About five years ago if you’d told me some of my mates would be entering body-building competitions this summer – I’d have probably laughed! Not because body-building is something embarrassing or weird, but because I couldn’t have envisaged any of my girly-gals getting into it. It just wasn’t a mainstream thing back then.
However, in the last few years there seems to be an increasing number of women who not only want to get ripped, but flex their muscles on the big stage too. ‘Strong not Skinny’ has gone global, and lots of us seem to want a slice of the protein pie!
Having seen a few close friends go through the process of competing – hands down I totally respect that dedication and sheer willpower – especially with all the mind numbing meal prep and hours in the gym – it’s a big ask to put yourself through both physically and mentally. Most of us can ‘get fit’ if we want to but taking it to that level is something else entirely.
As the friend looking in from the outside, it can be hard to know how best to show support, because it’s such a solitary process that you often have no way to relate to what they’re going through. First instincts when a friend tells you how tired, ill and draining it’s making them, is to just take a step back and eat a bit more. However, this advice often falls out of line with their strict regime.
The other tricky thing is seeing someone give up their social life and either come out but just have water and plain meat and veg (respect to anyone who can do this), or not come out at all. Sometimes for the close friends of these people it can feel like they’ve had a personality transplant, and supporting them through this can be hard. The only thing you can really do is cheer them on from the side lines.
It can sometimes lead those who aren’t a part of it to wonder what it’s all really for? Yes, you’ll look incredible and feel a million dollars on competition day, but at some point the six-pack fades a little and the muscles go back to their normal (albeit still bloody toned) state. Then what happens?
When the spotlights suddenly go off and there’s no hurdle to run at any more, all the sweat, blood, tears and dieting is done and readjusting to life afterwards seems to be the hardest part of all. Accepting that you will lose that picture-perfect body finish must be tough when its been a focus for so long, and if you’ve also been charting your success on social media, is there a pressure to keep up that ‘image’ all year round?
In fact, does social media have a big part to play in the rising trend for picture-perfect abs and competition-toned bods? Are photos like these (which may or may not be photo-shopped and fiddled with) part of the reason why women are now aspiring to such a top level of fitness and physical appearance all the time? And is that a good or bad thing?
For example; posting styled out gym selfies/belfies – was NOT a thing five years ago. Wind back the clock and most of us would have looked over at the person posing for their phone in the gym and thought ‘WTF??’ Now that person is in almost every gym and daily ‘posing’ shots are loaded onto Instagram every minute of every day around the globe – making it ‘normal’…which means that going to the gym now has dual purpose – get fit – and show everyone else how fit I am.
Granted this is a social media-wide thing and not localised just to fitness (we probably wouldn’t have loaded pics of our every meal onto social media five years ago either). But is there a mental benefit to keeping some aspects of our fitness journey’s and our bodies to ourselves?
Finding a balance (fitness competitor or not):
YES – go to the gym if it makes you feel happy, healthy and more positive (it’s generally proven to do so)
YES – photograph your progress if you’re making a transformation and want to document it for yourself / your trainer
YES – tell you friends and family how happy you are with your new lifestyle and give them all your best training/food prep tips
YES – BE PROUD OF YOUR BODY – 150%
HOWEVER – Why you post pics of yourself working out on social media is another question. Is it just because it’s ‘what people do’ or is it because you want to tell the world how happy you are? Is it just for likes? Is it because you want to inspire others or do you really not put much thought into the reasons why?
After all, supply is only fed by demand…so as long as people are searching for ‘fitness belfies’ on Instagram – there will be plenty to be found.
“Sometimes the best feeling in the world is having a work out and walking out bright red, covered it sweat and knowing that it’s for you and nobody else needs to be a part of that. You’re doing it because you’re a kick ass confident person without needing anyone else’s adoration or approval.”
People who know and love you will love you as you are or in any other shape or size. Their compliments will be the ones which mean most to you. Strangers are invisible – and their praise is often short-lived.
Whatever the reason for the current trend of super-buff bodies, the wider question is perhaps the effect social media is having on our physiological health, either when we are confronted with these images or when we choose to post them.
Health is of the utmost importance (whether that’s ultra fitness or not) but we need to look out for our mental health as much as our physical health.
Maybe this is over-analysing the connection between a rise in uber-fitness and the increasing popularity of photo sharing sites like Instagram – but I feel quite deeply that it’s important not to lose our connection with what lies beneath the surface – both online and off it.