If you spend any time looking at women’s magazines, scrolling through your social media feed, or watch television, there’s a good chance you’ll have seen ‘fitspiration’ images and quotes that are meant to inspire women to strive for their fitness goals, yet they often leave people feeling worse about their bodies.
We’ve all hear the saying, “Fit Is The New Skinny”. And it’s true. Fit is the new skinny when it comes to making women feel like sh*t about themselves.
Though we are told to believe these images should be perceived as being inspirational, most find the message being conveyed to be that no matter how strong or beautiful your mind, spirit or heart is, if you’re not rocking a ‘sexy’ body, whatever that is, you’re undesirable and you’ve failed yourself.
Unfortunately, as much as we tell ourselves these messages aren’t true, we are told repetitively that our self-confidence should be acquired because it’s appealing to others, rather than doing it for our own well being.
The Power Of Imagery
There’s a belief that fitness images create a better ideal to work towards over than the stereotypical imagery we’ve seen for years portraying ‘thin’ women as having ideal bodies.
A recent study by the University of the Sunshine Coast revealed the negative effects of these ‘fitspiration’ images. The psychology study involved 322 women responding to either images of fitness models engaged in active pursuits as well as images of traditional models as typically seen in fashion magazines. The results of the study showed participants who viewed images of very fit women recorded levels of dissatisfaction with their own bodies as bad, or even worse than the participants exposed to images of stereotypically thin fashion models.
The Effect On Our Fitness Journeys
These levels of body dissatisfaction can often leave people feeling as though they have an unacceptably high level of external flaws that they need to fix, leaving many people to start their fitness journeys for the wrong reasons and with the wrong goals being for themselves. I commonly see the powerful effects of negative body talk and image when I first begin to train someone. Whether it be in group fitness or personal training, body bashing statements such as ‘I hate my fat’, ‘(insert body part) is so ugly’, ‘I shouldn’t look like this’ are far too common, and do nothing more than demoralise the person saying them, as well as those around them.
Research has shown that appearance-motivated exercise doesn’t have good outcomes in terms of improving body image, inspiring a healthy lifestyle, or motivating someone to pursue their fitness endeavours.
A 2014 study found that exercise frequency is most strongly related to the appreciation of a person’s body, a focus on how it feels, and satisfaction with what it can do. When motivation is rooted in appearance and negativity, these three things are weakened, and can result in the resentment of exercise or a person’s body.
This is why it is recommended people engage in exercise because of a desire to feel good about themselves, increase their strength, flexibility or tone, or even engage in some form of social activity is significantly rather than looking outside themselves for ‘fitspiration’.
The Effect On Our Lives
According to a recent report commissioned by Dove, a staggering 89 per cent of Australian women are opting to cancel plans, job interviews or other important engagements simply because of how they look.
The Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report, which interviewed 10,500 females between the ages of 10 and 60 across 13 countries, found that nearly all women (85% globally and 89% of Australian women) say they opt out of important life activities when they don’t feel good about the way they look.
Additionally, 9 out of 10 (87%) women will stop themselves from eating or will otherwise put their health at risk if they aren’t happy with the way they look.
So Why Do We Feel This Way?
Growing up in an age with a heavy focus on advertising and media, it’s hard not to compare ourselves to the aspirational images that are projected onto our lives as ideals. Yet anyone who has tried to get a magazine standard body will tell you, it’s extremely hard for a normal woman, or man, to achieve anything remotely close to these picture perfect bodies.
As with most models and bodybuilders, those involved in fitspiration images engage in strict fitness and nutrition routines, many of which are not sustainable, specifically designed for their scheduled photo shoot. By continually presenting an image of something that is not necessarily achievable by the everyday person who does not live and breathe fitness modelling, fitspiration continues to reaffirm the message that appearance is more important that true health and fitness.
How Can We Improve Our Body Image?
According to The Butterfly Foundation, “focusing on your positive qualities, skills and talents can help you accept and appreciate you whole self”.
Below is a list of small tasks you can try to bring into your life to help improve your body image.
These ideas have been compiled from both research as well as personal past experience. Some may speak to you, whilst others don’t. If any of them sound interesting to you, why not try and implement it today.
- Say positive things to yourself every day.
- Even better, journal them so you can look back on them in times of doubt.
- Write a list of all the qualities, skills and things your body lets you do.
- Reflect on this often.
- Avoid negative self-talk.
- Before you say it, ask yourself “would I say this to my best friend?”.
- Set positive health and fitness focused goals, rather than ones based upon appearance or negative beliefs.
- Speak to others openly about body image and issues.
- Find a method of exercise that you enjoy and do it regularly.
- Don’t exercise to lose weight or to fight your body but because it makes you feel good.
- Made a list of 10 positive things about yourself—without mentioning your appearance.
- Keep the list and add to it regularly.
- Put a positive mantra or quote on your mirror as a regular reminder that you are beautiful inside and out.
- Consider that, life is too short to waste your time hating your body this way.
- Surround yourself with people that remind you of your inner beauty and have a healthy relationship with food, activity, and their bodies.
- Question media images and remember that many are unrealistic.
- De-emphasise numbers.
- Kilograms on a scale don’t tell us anything meaningful about the body as a whole or our health.
- Try to stick to media that doesn’t make you feel crap about yourself.
- Delete any negative influences on social media and stop purchasing magazines which promote images which make you feel bad about yourself.
- Avoid critiquing other people’s bodies.
- Work towards stopping the need to check your body for flaws.
- Access self-help materials online.
- Don’t be afraid to speak to an allied health professional such as as GP, dietitian, PT or psychologist if you believe you should.
We are all capable and deserving of so much more than the harsh judgements we place upon ourselves and the cruel messages that surround us. Learning to look beyond appearance is a challenge many women, and now more and more men, is a difficult struggle we must continue to tackle every single day. By no means is loving yourself in 2016 an easy task. If it was, perhaps the estimated 9% of the Australian population wouldn’t be living with eating disorders, and maybe the 89% of Australian women mentioned in the Dove study wouldn’t opt out of important life activities just because of their feelings towards their appearance. But unfortunately that’s not the case. And that’s why taking the time to consciously learn to love yourself, and perhaps even share all the lessons and love you learn with those around you is more important than ever. Because, whilst we can’t just snap our fingers and change the world we live in, we do have the ability to change our worlds and potentially change the lives of those around us for the better.