed. Without exercising my mind, I would not have energy or a positive mindset when it comes to working out. Now when it comes to exercising, I have fun, something I never thought I would say. I lifted the pressure off of myself by no longer tracking my calories, and by refusing to hold myself to strict standards. I am finally valuing, loving, and listening to my own body.
Things to remember:
1. No one knows your body the way you do. Value, listen, and respect what your body is telling you.
2. Skinny does not equal healthy! Health comes in all shapes and sizes and looks different for everyone.
3. You do not need to earn your food or work off meals. Food is fuel, your body needs it.
4. Forget the toxic quotes and sayings. There are excuses; you can miss a Monday workout; you can miss and skip whatever workout you want for whatever reason you want.
5.Exercise should not be used as a punishment. Remember the benefits and have fun! 6. YOUR BODY NEEDS TO REST AND RECOVER! Never feel bad for taking a break. 7. Everyday remind yourself that your body is beautiful and perfect the way it is.
THE GiRLS ROOM Podcast episodes on this topic:
No Shame: In Exercising Your Mind with Sam
No Shame: In Taking A Step Back To Better Yourself with Bianka
No Shame: In Putting Yourself First with Amanda
Written by: Marissa Contelmo
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