[Article 44]Dark side of fitness fad making you less healthy

Fitspo – or fitness inspiration – is the hashtag spamming your social media feed right now thanks to all your gym junkie friends or healthy idols.

But some of the fitness propaganda claiming to be motivating you is actually preying on your insecurities to manipulate or even harm you.

Here are some of the most shockingly irresponsible fitspo messages going around at the moment.



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What they think they’re saying

“Don’t give up! You may think you’ve given all you have, but you have so much more! You can make it if you just grit your teeth and push!”

Why it’s irresponsible:

Getting mad at your own limbs sounds less like the behaviour of an Olympian and more like the crazy-eyed hobo who lives behind my building’s dumpster.

It is absolutely true that, if your muscles finally reach the point of failure, an emotional response like fear or anger triggers the release of adrenalin, which can keep you going.

It’s called the fight or flight response and it’s been attributed to everything from mums lifting cars off kids to soldiers who refuse to lay down and die.

It’s also not something to mess around with.

Pushing your body’s limits just because you want bigger biceps is sort of like setting your house on fire because you’re cold.



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What they think they’re saying:

“Aren’t you tired of not being as pretty as you deserve? Well all it takes is perseverance to be everything you’ve ever wanted to be!”

Why it’s irresponsible:

First of all, speaking as the father of a little girl, this is particularly disturbing.

This is an expertly lit, no doubt digitally enhanced image of a girl in her mid-twenties presented here as the definition of what a woman is allowed to be proud of.

“Until you are proud” seems to mean “Until you have sixpack abs, perky, squeezable breasts and the terrible burden of finding size 0 jeans with a 34 inch inseam”.

If there were a male equivalent of this photo, it would have to be Iron Man to really capture the shocking lack of realism.

It’s the “Don’t stop” part, however, that earns this photo its place on my list.

The message here is that it’s excusable, nay, it is advisable that the ladies in the audience disregard whatever else they were doing, you know, like having some self-esteem, and do whatever it takes to be this hot.

If it was explicit that “Don’t stop” meant “Hire a professional lighting crew and a makeup artist and maybe a wizard” it would be one thing, but it’s not.

It just ends up meaning “Nope, you’re not up to these heinously unrealistic standards yet; keep running, fatty!”



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What they think they’re saying:

“Beauty used to be about getting thin but not anymore, ladies! We’re not after waifish waistlines, we’re after strength!”

Why it’s irresponsible:

Quick! What do all three of the women pictured above have in common?

If you said, “They’re all skinny”, you’re exactly right!

The fitness industry – from gyms to clothing manufacturers – collectively produces more propaganda than North Korea. And a lot of it just as crazy.

This particular class of pictures is almost comically absurd because what’s written on the picture directly contradicts the picture.

It would be like if Four N Twenty produced an ad saying “vegetables are awesome, eat those instead of pies!” printed over images of freckled kids happily stuffing their faces with pies.

It shows just how little credit advertises give the public: they assume that if they tell you what you’re looking at you wont actually see what you’re looking at.

“But Kevin”, you might argue, “the women in those images have great muscle tone! They’re totally strong!” They certainly are. So is she:

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And you’re not going to find her in a Nike ad, even though she’s a stone-cold badass who probably dead lifts the combined body weight of those other three ladies as a warm-up.

Strong isn’t really replacing skinny; being skinny is no longer enough.

Now, ladies, you need to be skinny and ripped.

It’s an additional layer of self-loathing just in case people had started to get desensitised to the omnipresent and psychologically crippling display of corpse-thin women in the media.



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What they think they’re saying:

“Commitment is important! People who lack the ability to commit will always try to bring you down.”

Why it’s irresponsible:

So there’s this thing called anorexia nervosa. It’s kind of a big deal.

As a matter of fact, it and other eating disorders collectively have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness, killing 5%-10% of those afflicted within 10 years and a bone-chilling 18%-20% within 20 years.

Oh, and it affects between 1% and 5% of women in the US so, like I was saying, kind of a big deal.

But with better public education and awareness, it’s getting harder and harder to starve to death without anyone noticing.

And, as it turns out, not wanting to be noticed is a key factor in the anorexic’s psychological profile.

As a result, with the kind of nuance and ingenuity that is horrifyingly common among the mentally ill, exercise anorexia, or hypergymnasia was born.

It works just like anorexia and is caused by the same factors, only instead of restricting calories going in, hypergymnasiacs dramatically increase the calories going out.

The culturally accepted language associated with working out is moderately self-abusive anyway, so all the self-deprecation won’t raise any red flags and obsessing over exercise will blend right in to the normal cultural fabric of fitness.

And if someone does start to question the wisdom of a 10km run after CrossFit and two hot yoga classes?

Well, the hypergymnasiac can just high five their fellow gym-goers and say, “I’m not obsessed, you’re just lazy!” And to a soundtrack of enthusiastic support, go right back to killing themselves.

So, no, obsession is not the same as dedication and creating a vocabulary that makes it easier for the mentally ill to cloak their illness in normalcy is not doing anyone any favours.



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What they think they’re saying:

“Do what you have to do to get the job done. Don’t be afraid to show your struggle, only be afraid to fail.”

Why it’s irresponsible:

I can’t believe I have to write this next sentence but here goes: crawling on the floor weeping while you puke all over yourself is not healthy.

Your body has limits. Those limits are there so that daily function – up to and including heavy manual labour – requires a relatively small amount of physical stress and sacrifice.

This means that, if you get into a spontaneous bar fight with a group of Neo-Nazis and must defeat them to protect the beautiful tattooed bartender with the dark secret, you’re not going into action with a bunch of used-up joints.

Your back may look like a gunnysack full of angry pythons, but that won’t mean squat when you herniate a disk.

The trick is to know your limits.

Pain is helpful in this regard. Of course, there’s pain and there’s pain, but part of being healthy is knowing the difference.

Training so hard as to induce vomiting and uncontrollable sobbing is to slowly undermine the basic human judgment of what constitutes challenge versus what causes injury.


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