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  • Writer's pictureAnna

Body Positivity In The Age of Social Media

Updated: Sep 29, 2022


If you are reading this, I'm sure I don't need to tell you about how prolific the image of the Instagram fitness model or the slim Hollywood actress is in media. If you are over the age of 30, it probably goes without saying that you remember the days where a model over 120 pounds was considered "plus sized", and there was absolutely NO representation for larger women (or men) anywhere. Certainly, one could say that things have improved, and that there is a growing acceptance of all body types in marketing and advertising, but there is certainly room for improvement.

In the 90's the United States went on an absolute "fat free everything" craze; a glorious time in which we shunned all fats in food, and inadvertently developed a society wide phobia of all things fat, including ourselves. This attitude towards body types that are considered outside the "norm" has carried through to today and we see it manifest in viral videos of women with "imperfect" bodies changing in locker rooms (mockingly recorded by Playboy playmates) and entire studies showing that fat phobia is so prevalent that scientists have even designed a scale of 1-5 for it. Despite our improvements with body acceptance and positivity the undercurrent of negativity towards unique bodies is strong and can be quite intimidating as one moves to improve their health.

I am a personal trainer, and I am also overweight. I went on my first diet at about 8 years old and I spent the majority of my childhood, my teens and young adulthood dieting and constantly comparing myself to others. I would dare say that the cultural attitudes of my formative years, as well as my deeply ingrained fear and shame of being overweight is what ultimately launched me on the path to my degree in nutrition and career in personal training. Ironically, it was in school for nutrition that I began to deprogram from all these internalized values. My professors challenged me to shift my perspective from one of shame to one of awareness; awareness that, at any given time in American society, there is someone that can and wants to profit from your distaste in your own body. They encouraged us to look less at what the number on the scale reflects and more on what our bodies are capable of, and how nourishing our bodies can make us feel. THIS is the attitude I try to embody with all of my clients.

So how does one set themselves up for success on their wellness journey? Well, I would be lying if I said I had all the answers. Even as someone that works in the industry, I have days where I struggle with my own body image and I find myself questioning if I, being overweight, even have the right to work in this profession. However, there are some approaches that I have used, are studied and verified, and can be beneficial to everyone looking to make and accomplish fitness goals. They are:

  • Be aware of the bullshit, then tune it out. This may seem like a contradictory statement, but awareness of diet culture is the first step to empowering yourself to ignore it. The next time you are scrolling social media and you see an ad for a beauty or diet product, exercise equipment, clothing etc. filled with culturally idealized body types, take a quick internal inventory of your emotional response. Did you think "god I wish I looked like that?", or perhaps feel a bit of guilt or shame that you haven't been taking care of yourself as you feel you should? Observe your response but then remind yourself that someone is profiting off of this feeling and that your body is functioning for you on so many levels just the way it is now.

  • Establish goals that are not weight centric. The reality of weight is that it is simply a quantified measurement of gravity's pull on your mass, be it muscle or fat, so getting caught up in, or God forbid, equating your value as a human based on that number is harmful. Non-weight centric goals are much more pleasant and easier to achieve. Examples of what these might look like are: taking a quick walk every day, attending at least one amazing class at RBF Studio this week, doing 50 squats a day, working towards being able to reach your toes, holding a 90 second plank etc. Goals that challenge you but are also achievable help to show yourself what your body is capable of, can help to motivate you further, and bring your awareness inward.

  • Acknowledge and accept that there is no quick fix, and that wellness journeys are a lifetime path. The focus on better nutrition doesn't stop after the goal weight has been reached, and the workouts don't end when the goal weight has been lifted. The road to wellness is a long, dynamic one, and as we live and breathe, we are blessed to be on it. Like any journey there are ups and downs; what worked for a time might not always work, and it's important to remember that if you stumble show yourself some grace, get back up, reassess where you could have done better and continue forward.

  • Think of one thing about your body you are grateful for every day. Studies show that gratitude can play a significant role in a myriad of areas of health. Reflecting on what you are grateful for has benefits for mental, emotional, cardiovascular and physical health. By specifically focusing on gratitude towards your body you are distancing yourself from the negative influences of social media and realigning yourself with all the positive things your body does for you, your family, and your community on the daily. Your body, whatever shape it is, has great value. You have great value.

In summary, ignore the BS of social media, love what you have but also establish a goal and work towards it. You will be rewarded with a better relationship with your body, more peace in your mind, and with time a better perspective of your health and wellness journey. Get out there and crush it!


References

The American Heart Association

Thankfulness: How Gratitude Can Help Your Health


Penn State

Fat Phobia: Is it a problem?



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