When being asked to consider fitness goals, what would be the first thing that comes to your mind? Looking good naked? Mental or emotional stimulation,? Or is it athletic improvement?
The first answer; ‘looking good naked’ is the most common reason to exercise. I am one of the first to raise my hand and admit that this is one of my incentives. Nobody should feel embarrassed to admit that looking good and feeling confident in your appearance is extremely important.
Nevertheless, understanding WHY you want to look a certain way is just as important. The phrase ‘anything is possible’ is ridiculous when you apply it to training and genetics. We are all controlled and determined by genetic factors that we were born with. Therefore if your goal is to look like a 5 foot 11 Victoria Secret model but you’re currently standing at 5ft 4 inches, I’m going to have to stop you right there. Some goals are not possible, and statistics say that your desire to look like someone else are coming from social media.
82% of women feel the beauty standards set by social media are unrealistic* and as instagram hit and then surpassed 1 billion monthly active users, it (along with snapchat) ranked as the WORST platform for young people's mental health, body image and well being.**
Since digital social networking was invented, rates of anxiety and depression have increased 70%. Social media has also been directly linked with poor sleep. And it's widespread; 91% of 16-24 year olds use instagram so we are all exposed to people that we think look better than us.**
When a client shows me photos that inspire them, I as a trainer, take them seriously. I WANT to assist my clients in reaching their goals, however it is also my job to be realistic and honest - and I implore you to do the same.
Instagram is undoubtedly a fantastic social media tool; it has given many individual’s careers that would have been achievable without it and others a platform where people can voice their passions and make a difference. On the other hand, it is also an enormous contributing factor as to why many individuals face increasing issues and insecurities about their physical appearance. The number of ‘Instagram models’ is unparalleled, I could spend hours and hours each day trawling through the many pages of models, bloggers, designers, that all post beautiful yet highly staged, edited and manipulated photos of themselves posed half naked - I do not however, because I care more for my mental health and self-confidence.
What I want you to think about when you wistfully look at these photos is this - what is it precisely in the photo that you find so appealing?
Is it purely the composition? Is it the pose accompanied by specific lighting, make up, hair, a carefully chosen outfit, the tropical background, the tan, touch ups and the filters? Is it the pose that has been practiced a thousand times? What would that body mean to you if you saw an unfiltered photograph of someone with bad skin, unwashed hair and cheap loose- fitting underwear?
Stop looking for fitness inspiration in the wrong places aka the Instagram ‘models’ of the world, and instead focus on your everyday inspiration. Find the people in your gym that are working hard to better themselves. The overweight individual in the gym who despite suffering from their own confidence issues shows up each day to work towards their goal. Look for the people that are similar heights and builds to yourself, and consider what have they achieved with their physique?
When considering your 'body goals' it is so important to be realistic with what you were born with. The cold reality is that no matter how hard I train I cannot decrease the size of my ribs or my bone structure, I cannot add 4 inches to my height and I absolutely cannot be satisfied with my appearance if my goals are completely unattainable.
If you are struggling with body confidence issues speak to your trainer about your goals. Be ready to have an open and honest conversation about what you want to achieve and allow them to guide you with what is realistic. Unfollow the models from Instagram and throw away the magazines, look for inspiration from those around you.
Here are my top tips for changing your perspective:
Stop following accounts that make you feel bad about yourself. Yes, even the hot instagram model you're obsessed with. Why do that to yourself?
In the gym focus on your performance goals rather than body goals. Once you do that, the body will come.
Accept your natural body shape. We cannot change our genetics but we can be the best version of OURSELVES. Why would you want to look like somebody else?
Practice gratitude. Gratitude for what your body is capable of, gratitude for your life and gratitude for the wonderful things in it.
Find inspiration from people around you. What's more impressive; a fit person showing you their latest ab workout on instagram or the overweight girl in YOUR gym, pushing herself through the last round of her workout even though she's absolutely dying?
(clue: it's the overweight girl)
With the above, you will learn appreciate your body more, and your emotional health will dramatically improve if you simply stop comparing yourself to others.
*Dove Real Beauty campaign
**Royal Society for Public Health 2015