The concept of fitness being a specific look isn’t something new to us. This idea has been around for a long time, and has been repackaged and reinforced enough for this body type to be seen as the pinnacle of fitness.
Fitness has become a flat stomach. Abs. A toned back, biceps, triceps and a round toned bum. Nice thighs, but not too big. Gym rat 24/7.
Social media and brands commodify this body type to sell their products, and insecurity leaves women and men alike scrambling to emulate this look using any means necessary (usually through $$$).
Whilst some social media users are slowly breaking down these norms, this body type is still highly valued, not only on social media but in our society as a whole. All over the world, a slim frame is more desirable than any other body type (source? My dual heritage).
Growing up, I suffered from this one size fits all ideal projected onto me, once that was impossible for me to attain. As a 5’6 pear shaped woman, I could never live up to the expectation of being small and slim. Despite me being healthy, I’m sure I wasn’t perceived as such to being compared to the ‘prototype’ of the female beauty standard. Gradually, this idea has also wormed its way into the fitness industry, with health being assumed as one look.
My experiences do not stand alone. So many women face the same pressures of not conforming to the ‘ideal’ body type. What’s curious to know is despite most women not having this body, why does it remain as the ‘epitome of health?’
Do you even gym, bro?
It all comes down to credibility. You can’t take fitness advice from someone who doesn’t exercise, the same way you can’t take nutrition advice from someone who doesn’t know about nutrition. Fitness influencers build their brand the same way, but instead we assume their fitness expertise on the image they present to us.
Social media is an illusion; this means that what we see is not always the reality. In the case of fitness influencers and gym goers, posts are crafted carefully to portray to best side to them and their bodies.
If your personal brand relies on how you look, this creates immense pressure to live up to an ideal that, as we established, isn’t realistic.
Rather, one of the biggest lies we’re sold by this industry is that with hard work and determination, we too can achieve these bodies. This is often how fitness influencers present their bodies online.
Unfortunately, it isn’t the case. It’s impossible to emulate a body type that isn’t natural. The fitness industry is riddled with steroid use and surgical enhancements in order to look a specific way, however this information is rarely disclosed to us.
One reason for this lack of disclosure is fitness influencers rely on money from sponsorships and brand deals to promote fitness orientated content. In order to sell, they must make people believe their bodies are attainable without the use of injecting drugs. Thus, the cycle continues [i].
Brands are also careless with who they give their ambassador roles to. Instead of looking at people who are most suited to represent good values, it’s more important that the influencers they use look a certain way, regardless of whether they attained that look through unnatural means. Because of this, you have fitness influencers advocating for health and hard work whilst in the same breath are engaging in unhealthy and restrictive habits in order to maintain their unrealistic body.
We see the same regurgitation of this fitness prototype being the epitome of ‘health.’ Fitness is not linear, and the truth is health isn’t ‘one size’.
Our bodies weren’t meant to be flat tummies, big bum, slim waist, big boobs small torso. Our bodies are simply the vessels in which we survive.
The truth is, fitness doesn’t look a certain way, despite being sold this for centuries. The only reason this model has survived is because it serves a purpose in a capitalist society – it sells, just like women’s bodies have done for a long time.
Tiktok user, Ebony Matheson, is just one example of how fitness isn’t a one size fits all. Underneath her Tiktok she comments;
‘To clarify I work out 4 times a week, meal prep 80% of my meals, 20% is for social settings, I'm not lazy I'm just not what YOU want me to be’.
The pressure of looking good has created an influx of women who dislike their appearance. Because of this, we find it hard to accept ourselves, and are constantly finding ways in which we don’t quite measure up. These comparisons lead us to buying products that make us feel closer to the ideals we aspire to have, because if we can’t have the body we want, at least we can have those leggings that bring you closer to feeling like you have that body. Of course, this way of thinking is also detrimental to our self-esteem, and is once again the product of capitalism – but I digress.
Fitness shouldn’t be about achieving a goal weight or fitting into size 10 jeans. Rather, fitness is a way of life. We should focus our energies on feeling good, moving our bodies and connecting with nature. I know it’s easier said than done, and no-one is saying it’s an easy process. I still struggle with my own journey in fitness despite being active. It’s important to remember that even on your off days, your journey doesn’t stop, and rest is equally as important as everything else.
Whilst there are more mid-size gals taking centre stage and advocating that fitness isn’t just one body type, we still have a lot of work to do before we can shake this stigma once and for all.