We are a generation fixated on absorbing information and images, digesting them to reconfigure ourselves – to produce the best version. The fitness industry has harnessed Instagram as its platform for projecting all types of information, products, and motivational quotes. What it’s lacking, is integrity.
Let’s first focus on the fitness ‘influencers’, the Twitter-tick certified social media role models. On the outside: a rush of positive affirmations and inspirational captions. Lurking beneath: a dark toxicity, a trip-wire for young, impressionable people to become trapped in a state of comparison. Not to mention being caught in the onslaught of often dangerous information. Numerous studies have found Instagram to be the most detrimental social media site for young people’s mental health. Even more so when it comes to to body dissatisfaction.
A 2015 study conducted by Tiggemann and Zaccardo compared how women felt after viewing either ‘fitspiration’ images or travel photos. The results concluded that those exposed to the images of people working out or posing experienced lower self-esteem.
I spoke with a current student, Elise Stockdale, who highlighted the way Instagram has had negative effects on her own mental health: “Instagram is so worryingly addictive that it’s not just something you can put down. It was all consuming, I was stuck at that awkward age where being perfect is all that mattered. I don’t have a particularly feminine shape, so seeing all these perfectly posed photos made me feel pretty crap about myself”.
As levels of self-esteem fall, the opportunity for influencers to capitalise on their follower’s insecurities rises. In one fell swoop young people go from image and lifestyle consumers, to products, plans and ‘detox’ juice buyers.
After following fitness bloggers for years, I started to see trends and similarities across their Instagram accounts. The recent ‘booty’ obsession has sexualised the fitness industry, and Instagram is whispering at the door to be a soft porn site. These idolised body images validate any information that captions the photo. The girl with the best behind must know what she’s doing, right?
Wrong. Genetics doesn’t inherently mean knowledge. Yet, unfortunately many young people become susceptible to believe online advice by those with the best bodies. I asked strength coach Geoff M. Wiseman (Instagram: @strengthcoachcardiff), who holds an impressive portfolio of diplomas, certificates, and advanced qualifications, and who is also well-known on Instagram for his personal training with Carys Gray (@busybeecarys), for his opinion: “Social media influencers and chip shop PT’s [personal trainers] are destroying the industry and are just in it for a bit of quick cash. The population seem to have gone from the following ‘to be popular I must be skinny’ to, ‘to be popular I must look like someone else or have a butt’”.
With many students low on funds, recruiting a qualified PT to help with their fitness goals is out of the question. I asked Geoff on other ways young people can make sure the advice they’re getting is useful and legitimate: “Don’t be a sheep. Don’t follow someone because of sexual appeal. When you hear something, check it. Fad systems like diet pills, Skinny Coffee, Slimming World are just looking at dragging money from you. [Nutrition] is dependent to the individual and their goal”. He also offered his knowledge to anyone with questions about health and fitness on his social media.
With no sign of social media trends dying any time soon, I offer my own piece of advice. If an app leaves you feeling worse about yourself after a five-minute scroll: delete it. Eat and exercise for the best version of yourself, and don’t take everything you see online at face value.