Introduction & Synopsis:
Oftentimes I receive many compliments from my close friends admiring the layout and theme of my Instagram account. They even go as far to critique the luxury labels I wear, and admire the opulent setting surrounding myself in my Instagram posts. I would portray an idealized self to the world of what I wished I wanted to represent, and ultimately an interpretation of what I hoped to become – a successful, well mannered man enjoying the riches of life wielding unlimited purchase power. Oddly enough, most of my friends miss identify me as the richest man they know, as an individual partying every day worrying little about life’s responsibilities.
However, I’ve realized they are far mistaken because I carry a massive student load, and car loan debt over my shoulders. Little do they know; my lavish branded outfits were all financed by saving every dollar by pushing unhealthy habits such as starving myself on a ramen only diet or even pretending I was out of town, so I would no longer have to dish out the expenses of eating out during social interaction with ‘friends’. Okay – Just kidding on the last part, I’m not that savage. I promise.
My own pursuit of perfection and self image was all fueled by unhealthy habits to contort the reality of my struggles – an aim to appear as something I was clearly not. This made me further interested in investigating how another similar culture perpetuates the exact same narrative – the Instagram sports and fitness community. In this blog post, I hope that you and I discover how Instagram serves as an agency to regulate and contort the reality of fitness, health and sport participation to achieve the idealized self. Furthermore, I wish to investigate how active citizenship, and surveillance govern the status quo of the fitness community. To address these questions, I contest that Instagram promotes the status quo of appearing muscular, thin and healthy, however; the reality is, Instagram perpetuates the human body becoming objectified and promotes unhealthy practices to achieve appearances over health.
Cheers – to making yourself fully aware of the ugly truth behind the highly staged and faked photos of Instagram’s fitness world.
Preliminary things to know: The status quo of said fitness community:
Chances are, you’ve seen all the bold Instagram posts of one’s image and aesthetics. The allure of a chiseled six pack or bikini body acts to draw in the watchful gaze of millions of Instagram users. Its goal is to admire, critique and ultimately consume the content being created. Often times this fitness content is interpreted as achieving happiness and success. The body is being portrayed as a site of struggle, and a canvas in need for constant improvement and revision. Similar to equating wealth with happiness, when is an individual ever satisfied?
How it relates to Biopolitics:
What is biopolitics you ask? It is a hidden force which guides people using implicit codes and practices which are attached to the human body (Szeto, 2018). For instance, it causes us to make decisions to adhere to greater norms which are communicated through our bodies (ei: an overweight body compels us to lose weight through the agency of shame and guilt). This concept is prevalent on Instagram because it harbours like-minded communities of all types and creates active engagement within a biopolitical sphere. The fitness community on Instagram coerces individuals to adhere to many implicit norms by the same means of guilt and ridicule. This in turn promotes unhealthy mental health practices which in worst cases can cause episodes of headaches, stomach aches, anxiety, muscle tension and sleep disturbances. (Dr. Peterson, 2016) It can even cause “emotional symptoms that can involve feeling on-edge, defensive, irritable, sorrowful, and a feeling of desperation to apologize and make things better.” (Dr. Peterson, 2016). Even though those Instagram fitness models may appear to be living the dream, this medical disturbance is evidence of a ‘back stage’ existence – because remember, every image is meticulously constructed to portray their idealized sense of self.
How active citizenship interacts with the framework set by the Fitness community:
Digital media presents an outlet for individual users to offer “…pay services, and for driving fans to content and brands through multi-media distribution and cross-promotion.” (Corrigan, 2014 p.50). For this reason, much of the content displayed on Instagram is fueled by corporate interest rather than the health and well being of the body and mind. Those same Instagram users who promote a healthy living push a corporate agenda to display specific brands, diet and lifestyle choices to earn a salary. For instance, those promotional discount codes offered by Instagram fitness pages are sometimes generously handed out, however it would be wise to maintain awareness that for each use of the code, a commission of the sale moves towards the Instagram fitness page and also increases user engagement to practice unhealthy habits of consumption that may not necessarily improve a consumer’s health goals.
Michel Foucault’s Panopticon, the gaze, and its relevance:
The gaze serves as an underlying mechanism which surveil docile bodies and subject them to a constant need of improvement. Instagram is a forum for users to celebrate and critique one another to create a competitive atmosphere. This constant competition pushes users to engage in unhealthy behaviours to diet for the sole purpose of appearance rather than health. For this reason, the gaze imposes a state of constant publicity to apply damaging mental pressures. As much as Instagram can empower users, it can also disown them for not being competitive enough.
“Jenny Albright, who is also one half of the popular DJ duo Daddy Likes, admitted to asking her ex-boyfriend to delete a beach picture from last summer because “I didn’t like the way my body looked,” she said. “I was leaning over in a way that makes your stomach roll. It just wasn’t a good look.” (Jenny Albright quoted in Olivia Fleming, 2017)
The above statement resonated with me because Jenny admitted to disliking her appearance in a photo which had been posted over a year ago. But why did she not have the same repulsive feelings then as she does now? I believe it’s because the constant pressures from the gaze eventually diminished her self esteem and self worth due to increasing amount of competition and the consequent rise of body expectations on Instagram. To re-illiterate, this is because the body is subject under constant scrutiny and a site for continuous improvement.
The Impact Social Media Has:
The gaze is also demonstrated within the fitness culture on Instagram because of the before and after confessionals. We see it all the time on Instagram, the motivational change that comes from those who saw being overweight “…as morally bankrupt, inactive and lazy” (Szeto & Gray, 2014). These same individuals were ridiculed and shamed as they failed to the obligation of a bio-citizen. To be a responsible bio-citizen, one must actively engage with means of upkeeping self image and health. “Twitter [too] enables us to observe that many viewers produce themselves as consistently inadequate under the guise that happiness and health are just around the corner.” (Szeto & Gray, 2014), meaning social media users are constantly in a perpetual cycle of seeking improvement. This surely has a negative toll on someone’s mental health because it encourages one to always feel as if the cup is half empty. In this regard, achieving the ideological self (happiness) would never be achieved.
Another daunting truth to Instagram models is the fact that the information regarding their health analytics is easy to access. Instagram is a tool which allows fitness fanatics to cultivate thousands of followers based on your appearance. It is unknown how some individuals come to achieve their body image; however, sometimes their athletic appearance can come from good genes and intense workouts not suitable for the masses. Even Anna Kaiser, Kelly Ripa’s personal trainer warns fitness enthusiasts that some of these ‘trainers’ do not even have credentials. (Business insider, 2016). Anna Kaiser elaborates to even mention that a lot of misinformation is out there regarding diet and health, and Instagram solicits this inaccurate information. (Business insider, 2016)
Lastly, the existence of photo-editing apps and filters make it easier for us to portray our ideological ideals to our fan bases. Angles can be used to cut out any information we wish to conceal from the world. For instance, don’t like your skinny legs? Not to worry. It can easily be edited out or concealed through photography work. An application known as Meitu even allows users to give themselves a plastic surgery makeover to closely adhere to the status quo of rock hard abs and symmetrical facial features. The existence of these methods cultivates the notion that there is always room for improvement to the body – a theme that has been reoccurring throughout this blog post.
In conclusion, I strongly believe it is important to remain an active citizen to remain aware of the structural frameworks of Instagram’s fitness culture. Being aware of how the fitness culture on Instagram governs and regulates active participation can empower a user to make accustomed choices tailored to benefit the individual instead of adhering to the strict guidelines, rules and norms of the status quo on Instagram.
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