As fitness booms throughout social media, Emma Giles questions the development of a new competitive lifestyle, its benefits and possible repercussions in ‘Survival of the #Fittest’
The season of New Year’s resolutions and the surge of self-motivational Facebook statuses has (thankfully) well and truly gone. Whilst this is a welcome change to those who realise that they have already broken their resolutions, one thing seems to be gaining momentum and that is the idea of fitness. With the growth of fitness apps, blogs and those cringe-worthy inspirational quotes, fitness has become somewhat in fashion. Social media has been thriving on coined terms such as ‘strong is the new skinny’ and gyms have been continuously packed out, both indicating the growing prominence of fitness within the student sphere. Obviously people have been engaging in fitness activities for years, but it is the social media consumption of this that has catapulted it into the realm of ‘trendy’. While this is undeniably a positive sight when considering the levels of obesity in the UK, it is important to consider the possible consequences that can arise from ‘trends’.
Body confidence is a concept that many young women and men struggle to deal with, with many young adults unsatisfied with their bodies. When considering the possible impacts of such a growing trend, the trouble lies in the fact that many people have a different idea of what makes them confident and this is often heavily affected by the images we are surrounded by in our everyday lives. In terms of what can possibly be deemed a fitness trend, we are faced with countless images of toned and muscly men and women. Not to mention the obligatory post of an individual’s brand new gym trainers. Whilst scrolling through Instagram, sprawled out in bed with last night’s family share packet of Malteasers still lurking, I find it hard not to feel like a slob and feel slightly tempted to partake in a slightly more active afternoon. Despite initially feeling envious at their motivation, I start to feel motivated myself and not just so I can upload a picture of my new trainers, but so I can feel better about myself and ultimately healthier. I think that’s what needs stressing, the idea that although a trend can insinuate a transitory ‘hype’ and a trivial movement, the idea that people want to participate in fitness in order to feel better about themselves in terms of their health is primarily a beneficial thing.
However there is a danger that again lies in the idea of the idealisation of a certain body type and while some may be motivated to go out and participate in the growing fitness trend, others may view it as another unattainable image thrust upon them, ultimately denting their own body confidence. The idea of fitness being ‘trendy’ also alludes to the idea that many people may adopt a fitness regime in order to live up to the image it emits. Whilst this means people may reap the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, it undermines the fundamental fact that fitness should be a part of everyone’s life even in the smallest of doses. Just because it is deemed trendy doesn’t mean that people should not participate and equally, just because it appears a ‘trend’ doesn’t mean it is something that shouldn’t already be part of an individual’s lifestyle. The growing trend seems to infer that in order to be a healthy being you need to go to the gym tri-weekly, own a pair of Nike frees and eat copious amounts of sweet potato, and whilst this is valid and healthy way for people to live their lives, fitness should be celebrated in its entirety to include even small movements towards a healthy lifestyle. Being healthy and active in itself is a cause for promotion, as previous body images portrayed in the media (such as size zero) have had dangerous implications in terms of the messages emitted surrounding starvation and unhealthy dieting.
The image emerging amidst the fitness ‘trend’ often appears extreme, creating an idealised body type which in some cases can appear unattainable for individuals. I mean, not everyone has the disposable income to spend on a gym pass or the money to buy any food other than Tesco value beans. This in turn could easily dent individual’s confidence in their body and their fitness abilities. Amidst the pile of unwashed dishes in my kitchen lies a stack of protein shakers and tubs of protein, and upon asking my housemate how much a tub costs I was shocked to hear the price. It is of course an individual’s choice on how they spend their money but as the size of the tubs appear to be growing monthly, I can’t help but think competition, in terms of body size and shape, has something to do with it. While it can healthy to have a bit of competition in order to push your own goals, it is easy to see how this sort of behaviour can be dangerous in terms of comparisons between people and ultimately body confidence.
For women especially body comparison plays a big part in the way we view our own bodies. Women find themselves comparing their figures to friends, random people on the street and to that girl who seems to never leave the gym. Whilst the fitness trend can be seen to motivate people to change their bodies into what they really want, it can also create unhealthy competition, creating the space for women and men to compare their bodies to others. If people chose to embark on a fitness journey, it should most definitely be of their own accord and for their own benefits. People should never have to feel as if they should change their body in order to compete with others or live up to an ideal image. Fitness, at the end of the day, can be enjoyable and have benefits, but the idea that it is a trend should not impact on why people endeavour to engage in such activity. It should always be for your own satisfaction, whether that be mentally or physically. What seems worrying is the idea that the trend aligns fitness with confidence, and whilst this is certainly true in some cases, people should be able to feel confident in their bodies whether they are gym-bunnies or not. Confidence should be a universal emotion whereby people should feel confident for who they are naturally, not who they can be with a pricey gym membership and stacks of protein.
Although recognising the implications of fitness becoming ‘trendy’ it is hard to avoid the positives in terms of personal development. After speaking to people about their engagement with fitness, many said that engaging in fitness has made them feel better about themselves in terms of their confidence and their overall health. After starting a fitness journey, my housemate participated in the Cardiff half marathon and now takes part in other running events. For her, fitness is a hobby. She enjoys the gym and now feels more confident about her body and her strength. Without sounding too soppy and like an American cheerleader, I find it quite inspirational and often find myself thinking, ‘You go girl!’ With the government and healthy experts continuously banging on about how the nation is overweight and stuck in a rut of obesity, surely the growing promotion of fitness, as a lifestyle, should be supported?
The idea of fitness insinuates the celebration of food and you only have to scroll down Instagram to be faced with countless photos of smoothies, quinoa (still don’t know how to say it) and the beloved sweet potato, and although I do find myself saying, ‘Do we really need to see another picture?!’, my moaning won’t stop people posting and arguably it shouldn’t. Food and the topic of diet has become somewhat of a taboo topic in the media. With the word ‘diet’ connoting strict and sometimes dangerous attitudes towards food, the growing willingness to share photos of food is bringing the topic back into our attention, but this time for the purpose of highlighting how people concerned with fitness are all about the eating – just eating the right sorts of food that our body demands in order to stay healthy. The promotion of healthy eating seems synonymous with the growth of fitness and further pursues the idea that a movement towards fitness is a lifestyle shift, not merely a trend. Despite this, I can’t deny the existence of the somewhat ‘trendy’ desire to add countless hashtags to any fitness-related photo just to confirm that you are in fact sticking to your healthy lifestyle. While this may in some way comfort the individuals posting the photos, it also emphasises the way in which social media enables concepts such as fitness to thrive and therefore appear a trend. The need to post photos of fitness related things undermines the fact that fitness should be a considered way of life for individuals as opposed to a trend that is adhered to in order to accumulate ‘likes’ on Facebook. For many people, the increased documentation of personal progression has allowed people to describe how fitness has helped them to become confident enough with their bodies to want to share their journey. The motivation, determination and dedication are things to be admired, and in some cases have the power to inspire others to change their bodies in the way they want to as well. But that is the main point: the idea that people should engage in a fitness lifestyle because they want to, not because it is what seems trendy at the time.
While fitness has been seen to benefit individuals in terms of their confidence and their healthiness, the creation of an idealised body type can have damaging repercussions in terms of individual confidence. As we can see people will react to growing trends differently, either feeling motivated by others fitness journeys, feeling pressurised to fit into the new trend or simply not really caring. When considering all of these possible interpretations, the main point to take away is that people should be able to feel confident in their bodies whatever their lifestyle. If people feel as if fitness has enabled them to feel confident then that should be celebrated, but they should do it to make themselves happy, not to put extra pressure on themselves all in the name of a ‘trend’.