The Illusion of Social Media
Today you can go hardly anywhere without a billboard telling you what you should look like. Skinny girls and ripped-to-the-bone guys look down on you as you drive past, fueling any insecurity that may be in the back of your head, making you doubt whether what you’re doing in the gym or kitchen is really working.
I see this all the time with my clients and close friends who get so attached to what their favorite Instagram model looks like that they actually start dressing, eating and acting like that person. In a way, many people lose their own identity by following someone else’s. But unbeknownst to the majority of their followers, these Instagram models aren’t living the lives they portray. They are constantly watching the mirror, checking for new likes and followers, and feel an extreme pressure to look perfect to uphold their image.
The most hurtful aspects of this I see are the lies that come with the posts or videos. “Try this tea! It’s how I got a six pack!” No, you had that six pack from training hard and eating the right foods, and a tea company now pays you to sell their product and swear by it. “Take this pill! It helped me get my bench press up to 400 lbs!” No, years of work and dedication in and out of the gym got your bench press up, and a supplement company now pays you to push and swear by their product. Or my favorite: “Here’s my Saturday cheat meal! 6 donuts, 2 large fries and 4 cheeseburgers! And I’ll still wake up shredded.” No, you will eat a bite of the doughnut, a few fries and maybe one of those cheese burgers and throw the rest away while thousands of 16 year olds praise you and tell you how much you inspire them. This type of false advertising is not only deceitful; it confuses every person who sees it.
When a client approaches with questions of cheat meals to “boost the metabolism,” fat burning pills or even steroids, I have to spend half the session educating them on why none of those things will get them where they want to be and then disprove the hundreds of articles they’ve read that are written by the same people pushing the pills, only to get the same questions the next week. As a trainer, it’s not only exhausting; it’s disheartening.
The worst consequence of all of this is the emergence of eating disorders in young men and women who just want perfect physiques. They eat just like their role models, take all the detox teas and supplements and do all the same workouts, but for some reason, they still don’t look how they imagined. Food turns into a numbers game, counting every single morsel that goes into their body. Training becomes exhaustive, and most won’t leave the gym until they’re dragging their worn-out bodies to the car. Cheat meals turn into binges that lead to an even more restrictive week than the last out of guilt. This cycle can be seen throughout the fitness industry, and it stems from the misinformation that is plaguing social media.
I’ve been lucky in my life to find the right role models who steered me in the right direction as I progressed through training, as well as pushed me away from all the wrong paths I may have fallen into. I learned about the power of nutrition and a proper training program and how to progress in my training so that I never actually needed a completely new one. People may scoff at the fact that I’ve been doing the same workouts and diet for years, but the same people who scoff are those who have watched me grow and get stronger year after year. That doubt has fueled me to gain the knowledge to discern between facts and fads and to help educate those I can to do the same.
The next time you are looking at your favorite Instagram or YouTube star, remember that you are only seeing a portion of their day. You see nothing behind the scenes of who they actually are or what they are actually doing, and many times they aren’t telling you the truth. Find people in real life who can lead and teach you in the right ways so that you’ll have the tools to get and maintain the body you’ve always wanted for years to come, without the shortcuts.
Richard Saad is a personal trainer and can be reached at 864.907.0214.