Thoughts on body image, exercise and social media

While I don’t have a huge social media presence, (Facebook is about it) I read a lot of blogs and have friends who are very active on social media sites, so I follow them pretty regularly and often find myself creeping around these sites looking at what people post.  Although its nothing new, I am increasingly alarmed by the number of strategically posed photos to make your boobs, butt, legs- insert your desired body part here- look awesome, photos of plates of “huge dinners” consisting of three stalks of celery and a hard boiled egg, and blog write ups of activities or habits that are just plain unhealthy.  I am certainly not alone in my concern about the role of social media in the proliferation of pro-ana information (see: here and here  ) but I think even more dangerous than the outright pro-ana websites are those run by people who are still clearly in the throws of serious eating disorders, exercise addiction (and combination platters) who claim to be “recovered” and “experts” at whatever new fancy thing they are obsessed with this week.  Hashtags on instagram like #eatclean #fitnotskinny and the like bring up a plethora of photos of scantily clad, conventionally beautiful, very thin women posing in front of their mirrors showing off their muscles or posing next to a plate of food they are about to eat.

 

I love fitness, food and eating healthy (or as healthy as I can manage and still stay sane) and I fully admit to lurking on websites like NiaShanks.com, fuckyeaheavylifting.blogspot.com, and GoKaleo.com looking for inspiration in the form of a new recipe or a cool new exercise or sometimes just a cheesy saying; there is something very different about the pictures that show up on these instagram searches that makes me very uncomfortable. The sites I mentioned above are run by women who are very open about their history of disordered eating (Nia Shanks) or obesity (Go Kaleo) and have spent a great deal of time learning to overcome these obstacles, actually recover and obtain extensive training and certification in their areas, so when they tell me they deadlifted 300lbs and ate a dinner of steak, broccoli, and brown rice, I believe them.  When an 18 year old girl on instagram takes pictures of her emaciated body framed in the mirror and captions it with how she just did a “huge weight workout” and can “feel the muscles growing” and then claims she is going to “refuel with a nice protein smoothie” ingredients to include “water, 1/2 a banana, protein powder” I want to scream.  Heavy weight lifting and body building requires not just time, attention and skill to avoid serious injury, but also actual attention to nutrition.  Your body is literally breaking down muscle fibers each time you do a rep- you need to eat more than 1/2 a fucking banana to recover from that.

 

While it may sound like I’m just ranting about attention-seekers, there is more to my point.  Social media is without filter (ha ha puns) and without peer review.  There is no safety net catching the bullshit or the plain fraudulent information being sent out there.  Yes, you can say that it is each person’s responsibility to filter information they see and come to their own conclusions about the veracity of claims, but is this really reasonable to ask of a young woman (or man, or old woman or man, or just plain anyone) who is already struggling with body image?  I know that I have struggled with, and continue to struggle with, serious body image problems, exercise addiction and bulimia.  I am actively addressing these problems and fully recognize symptoms when they pop up now and then, but I still stumble when looking at some of these websites.  I find myself falling down that rabbit hole of thinking if this girl can weigh 108lbs and deadlift 300lbs, then why can’t I do that too?  Why do I need to eat so much to feel satisfied when she just finished a CrossFit workout followed by a run and is going to work fueled by only an apple and a tablespoon of peanut butter?

 

We desperately need men and women to stand up and say something when they see this crap.  Don’t let your friends, sisters, brothers, fellow human beings fall victim to false advertising on social media.  As if magazine covers and photoshopping weren’t bad enough, now we have to fight against self-proclaimed experts who serve no purpose but to perpetuate the idea that you can never be good enough, under-eating and over-training are things we should strive for, and attention from people on the internet is a great way to build your self esteem.  I argue against all of these things.  It is never ok to hurt yourself for physical perfection, you should eat food because it tastes good and it gives you energy, you should praise people for their accomplishments, their compassion and love for others, their service to the community, anything but their looks.  Being attractive is not a skill or an accomplishment and social media makes it very easy for us to forget this.

 

In line with my above rant, I’m not going to publish any information about my workout or food from today.  I worked out, I ate food.  End of story.  I don’t need praise or affirmation for that.  Things I am proud of from today that I do feel deserve praise: I finished editing my paper, I ran four reactions in lab, I provided a safe, healthy and loving home for my adorable cat.  These are things I worked at and feel are accomplishments….the food I ate, the calories I burned, these are things which are for me and me alone, not for praise, and judgment of the wider community.  Follow suit.  What did you do today that makes you awesome?

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