First and foremost I wish to thank every person who contacted me following my latest post on social media and body image. I received a lot of feedback for highlighting an issue that many people feel has not been discussed as openly as I chose to do it.
Ultimately, the purpose of the post was to fuel discussion on body image and the way that seemingly innocuous and innocent posts can have a far greater negative effect on the psyche of the viewer than intended – and fuel discussion it did!
This issue is not limited to one business at one point in time. Ever since the fitness industry realised that attaining ‘health’, ‘fitness’ and ‘aesthetics’ could be used to turn a profit, the cogs started to turn. Now, the ‘fitness’ industry itself turns over in excess of one billion dollars of revenue each year, while the online vitamin and supplementation industry turns over revenue in excess of $78 million per year.
That’s a hell of a lot of money spent on gym memberships and nutritional ‘aids’.
When we begin to look at the way these aids and memberships are (generally) marketed and advertised to the public, we begin to see where the line between promoting health and building your bottom line becomes blurred. I’ve worked in enough gyms and been involved with enough businesses to understand the push to sell, and unfortunately what sells is what is seen.
You see someone do/complete/achieve a feat or a look and you wish to be able to do/complete/achieve or look the same. That’s human nature.
In this age of social media and touch-of-button comparisons, it is much easier to become focused on achieving a certain look over understanding that the body may not be physically or genetically able to replicate it. What we aren’t shown in the photos, the videos or told about in the articles are the behind-the-scenes actions that went into achieving such an outcome. You see a post of a ‘healthy/clean/Paleo/[insert generic hashtag here]’ meal followed by the body that meal is assumed to have fuelled. This body is usually undertaking some awesome feat of strength, fitness or looks ‘bikini ready’, and you automatically assume that meal is part of what made that body that way.
Take me as an example. I’m a genetically fit, healthy-looking individual and I also post photos of some of my meals on social media. A couple of weeks ago I decided to have a bit of fun with my Instagram feed and really test the waters. I posted this photo of my evening dinner with the comment “And here I am this evening, working on my abs… #madeinthekitchen’:
Now, while I received a few likes and comments about that particular post, what I didn’t post was the second photo I took that night. Here they both are, side by side:
The second photo was only shared privately with some of my clients during the weeks that followed.
As you can see, what is shown in the first picture is barely an eight megapixel snapshot of one small meal in one small room with a reality-distorting filter applied. It does not show anything outside of that particular corner of my kitchen, or even that the food in the photo was EATEN that night – it is merely implied by the poster (me) and assumed by the viewer (you). The second photo opens up the frame a bit more and shows what else was happening with that meal, which was me enjoying a (non-healthy, non abs-building) alcoholic beverage!
Now, I am naturally thin and my body type is naturally athletic so even if I do enjoy a couple of beers or a schnitzel or deviate away from ‘healthy food’ I will not outwardly look ‘unhealthy’ because my genetics will not let it be.
Beauty, and health, come first and foremost from how we feel about ourselves and our bodies – not from what someone else ultimately thinks about us. Recent studies (here, here and here) inform us that our social media habits seem to be leading us down a path of despair, and only through continued, repeated and planned action can we seek to reverse what is quickly becoming a major issue in society.
Remember when cigarettes were advertised as healthy? No? That’s because you most likely weren’t around then. But Buzzfeed does. The same could be said for the low-fat craze, or asbestos sheeting. The fact of the matter is that the issues we see presenting now following the rise of social media cannot and will not change overnight. It takes action, founded in love, consistent in its approach and of our own accord to really change the outcomes of a generation.
Yes, my previous post had an in-your-face tinge to it. But like all savvy social media users I also understand how communication works. I paid nothing to share my opinion online (Facebook even rejected my attempts to boost the post!) yet my article has been viewed myriad times by people the world over, generating hundreds of discussions and expressions of opinion.
There is no Team Josh or Team FitSpo or Team Fitness Industry; but there is an idea – an idea that one day people can achieve health in the form of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual ‘fitness’, and that ‘real’ health will be promoted by a great majority of individuals and institutions the world over.
So how do you start societal change? Some say with an idea. I say with a plan and action.
First you must plan for yourself…
- You must plan to seek education and you must educate yourself on topics that you are passionate about, believe in and resonate with. You must read all you can, you must listen to all you can and you must learn from as many people as you can. You must begin to form your own opinion, develop your own sense of ideal and THEN begin to CHALLENGE your ideal. It is said that a great library contains something in it to offend everyone, and great thinkers generally own great libraries. They are able to view multiple sides of a story, and if necessary are able to intelligently defend their own beliefs against those opposing views.
- Once you begin to form your own opinions, connect with like-minded individuals and engage them in conversation. Follow them, learn from them and allow them to teach you. Engage them in debate, play the devil’s advocate and see how they defend their position. A truly great mentor will engage in debate, and will learn just as much about themselves in the process as you will of yourself.
- Limit your exposure to negativity. This is a huge step that one generally finds the a) scariest and b) most rewarding. They say you become like the top five people you spend the most time with. Well, apparently you also become like the most common attitudes you associate with and social media posts you read, according to this January 2012 Facebook study.
Spend some time going through your social media accounts and hiding or removing any people or pages that consistently make you feel emotions of negativity; such as anger, sadness, disdain or jealousy. If those people wish to post that way that is their journey – it doesn’t have to be yours. Be there for them if they reach out and if you sense the beginning of something more serious please contact Beyond Blue, but for general day-to-day activity, pay them no mind.
The harder part comes when we begin to evaluate our real-world exposure. Friends, family members and work or team members can all be sources of angst in our lives, and oftentimes we are unable to avoid being around them. My recommendation is to deduce how people are making you feel (self-evaluation is a beautiful thing) and if you realise you are spending time around too much negativity it may be worthwhile re-evaluating where you invest portions of your life.
The second part is you must take action.
There is minimal benefit in building the best version of yourself and not bringing others along for the ride. What good is a masterpiece if it is hidden in the attic?
When we take action, we must take it from a position of love, understanding and caring, and do away with any need to boost our own egos or push our own agendas.
Is that picture you are posting of your abs designed to be motivating, or is it designed as an ego-boost? Is it designed to lead someone into wanting to be like you, or is it designed to inspire people to get out and start moving? Chances are it is a combination of all of the above, and so we must take this into consideration when we review our entire social media ‘persona’ and that which we put out publicly.
Context, and content, is extremely important.
I especially like the idea of #RealGymSelfies that Bri from Run, Lift, Yoga has talked about in this post. The idea is to take the focus away from appearance and instead showcase identity – something a lot of young people have trouble developing as they go through their teens and early twenties – and really hammer home the message of beauty in individuality.
For too long people have been fed ‘perfection’ in various guises, with business and industry pushing their ideals ever further to generate more and more money from product sales and memberships.
The truth of the matter is there is only one sense of perfection – the one that comes with being completely and utterly content with who you are, what you stand for and how you live your life.
“So… next time you’re about to pop that skinny arm or apply a photo filter, just smile and take a photo of your true, beautiful and happy self. Tag it #realgymselfie or #realworkoutselfie. Let everyone see who you really are as a person and what you do in the world.”
~ Bri Wilson, ‘Run, Lift, Yoga.’
(Chuck in a #joofdi and tag @josh_mitise on Instagram as well and let us bring about awareness on what ‘Health’ really is!)
Omnia Mea Mecum Porto.