Dictated by algorithms and customer insights, today’s fitness instructors feel the pressure to look perfectly chiseled under the glare of the camera.
Is it just me, or is it already hard to tell who is a fitness model and fitness professional online? When I mindlessly scroll through social media, my eyes glaze over as I go over the same staging, posing, and lighting to the point that I no longer recognize the model and trainer. (I’m not sure who popularized the pose style where a fitness model pulls up her T-shirt and checks out her abs, but you should know you don’t have to keep checking them; your abs are still in.)
Fitness models and professionals are very different; one gets paid to look fit, and a professional has the knowledge and experience to get you, the average person, in shape. That doesn’t mean a fitness pro can’t look chiseled and lean; Similarly, a fitness model can know a lot about getting in shape. However, in order to look good in the glare of the camera, fitness models tend to stick to rigid diets and fitness regimens to maintain the intense physique their job requires. But today, only from initial appearances, the line begins to blur.
It seems that more fitness professionals are posting more photos and videos than traditional fitness models. It got me thinking: Are fitness professionals under pressure from themselves or from their clients to conform to this demanding physical ideal?
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It is understandable if this is true. With algorithms dictating what we see and content being produced at an unmatched rate, every trainer is just trying to get recognized and book more clients. And sometimes the only way to grab people’s attention and draw them into your content is by showing a little skin. If there is pressure to show off your physique, then a trainer may feel pressure, either subtle or obvious, to try to create an image that those potential clients are more responsive to.
As a personal trainer, my mantra with my clients was ‘the new skinny is strong.’ The idea behind this mantra is to reject the notion that you should endlessly try to shrink and embrace muscle and power to improve your confidence. Through my group fitness classes, my clients developed triceps muscles that gleamed in T-shirts, back muscles that rippled in backless dresses, quadriceps muscles that flexed through pants, and abs that could kill even the hardest. harder core challenge. I loved seeing these women proud of their strong bodies. However, it was not just about becoming strong. It was also about systematically dismantling years of programming that we are never enough, no matter how skinny we get.
Falling victim to the comparison trap
However, I can easily admit that while I advocated not comparing myself to others, I fell victim to the comparison trap more than I care to admit. I judged myself harshly by what I saw online. It got me thinking: In a world where we support body positivity and health at any size, how do fitness professionals feel about any perceived pressure on their bodies?
More and more fitness professionals online have been sharing their personal stories to show they’ve also experienced body shame, low self-esteem, or struggles with their fitness goals within the industry. One recent example, Alice Living, a fitness influencer, spoke of her progression from being very skinny at the cost of chronically over-exercising and eating little to a bigger but much healthier body. And yet, even after being honest with her, she posted a message that she received from a random internet stalker who told her that she was now “fat.”
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Tone it Up’s Karena Dawn was the subject of online discussion forums dispassionately discussing her weight gain. Dawn, who now also runs Big Silence, a mental health platform, admits she went through a down period during COVID when her fitness wasn’t her priority, and yes, she did gain weight.
According to the Australian Institute of Fitness (AIF), “Clients expect personal trainers to look fit and be a role model in their profession. This is very subjective. Is it thin? Musculature? BMI? It’s certainly not specific. In fact, many people/clients will have many different ideas of what it is like to ‘fit in’”.
Swetha Subbiah, co-founder of Sisters in Sweat, agrees with both sentiments. Subbiah says clients will gravitate toward the trainer whose aesthetic they most want to emulate. Therefore, being and looking fit is essential. Clients want to know the secret to getting from A to B, and your physique shows that you figured it out, at least for yourself. However, what one client defines as ‘suitable’ will differ for everyone.
The problem of pursuing aesthetic aptitude
Louise Carter, a group fitness instructor and nutritional consultant, cautions that the problem with those who pursue aesthetics is that they “also focus on the physiques they want now rather than how they want their bodies to work later” and that social media they will not. she shares that level of depth in this highly complex conversation about fitness, health, body image, and aesthetics.
Trying to achieve the prototypical chiseled leanness can result in trying fitness programs that can sometimes affect the health of your bones and joints and your ability to reproduce, recover from stress, and sleep at night. However, a split second of viewing a reel or image does not adequately convey this complex discussion of tradeoffs and benefits. This is why Carter is passionate about sharing his struggles and achievements with his clients, so they can see how his fitness programs can fit into real life with conflicting priorities, while still achieving their goals.
Open and vulnerable communication is needed
Reaching this level of personal relationship with your fitness professional is crucial to changing opinions and mindsets.
Ananya Mukund, a pre- and postnatal yoga instructor, said that because she’s always been ‘small and skinny’, the comments she’s always gotten are: “Oh, but you don’t need to do yoga” or “This should be so easy.” “Especially now that I’ve been through pregnancy and childbirth and I’m a new mom, I’m supposed to have magically recovered because I teach yoga,” Mukund says, but adds that the perception is slowly changing. “Clients, especially if they are going through similar experiences like childbirth, they are significantly more empathetic to their trainers than they probably would have been ten years ago,” says Mukund.
We need more trainers like these who can strike a balance with their clients: aspirational images of what a fit lifestyle can achieve, and the real-life perspective behind their gym uniform. An aspirational physique may be part of the job, but the personal connection behind the idea of personal training is also a muscle that requires building. I advise any fitness professional posting on social media, feeling the stress and pressure of conforming to an arbitrary standard, to never be afraid to be open and appropriately vulnerable with your clients; you may notice that they are much more empathetic than we think.
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