Changes to the way we operate during lockdown have exposed many fitness professionals to social media-induced self-doubt. You’re worth so much more than fleeting clicks, writes group fitness guru Marietta Mehanni.
Body image. It must be one of the most talked about topics, and it doesn’t matter how many memes or quotes are shared about being happy in the skin we’re in, it’s a personal journey for everyone. Some of us have been blessed with grounded self-awareness, while for many others thoughts of personal physical inadequacy pop up several times a day, or more. A glance in a mirror, a look down at our belly, or a social post of a ‘perfect’ body, and we find ourselves doubting if we are in the shape that we ‘should’ be.
For the past year, I and many other group fitness instructors have turned to online opportunities to continue to share our knowledge and expertise regarding exercise and movement, arguably at a time when people were more sedentary than usual and needed us most.
During this time, I have become much more aware of the countless fitness influencers sharing on the same social platforms. Slim women with six-pack abdominals, gravity-defying buttocks, shapely arms and legs and flawless skin have crowded into the feed, touting programs that they claim will make you look like them. A glance at how many likes and comments appear at the bottom of their posts is enough to make any group exercise instructor doubt themselves. Occasionally, I would open the comments in the hope that someone would mention that this was unrealistic for most women, but instead, it is a stream of praise and ‘wow, I want to be like you’ comments.
If you are like me, you go back to your most recent live class or exercise post to quickly compare, and sigh. And then the questions begin…
- Am I good enough?
- Do I look the part?
- What can I do better?
- What am I doing wrong?
- Why don’t people like what I do?
This, my friends, is the social media rabbit hole, in which your perception of your value is based purely on comments, thumbs up and smiles. It is heartbreaking when you know that you are doing the best you can and believe in your expertise and knowledge, yet some inexperienced ‘young thing’ is getting all the interest.
So, on top of comparing how you look, you are now trying to seek validation. Even though you feel like you don’t look the part, you hope that somehow the universe will provide you with confirmation that what you are delivering is being well received, liked and shared. When you teach a live face-to-face class, validation comes in the form of facial expressions, physical exertion, comments, banter, laughter, and feedback after the class. In the silent and solo world of the social media live stream or upload, validation is received by the likes, comments, shares, and number of people who choose to follow or request to be your friend.
For the past year, when teaching a live class has often not been an option, many instructors have tumbled down this rabbit hole. In the fitness facility, you were hired based on your qualifications, experience, and ability. In the social media world, you are at the mercy of optimised feeds, boosted posts, paid advertising and the number of people you can connect with yourself. You can find yourself glued to your device, checking to see if anyone has commented or liked your content. Now you are comparing not only your body, and number of likes, but also how viral your content is. The rabbit hole has turned you into a finger twitching, approval-seeking, social media junkie.
Getting out of the hole
So, what’s the solution? We need to find a ladder to help us get out of the hole we find ourselves in. Let’s get climbing.
Why did you start?
The first rung on the ladder is to ask yourself why you started teaching in the first place. The reason that you had, right back in the beginning when getting up on stage in front of a group of participants had you going for a nervous pee before the class. The ‘why’ that Simon Sinek famously wrote about. Those altruistic reasons are important to remember. They were – and deep down still are – your motives for teaching. For many instructors, their ‘why’ is improving community health and wellbeing, or sharing the joy of the group exercise environment, that endorphin high that comes from finishing a class, feeling successful and sweaty.
What keeps you going?
The next rung is to address what drives you. What keeps you showing up, even when you are tired, or unprepared, or just feeling a little blah? It may be a sense of commitment, an observance of consistency, a desire to maintain your own personal fitness, or a sense of duty to participants who rely on you and wouldn’t exercise if it weren’t for you being there to teach the class. Often, group fitness instructors are the beacon that guides participants through tough personal issues. Instructors seldom realise the incredible impact that they make on others’ lives, until the day that a participant confides their personal journey.
Whose acceptance is most important?
By this stage you have developed some positive momentum and appreciate that teaching is more than how many likes you can attain, but you still need to do some work on your perceptions of social media: using it to validate who you are is destructive. We all know the importance of self-acceptance, but this doesn’t happen when you are constantly searching your feed for positive feedback. Memes and other self-actualised quotes that are posted on socials may help tell the world that you have accepted who you are, but have you really?
When you compare yourself to another, or look for flaws to justify a point of view, you are most definitely not in acceptance mode. This, of course, is a personal journey of discovery that takes time. For many, in fact, it takes years and enough life experience to know that a ‘like’ is as fleeting as the posts in your feed.
Self-acceptance is the solid and grounding knowledge that you are OK, just the way you are. That you are unique, and that you were ‘not born to fit in’, to quote Dr. Seuss. Not everyone is going to like the uniqueness that is you, but there will be some for whom it is the answer to their prayers. If you are going to interact with social media, then be there for those people and don’t dilute who you are.
Sure, you may find yourself looking down the rabbit hole every now and again, but know that the validation that you seek is in the knowledge that you are fulfilling your purpose and your why.