Fitness Instagrammers capitalize on comparison

Hashtags like #fitspiration and #fitnessmotivation are idolizing appearances

Instagram accounts featuring fitness professionals, like @muscle_hunt, sexualize muscular figures.

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Instagram accounts featuring fitness professionals, like @muscle_hunt, sexualize muscular figures.

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Personal trainers and athletes are no longer teaching at-home workouts on VHS or DVD in full-body athletic spanx. They’ve been replaced with Instagram accounts and hashtags dedicated to motivating others to work out and document fitness transformations.

But are these Instagrammers really motivating people for the right reasons? Sometimes, it seems like they exist to idolize and sexualize muscles that pop impossibly through denim jeans and dress shirts.

Maybe these accounts hope viewers, by comparing themselves to the fitness models that get paid to work out, will find motivation to give up their couch potato lifestyle and attempt to achieve that same aesthetic all in the name of fitness.

Recently I came across one fitness account, @muscle_hunt, on my Instagram explore page. Its content fit the handle, of course. The account is a trophy case full of nearly-naked, tanned, fit people with rippling muscles posing in front of their mirror along with videos of others #beasting their workouts in the gym.

I’d like to preface that I’m an average-sized female with an average amount of muscle, with an average amount of motivation to hit the gym and eat right — enough to keep me from gaining back my “Freshman 15” and help with my stress levels.

I will never claim to have professional knowledge of counting macros or choosing the best protein powder or physique-building techniques.

However, after scrolling through their feed I was rather repulsed by @muscle_hunt’s definition of “fit” – which, according to their account’s biography, “is not a destination, it’s a way of life.”

@muscle_hunt’s “fit” way of life looks like a woman with an 8-pack and 10% body fat and a man with dangerously huge deltoids, veiny forearms and pecs that look like Barbie Doll Ken’s.

I was especially alarmed by one picture collage comparing four different males’ physiques that could all put Arnold Schwarzenegger to shame. Each photo had a number on it between 1 and 4 and the caption below encouraged the Instagram viewer to choose one man’s photo. The caption was followed by hashtags like #fitnessjourney, #aesthetic and #fitnessmotivation.

For what reason would a viewer choose one physique over the other? Maybe it’s because the viewer likes the way they look — but why do they like the way these people look?

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Perhaps they would like to look that way, too, because muscles have been idolized for years. They want to have the physical build that others compare themselves to. They want to really listen to so-called #fitnessmotivation.

@muscle_hunt is obviously not the only social media account that seems to capitalize on aesthetic comparison as a motivational tool.

In the article “5 Fitness Pros Explain the Problems with Fitspiration” from Women’s Health magazine online, a few fitness professionals weighed in on the issue surrounding the #fitspiration social media issue.

“Whether subtly or overtly, the message behind fitspiration is: ‘Look at how great I look, and if you choose to commit yourself to exercise, you’ll look this way too,’” said Jennifer Blake, a certified personal trainer and coach from Movement Minneapolis. “This message misses the mark because it puts the emphasis on appearance instead of health — and being healthy is about so much more than what you look like.”

The worst part about some fitness Instagram accounts is most images viewers are comparing themselves to are fake. Most people pictured don’t even look like their photo in everyday life because they have a curious talent for posing.

There aren’t many photos of athletes sitting down comfortably in their bikini or tank top, with their natural rolls of skin showing. You’d be hard-pressed to find one.

But one Instagrammer, 21-year-old Sara Puhto, dedicates her Instagram to combating the comparison trap. Her posts exemplify the genuineness of an athletic yet un-posed body.

She posts side-by-side “before and after” photos of herself, and instead of posting photos that have months or years in-between the transformation, there are photos with just seconds separating the time of the shots.

Her account, @saggysara, reveals the ways which some fitness Instagrammers get away with winning the comparison technique, making themselves look better than they are using the “right” lighting, flexing the “right” muscles and contorting their body the “right” way.

“Life isn’t a competition of who can look the best,” Puhto captioned a recent photo. “It’s a nonsensical concept that we expect ourselves to look ‘perfect’ all the time … imagine a world where we all looked exactly the same. It would be dull. You don’t need to change yourself. Change the way you view yourself.”

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Instead of comparing your body to those that are unsustainably built for an extreme body-building competition or those that are popping their glutes in the right lighting, focus on your own #fitnessjourney.

Fitness doesn’t need to include looking the “right” way, it’s about feeling and functioning in a healthy way. Eat veggies and protein, get sleep and sweat it out at the gym, but don’t sweat the Instagram-able aesthetic.

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