Out of all the hobbies out there, fitness is a pretty good one to get into. It helps boost your health, your self-confidence, and your mood. It gets you into a genuinely supportive community of like-minded people. It can really change your life for the better. Still, I believe we should take everything with a grain of salt.
While fitness really is great, the fitness industry, just like most multimillion-dollar businesses, doesn’t always hold the wellbeing of their customers in the highest regard. What matters most, unfortunately, is marketability, profitability, and reputation.
In recent years, brands have been sponsoring influencers on social media, because it is a more direct, personal way to get in contact with their market, and it can make marketing tactics seem less forced and more genuine. Influencers are made to be liked, admired, and looked up to, but while they seem more human than a billboard advertisement, we mustn’t forget that they are professionals at what they do.
@carlyrowena, Carly Rowena on Instagram
The social media page of an influencer is like a digital portfolio. They post the best of the best because it is what they use to sell themselves both to the general public, and potential sponsors. It is very important that we don’t compare our own bodies to edited, professionally shot pictures of an athlete, while they are empty-stomached, flexing and prepared, and we are in our pajamas on a Friday night after three slices of pizza.
By making their audience admire them and look up to them, fitness influencers get themselves a group of people who would believe anything they say about how they got the body they have. This level of trust is dangerous, especially if the person these impressionable, desperate people are trusting isn’t a qualified fitness trainer at all.
A common phrase seen in the fitness world is “target”. “Do this ab workout to target the fat around your stomach”, “30 squats before bed every day will melt the fat off your legs”, “Drinking water with ginger and lemon will target your side fat while you sleep”. Millions of impressionable people around the world follow advice such as the ones listed above, and then think they are doing something wrong when it doesn’t work for them. This is untrue. In fact, actual scientific research has shown for years that spot-reduction of fat, or losing weight only in certain specific locations, is impossible. Where we store body fat is based on genetic predisposition and hormones, which is why some people can have flat stomachs and curvy legs, while others have stick-thin limbs but round bellies. No matter what an Instagram model says, you can’t change your genetics with lemon water and crunches.
Besides giving false advice, the fitness industry, as well as its advertisers, the influencers, also try to sell people products. So. Many. Products. From smartwatches and smart scales to supplement powders, workout guides, and calorie-tracking applications—all the things deemed “necessary” to begin your fitness journey—to knee braces, barbell pads, weightlifting belts and foam rollers: the things you will “have to buy” when you’re already invested in the lifestyle. Once you enter the market, you will be urged to buy anything and everything, otherwise you will be shamed for not investing in yourself, for not taking fitness seriously enough.
@hannaoeberg, Hanna Oberg on Instagram
In an industry so obsessed with your image, it is difficult to understand that as long as you are moving your body, your fitness is valid. You don’t need fancy deadlifting shoes or leggings with the nicest butt-padding. All you have to do to take part in fitness is to show up, and move.
One of the main products of the fitness industry is food. Protein powders, fitness teas, energy bars…but are these products really as healthy as they seem? The fitness industry is obsessed with high protein and low sugar, which is why they tell you not to eat too many fruits (because they are high in sugar, and have nearly no protein), and instead recommend you have a protein shake daily. What they don’t mention is that protein powder is made with artificial sweeteners, thickeners and dextrins. On the other hand, fruits are high in sugar, but they are also high in micronutrients, fiber, and water—ingredients that are necessary for a healthy lifestyle.
Fitness supplements don’t guarantee a healthy diet. Just like waist trainers, foam rollers or resistance bands don’t guarantee a fit body. Just because an influencer is backed by a well-known fitness brand, that doesn’t mean they are qualified to teach—or preach—their fit lifestyle, and it doesn’t mean they are right. Also, just because someone doesn’t have a tan, glistening six pack that they show off on Instagram, doesn’t mean they are any less fit, any less worthy, or any less a member of the fitness world.
By Sara Raba