Fitspiration on Social Media: Is It Helping or Hurting Your Health Goals?
The rise of fitness influencers has consumed social media, but do these influencers communicate the information we receive accurately?
The #Fitspo is often seen on Instagram posts advocating exercise, healthy living and clean eating. It has become popular among celebrities, athletes, lifestyle gurus and people who are marketing their particular brand of ‘good for you’ products and services. The question is: are the images that accompany #Fitspo, as one might expect, of fit and healthy people doing fit and healthy things? Is the rising fitness community really inspirational or does it sabotage the average person as they work towards their health goals? It seems that within society, these mixed results can be disguised under the umbrella of ‘health and fitness’ journalism and community.
Starting a new year often means a new start for many, determined to fulfil their New Year’s resolutions. Overhearing a recent conversation of an individual with the desire for a quick fix that would drop weight easily, it kickstarted my interest into the further research of the effect social media has within the health and fitness industry. I took to my Instagram account and published a poll, asking my followers whether they thought that the ‘fitspiration’ influencers they follow, hurt or help their fitness goals and overall mindset towards a healthier way of living. Here were the results of this poll.
As seen from the results of the poll, 73% of those who voted believed that the influencers they were seeing on their Instagram feeds were ultimately hurting their health goals and overall mindset. From the poll, it would seem that people see certain posts on their phones and consequently compare themselves, to something that is not necessarily what it seems.
The Rise of Influencers
Within today’s society, the ‘ideal physique’ is generally something that we formulate through our social networks, even if the people we idealise abuse steroids or use photoshop so that the final product looks completely different, unrealistic and unattainable. Previously, health and fitness information would be obtained through magazines and newspapers. However, since the significant shift from physical papers to social media, the affects and consequences of this change has been up for discussion.
“People who wish to lose weight have been warned to stay away from social media influencers who claim to have the latest diet fix, researchers say.” — The Telegraph
One of the most watched families in the world are The Kardashians, which comes alongside the criticism of their posts on social media. Khloe Kardashian, seen in the image below, has been penalised for her different appearances seen both online and offline. Ideals are ultimately supposed to be unrealistic, so it is still safe for us to ‘idealise’ anything so long as we understand the difference between ideals and real life. While its common to criticise the unrealistic beauty standards on Instagram, I believe it can lead to a more dangerous and bigger issue that people can become unaware of, which social media has developed.
Due to ‘influencers’ looking the way they do and the large audiences they appeal to, we automatically regard them as authorities on information regarding topics such as diet, training and supplementation.
“A study by a team at University of Glasgow found that just one out of nine leading UK bloggers making weight management claims actually provided accurate and trustworthy information.” — The Telegraph
“We found that the majority of blogs could not be considered credible sources of weight management information, as they often presented opinion as fact and failed to meet UK nutritional criteria.” — Christina Sabbagh, lead author of The Independent
Here are my top 5 reasons why you shouldn’t adhere to influencers diet and fitness advice:
- The ‘truth’ is not the truth. Influencers have access to all the tools in order to change their photos before they press upload. Seen through various celebrities, what you see online isn’t always the an accurate representation. These fitness ‘celebrities’ have crafted and curated an image of themselves and their brand. Their photos are sharp, colourful and vibrant, alongside modelling a full face of makeup and wearing little clothing. This overall image creates the façade of perfection. These ‘fitness’ influencers lack general information regarding training and nutrition. This 2014 Men’s Health article contributes to the discussion that female fitness influencers are posting pictures of their physiques rather than educating within the world of fitness.
2. Influencers get paid to promote. As paid brand ambassadors, influencers promote products as part of their contract. Whether the product works or not does not come into consideration.
3. Promoted products are unrealistic and unsustainable. Products that influencers promote include products such as Skinny Tea, detox teas and juice diets. These types of products can promote disordered eating and are not sustainable for a healthy diet. These types of quick fix diets and fast weight loss leads onto my next point.
4. No such thing as a quick fix. In order to create a sustainable diet and lifestyle towards your health goals, this is not a quick process like these social media influencers make it out to be. A healthier way of living should be a lifestyle change, not something that is achieved before a looming occasion on the calendar.
5. Influencers DO NOT rely on the truth. Journalists DO. They present opinions as facts. As seen in the points below, it is a journalists duty to depend on the truth and factual information. As influencers are paid to promote certain products, the truth element of what they are promoting seems to take a back seat.
The Dark Side of Fitness Instagram
There can become a toxicity to the health and fitness community online, which can become consuming to an audience. Instagram’s fitness culture has a destructive side to it. Inaccurate nutrition, weight loss, and training can lead to a disordered mentality towards fitness and injuries. These issues can both become consequences of social media’s endless stream of fitness imagery that has the potential to be harmful. For example, Natalie Burnley, 37, from Chichester, swapped daily sessions on her exercise bike for an online programme to regain some fitness after her second child. In her fifth week, she began experiencing knee pain, of which she had inflamed ligaments and had to wear a knee support for 6 weeks. Similarly, fitness on social media can become dangerously consuming and ‘addictive’. Fitness Instagrammer Queen City Sweat (with almost 50,000 followers), wrote post admitting she became ‘addicted’ to exercise, blaming the pressures of social media.
“It becomes so easy to start comparing yourself to others, which led me to develop a mindset of ‘how skinny can I be?’, rather than ‘how healthy can I be?’” — Queen City Sweat
So who can we learn to trust? As these fitness influencers are not fully qualified personal trainers or nutritionists, their fitness plans do not promote gradual fitness or implement a new and healthier way of living. Educating yourself more around nutrition and fitness can be beneficial to an individual.
Influencers vs. Journalists
Unlike journalists, influencers are not reliant on the truth. The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics states that the journalist values are as followed:
- Seek truth and report it
- Minimise harm
- Act independently
- Be accountable and transparent
“‘Social media influencers’ blogs are not credible resources for weight management. Popularity and impact of social media in the context of the obesity epidemic suggests all influencers should be required to meet accepted scientifically or medically justified criteria for the provision of weight management advice online.” — Authors at The Independent
Although both influencers and journalists may have good intentions, it needs to be made more clear to audiences on social media that many influencers are only communicating certain information for their own gains. I believe there needs to be more guidelines as to what influencers are communicating online to their audiences, especially when they are not qualified to give out certain information. Journalists are given strict values and guidelines to follow, of which I believe influencers should too.
The bigger picture: spend less time on social media.