The toxic comparisons of social media

written by Philip Stefanov  |  AUGUST 8, 2023

I’d like to talk about a topic that doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it should: the toxicity of social media.

I’m not saying social media is all bad, but there is much to be cautious of, so let’s break it down.

The Toxicity of Social Media

It’s no secret that we are living in a time of narcissism. Go on Instagram, TikTok, or some other popular platform, browse the recommended content for an hour, and you will come across dozens, if not hundreds, of attention-seeking people doing whatever it takes to get more followers and likes.

And if you think that’s not happening in the fitness niche, you are wrong. Here is where we get to see social media toxicity flexing its muscles.

In today’s era of self-promotion and brand-building, people are constantly competing for attention. This includes showcasing their ‘perfect’ bodies, workouts, diets, vacations, partners, friends, etc.

You might be wondering why that is such a bad thing. After all, this is positive content designed to inspire us to do better, right? Well, we could certainly argue about this.

Just as a bodybuilder carefully sculpts their physique, social media influencers sculpt the perfect image of themselves. The problem with images is they are just that––a representation of reality that might or might not be accurate.

We are constantly bombarded with distorted images of fitness and what it should be. We’ve slowly come to admire people with ridiculous muscular development, symmetry, and a low body fat percentage, discarding everyone else. If someone isn’t as big as Chris Bumstead or lean as Jennifer Dorie about to step on stage, we discard them as mediocre.

This constant obsession over ‘aesthetics’ has shifted the focus of fitness from health and wellness to visual appeal and validation, which is not good for the average person or influencers showcasing perfect bodies.

The average person falls for the idea of chasing a ‘perfect’ image, whereas influencers resort to dangerous and unsustainable tactics to maintain an amazing physique year-round to keep followers interested. For example, I recently learned that a prominent influencer resorted to drinking up to four liters of coffee daily to blunt their appetite and stay shredded year-round.

The Destructive Impact of the ‘Perfect’ Image

Fitness has slowly morphed into a spectacle where likes, comments, and social media followers are valued more than discipline and consistency. The goal is no longer personal growth and improvement but a mirage of physical perfection.

This portrayal of physical perfection has a particularly strong impact on younger and more impressionable people. They see seemingly flawless bodies and want the same thing for themselves. After all, why not? Who doesn’t want a successful social media business, a perfect body, and frequent trips to exotic locations?

Unfortunately, most choose a dangerous and unhealthy path to achieving these goals.

First, there is the obvious one: steroids. Various compounds can speed up the process of attaining the ideal physique, though at a price. People eager to accelerate the journey often resort to performance-enhancing drugs without fully understanding the long-term health risks, including mental health disorders, cardiovascular disease, and liver damage.

Next up, we have another popular one: unsustainable diets. Like steroids, these diets often promise quick results, typically at the expense of sustainability and one’s relationship with food.

When an influencer posts about their dietary approach, claiming discipline is the only thing separating them from everyone else, people eagerly cut their calories, follow extreme eating patterns (like fasting for days at a time), or eliminate entire food groups. Over time, that often leads to malnutrition and eating disorders.

We also have the issue of unsustainable training plans. Motivated by a desire for quick results, trainees overlook intelligent training plans in favor of grueling and excessive workout regimens. The overly aggressive approach often leads to burnout, overtraining, or, worse, injuries that take people out of the gym for months and affect their lives.

Suddenly, people find themselves on this hamster wheel, doing things they hate to chase goals instead of focusing on what truly matters: a sustainable fitness approach that promotes balance, good health, sustainability, and personal growth.

Where to Go From Here

Pursuing an aesthetic body capable of impressive physical feats is not inherently wrong, but we must understand that fitness is a marathon, not a sprint. It requires patience, consistency, and, perhaps even more importantly, respect for your body’s limits.

If you must be on social media, follow people who promote a balanced and sustainable approach to fitness and health. There is no shortcut to reaching your goals. Learn to celebrate progress over perfection, performance over aesthetics, and personal records over social media likes.

Thanks for sticking around. I'll catch you next week!


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