At the start of quarantine back in March, I found myself with more free time than ever before. In between my walks and occasional runs, I scrolled through TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram searching for new and exciting workout inspiration. I clicked on video after video, their thumbnails filled with images of tiny waists, flat stomachs, and toned legs. I wanted to look like them. My stomach and parts of my body that I had previously thought nothing about suddenly looked wrong in the mirror. I found myself dissatisfied that my abs weren’t defined and my thighs touched.
My newfound dissatisfaction with my body led me to daily ab workouts promising to shrink my waist or burn fat around my thighs. After a workout I would check the mirror, disappointed to see that I didn’t have abs. I started watching “What I eat in a day” videos and plugging my stats into my fitness pal. I was told to eat no more than 1600 calories a day if I wanted to get toned. When I didn’t meet these goals I was disheartened. I told myself I wasn’t motivated enough. One day I even cried when I looked in the mirror; that’s when I decided I needed a change.
Unfortunately, my experience is not unique. Fitness is challenging for many, but for young women especially, the fitness fallacies perpetuated on social media become petri dishes for self-loathing. “I’ve noticed that … workouts for women are almost always marketed for weight loss,” says Harper Rhodes (12). “Labels like ‘flat tummy’ and ‘round booty’ are often used in women’s workouts.” These fitness influencers often perpetuate fitness myths like spot training: the false idea that you can shrink fat from one area without affecting the rest of the body.
YouTube workout “challenges,” like Choe Ting’s hourglass figure challenge, mislead viewers into thinking that a two to four week program will completely change their body shape. It doesn’t help that popular YouTube workouts are almost always led by women with incredibly thin, toned bodies. The fact is that for most women, a completely toned, flat stomach is out of the question. No matter how much someone might work out, the factors of your body’s composition are genetic. Belly fat for women in particular is impacted by the stress hormone cortisol. Such drastic changes in muscle definition take upwards of six months to a year to achieve and almost never occur in such a short time.
Finding this out, I began to put less pressure on myself to see results in mere weeks and instead focus on doing the workouts I enjoyed. But I still had one problem: those unhealthy “what I eat in a day” videos. “I’ve witnessed many fitness professionals giving nutrition advice, with no qualifications or background in nutrition,” says Rhodes. While it’s true that diet is the most important factor in developing muscle definition and losing fat, unqualified fitness influencers without nutrition certifications should not be giving diet advice. Realizing the problematic turn my relationship with food was taking, I deleted Tik Tok and started watching YouTube videos run by registered dieticians to get my meal inspiration. I learned about intuitive eating and the importance of giving my body the fuel it needs. I started listening to my body instead of a stranger on my phone.
Free from this outside pressure, I started to love working out. I tried out tons and tons of videos from yoga to pilates to barre to HIIT, loving all of them. After nearly a year of working out consistently, I have never been more confident or happy with my body. I love it not because I have lost weight or increased muscle definition but because I am strong.
If you’re looking to embark on a fitness journey or just incorporate some more movement into your life, I recommend establishing your why. Ask yourself why do I want to workout? If the answer is primarily for weight loss, then maybe consider shifting your mindset to include strength and well-being into your why. “Focusing on your own fitness journey helps build confidence,” says Rhodes. “I focus on how a workout makes me feel instead of how it makes me look.” Embarking on a fitness journey should be done out of joy and a workout should make you happy, so find the movement that fits best into your life and brings you joy.
Whether it’s a simple walk through your neighborhood or a high intensity strength workout, all movement is good movement. Listen to your body, take rest days, eat wholesome delicious foods, and take the time to appreciate all your body does for you each day. Unfollow anyone who makes you feel bad about your body and never reserve your happiness for a later date or later weight. You are perfect as you are.