Airbrushed Fitness


It’s been a couple of months now since Essena O’Neill, an 18 year old Australian girl, made headlines by renouncing her perfect Instagram pics to shed some light on just how contrived the whole thing can be. Many-a-think piece has been written about it since. The issue of ‘keepin’ it real’ seems to be a bit of a touchy subject within the fitness community, especially on Instagram.

Fitness means different things to different people, but it’s fair to say that in our current climate, aesthetics rule. You have a successful fitness Instagram account if you have a six pack and toned body, extra points if you’ve gone on a weight loss journey (meticulously posting your weight and stats with each pic) and if you’re a woman, you win the jackpot if you are ridiculously over sexualised and wear next to nothing. It is what it is: fitness can be a fickle and shallow place.

After Essena O’Neill’s bombshell, I saw a fair few very successful Instagram fitness peeps pass comment on it, usually to the effect of ‘look guys, you have to take everything with a pinch of salt. I’m just posting my journey. You have to be happy with you.’ And yeah, cool. But many of these people clearly edit and Photoshop their own pictures quite heavily.

It’s here I get confused about the message. If you’re trying to be inspiring, telling people to be happy with who they are, while you Photoshop your own pics frankly, doesn’t make sense. And all of these people, I have no doubt, probably look absolutely great pre-editing, so I really don’t understand the purpose of it.

Before Instagram, we’d all complain about how the mainstream media presented unrealistic images of women. Now we have this technology literally in our hands, where we can write these stories ourselves and redefine beauty standards for women and it saddens me that many feel so pressured to be perfect, they can’t actually just be themselves and fall straight back into the trap of presenting something not-so-real.

Look, ultimately, everyone is free to use their Instagram accounts how they choose. No one can dictate how you present yourself. Though I do feel, with fitness, you do kinda have a responsibility to keep it somewhat real.

If you’re a leader or influencer within the fitness community and your message is all about inspiring people to exercise, surely it just goes with your message to show what that truly entails. What do I mean by that? Well, fitness ain’t pretty. You’re sweaty and red faced, your hair’s a mess, you’re panting, sometimes you don’t hit your targets for distances run of weights lifted, sometimes you have to work out in your tiny bedroom, sometimes you’re too knackered to do anything at all. A highly edited picture of you ‘working out’ (though not sweating) with perfect hair and makeup, in a high end gym with a caption talking about working hard and being happy with yourself is confusing. Are you inspiring me to work out or get better camera equipment?

I think about people who want to get into fitness and look up to these Instagram users. Except when you’re first getting into fitness and you’re doing it in your baggy tracksuit bottoms and an old T Shirt, with your hair stuck to your face and sweating all over the gaff, it must be really hard to see those images and not think you must be doing something wrong.

On the flip side of that, none of us as social media users can take responsibility really for how what we post makes others feel. I’ve had people unfollow me and tell me that my fitness pics made them feel bad. That is 100% to do with them and what they have going on with themselves. I am most definitely not posting fitness content to make anyone feel bad about what they have going on in their lives. And none of us can be expected to understand how what we post may push different people’s buttons differently. If we did, no one would ever post anything. Everyone has to take responsibility for their own emotional wellbeing and not get so caught up all this overblown Instagram fitness hype.

I guess the great thing about social media is that you can follow and unfollow who you like. I post a lot of fitness content. I do not have a perfect body. I don’t have a six pack. I have love handles that jiggle when I run. My face flushes bright red within a few minutes of cardio. I’m not sure I’ll ever know what a thigh gap is and I spend most of my life with eternally sweaty hair. It is what it is. I’ve never Photoshopped any of my Instagram pics. I’m not saying I don’t have days where I have confidence wobbles, but even on those days, I’ll rock a crop top when I teach spin and let my jiggly bits do what they may – I still own the shit out of that bike.

My aim since starting my own fitness journey has been to encourage as many women to get active as possible. For me, that means presenting the realest version of what that journey means to me. I have an ego and sure, I’m vain, but I also know when to leave that at the door, I know when it’s important that women see me glowing from the inside because I feel fucking fantastic. And I feel that way because I live a gloriously sweaty life.

I hope THAT comes across in my pics. No filter.

3 Responses to “Airbrushed Fitness”
  1. Yes to all this. I’ve unfollowed so many perfect airbrushed accounts as they’re quite frankly boring. Like you say, social media is there for us to present a real version of ourselves and hit back to these photoshopped misrepresentations in mass media. The only editing I do on my Instagram is choosing a suitably unnecessary filter. I sometimes whack the contrast up and chuck a too, ftw :)

  2. Andrea says:

    I personally like to see a fitness instructor who is in fantastic shape, I find it a lot more motivating, so of course I want to see photos of people looking great on instagram!

  3. Gerald Smith says:

    Its interesting how this has divided opinion, but I think you have to have ethics. If your portraying yourself as a brand and you give a false representation, than what does that say about you as a whole?

    I know we all tell white lies but that’s taking it too far for me.