It’s estimated that people will spend roughly five years of their life hanging out on social media. This includes Youtube, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter. When you think about it, that is a lot of time spent watching other people’s highlight reels. And we know what watching other people’s highlight reels does to our own confidence and self esteem – it crushes us. Social media use has been linked to increased depression, anxiety, loneliness, isolation and envy. If we knew these things when we started on these platforms, maybe we wouldn’t have gotten so sucked in. I have a confession though – I got sucked in and I’ve been slowly trying to crawl my way out.
It started 4 years ago when I set a goal to be in the best shape of my life for my wedding day. I began to follow every single fit chick I could find on Instagram. My entire feed consisted of pictures of fitness models and athletes with low body fat, ripped abs and glamorous lifestyles of being fit and healthy. At the time, these feeds did inspire me to make it to the gym and make healthy choices. By the time my wedding rolled around, I was in much better shape than I was 9 months prior but I didn’t look like these women. This is when the comparison game and negative self talk started in my mind. Instead of patting myself on the back for a job well done, I thought I just wasn’t there yet and I had more work to do. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize the negative impact these accounts were having on my self worth and confidence when it came to being “fit.”
It wasn’t until after I had my son and my life got turned upside down becoming a mom that I started to see the negative impact of following this glorified fitness accounts. My schedule no longer allowed me to work out whenever I wanted. Giving birth has literally changed my body and I need to let it truly heal. Never before had I allowed myself to rest like that. Being forced to slow down and be mindful about my body and my health shined a light on what I once looked at for fitness inspiration. I realized that as I continued to watch these #fitspo accounts, I was watching other people’s ideas of what health and wellness looked like for them and I started to take them on subconsciously. To some of them, being fit meant having abs and to others, it was having low body fat and doing bikini competitions. These were never my goals – ever – but watching these accounts over the years did nothing but remind me that I wasn’t there yet. I remember seeing the cover of fitness magazine and it seemed to be telling me “you don’t look like this so you are not fit yet.”
I threw that magazine away and I began unfollowing the majority of these fitness accounts that didn’t align with my values. And you know what, I started to feel better and it felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders that I didn’t realize I had been carrying. By cutting out the constant reminders of “not being good enough yet,” my negative self talk around my own health and wellness improved. This shift really opened my eyes up to the potentially harmful effects of social media on our mental health.
Let’s summarize why #fitspo isn’t all it’s cracked up to be:
The images of bodies that often accompany #fitspo posts encourage people to compare their bodies to bodies of people who 1. have made it their #1 goal to look a certain way and 2. show only the glamorous side of fitspo. Rarely do you come across the harsh truths that these fit folks face like eating disorders, health complications, body images issues and the extreme sacrifice they make with their time dedicated to achieving this look.
The sources of the #fitspo content aren’t always qualified to dish out health and nutrition advice. Anyone can be a social media influencer but that doesn’t mean they are a registered dietitian, certified personal trainer or doctor.
The constantly trolling of fitspo accounts often leads to the negative social media effects discussed earlier -increased depression, anxiety, loneliness, isolation and envy.
Lastly, the content distorts the images we tie to what it means to be healthy. To be healthy according to a real doctor means having a good BMI, eating a balanced and nutritious diet and getting in 150 minutes of moderate activity a week. These guidelines for a healthy life evolve and change as researchers continue to figure out what is best for our bodies in terms of health. Healthy does not equal sub 20% body fat, ripped abs and bulging muscles. In their own right, those things are fine but just because you don’t have them, it doesn’t mean you aren’t healthy or good enough in the eyes of the #fitspo movement.
Now more than ever, we should be very selective and mindful about the content we consume. Anyone can have a #fitspo account but that doesn’t mean they are qualified (i.e. they aren’t certified trainers, nutritionists or doctors) to spread the content that they do. Before you take their advice, do your own research that comes from reputable sources. Social media platforms are an amazing way to share information, connect and inspire others or find inspiration but it can also be a slippery slope into comparison that leaves us feeling less than worthy. I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to spend 5 years on social media I want it to improve my life rather than bring me down.