Lately, I have been focusing on fitness and nutrition. I have spent more consecutive time at the gym in the last few months than I have at any other period in my life. My slowing metabolism demands a little more diligence on my part and I have a great desire to take care of my health.
When I was researching different exercise programs, I came across many websites and social media accounts that were packed full of useful information. So I started following a few.
After weeks of weight loss transformation photos gracing my news feed, I am starting to wonder if being bombarded with a barrage of such images is doing more harm than good for women as a whole.
It is no secret that we live in a society where weight loss is constantly on center stage. How we got to that point is a topic for another day, but the media has been brutal to women in the arena of body image. In the age of Photoshop and unrealistic (digitally altered; fake) body ideals on magazine covers and every other conceivable media outlet, most women simply cannot compete.
Did you know that the average female model is 5’10” and weighs 107 pounds? That is craziness! For comparison purposes, I am 5’9″ and my healthiest weight is between 140-145 pounds. For me, that equates to a flat stomach and a lean body.
Social media has exacerbated the body image problem with Transformation Tuesday photos galore. While it is inspiring to see the often life-changing transformations of those who have lost a ton of weight, I believe it is also a bit dangerous to fixate on such things. Regardless of the captions underneath those photos, which are often motivational, the underlying message is usually:
This is what success looks like. Do what I do and eat what I eat, and you, too, will one day look good in a sports bra and spandex.
That message is dripping with loads of unhealthy comparison. It successfully keeps us fixated on our image (and that of others) and almost always trumps the sentiment that we need to hear – the one that tells us to eat wholesome food and move our bodies because that is the formula for good health, regardless of size.
I know that a majority of the people behind those pictures have worked hard to reach their goals and want to motivate others by sharing their stories and what led to their success. They are often in fantastic health and want to help others achieve the same thing. I do not mean to disparage them, and I have nothing against sharing goals and progress with others. Many people are inspired to change for the better because of their examples.
But the truth is that not everybody will achieve such striking results, even if they work equally hard. One person’s progress may not be as noticeable as somebody else’s because of a thousand invisible factors.
So if my body doesn’t look like the one in that inspirational picture after working my tail off for months (or even years) on end, does that mean I am a failure? It may very well feel that way, which is not a good motivator for lasting change.
I understand that we have an obesity epidemic on our hands. I have read the research and studied the trends. I know it is wreaking havoc on our societal health. It is indisputable that many of us would benefit from rethinking the things we put into our mouths and exercising much more often.
But I also believe that our focus needs to be on health and not on numbers, whether we are talking about weight or dress size or calories. There is not one ideal body shape or size, no matter what the media tells us. Some people are genetically wired to be thin. Others have larger frames and are naturally dense, but are perfectly healthy at a higher weight. There should be no shame in that.
Perhaps it is time to turn our attention to something a little more productive than comparing our bodies and drooling over transformation photos. Our society is fixated on women’s bodies (weight loss photos feature women much more often than men), but there is a bigger picture that many are failing to see.
There is a myriad of health benefits tied to regular exercise, beyond losing weight. According to the Mayo Clinic, physical activity decreases your risk of heart disease, stroke, depression, diabetes, and some cancers. It improves your mood, boosts your energy, and promotes better sleep.
And eating nutritious food (minimally processed, as close to nature as possible) is going to make you feel like a new person, regardless of whether it results in immediate and substantial weight loss. Your body will thank you in a thousand ways for fueling it with quality fare.
Our bodies can do amazing things, and we should absolutely take good care of them. But it is past time to fight back against the societal pressure that we must be a certain size or look a certain way to be healthy, beautiful, and feel good about ourselves.
Jeffrey R. Holland so eloquently said it this way:
You are bombarded in movies, television, fashion magazines, and advertisements with the message that looks are everything! The pitch is, ‘If your looks are good enough, your life will be glamorous and you will be happy and popular.’ That kind of pressure is immense in the teenage years, to say nothing of later womanhood. In too many cases too much is being done to the human body to meet just such a fictional (to say nothing of superficial) standard…In terms of preoccupation with self and a fixation on the physical, this is more than social insanity; it is spiritually destructive, and it accounts for much of the unhappiness women, including young women, face in the modern world…
Every one of us is worth infinitely more than a before and after picture can illustrate. It is time to stop allowing those photos and others like them to dictate any ounce of our self-image. Let us focus instead on living a healthy lifestyle, even if we never achieve such Instagram-worthy results.
At the end of the day, health will trump size every single time.
What are your thoughts on body image, exercise, nutrition, and the role of social media in such things? Let me know in the comments section below.
(Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, and you should always seek the advice of your doctor regarding your unique health circumstances and nutritional needs.)