in my opinion: perceived healthiness and the body myth
Michelle Bridges’ exercise and diet plan. Ashy Bines’ Bikini Body Challenge. Clean Eating. Healthy Living Tips. You may have noticed a recent proliferation of these kind of pages on social media of late. Some seem to be more legitimate than others (Ashy Bines has been accused both of ripping off those who paid for her program and not being able to spell). Following a ‘clean eating’ instagram account myself, called The Healthy Change, I see the appeal. Not only do they meet an apparent need for food porn, they provide inspiration and ideas for ways to eat better in a world of Double Downs and such.
However, the issue with these pages is that although they start out reinforcing the healthy eating and exercise ethic; eat better and exercise more, you’ll feel better! – it’s soon apparent they fall back the favourite cash cow of the dieting industry – poor self-esteem.
Interspersed between pictures of delicious looking bowls of berries, yoghurt, muesli, salmon and colourful salads, are pictures of women, who all wouldn’t look out of place in a Lorna Jane ad (I am loath to refer to a Melinda Tankard Reist article, but she addresses one of these campaigns here and makes the right points) – tanned, slim, muscular, crop-top wearing. These pictures are often accompanied by “tags” (and these are ones I’ve pulled directly from pictures on ‘The Healthy Change’, an Instagram account I follow) such as thinspo, skinny, collarbones, perfect and boobs. These are juxtaposed with words invoking more positive images such as fitness, strong, motivation and exercise.
This is where the message gets lost. You’re not eating well and exercising for good health or personal weight loss goals anymore. You’re eating pieces of apple and cottage cheese for projecting collarbones, gaps between your thighs and abs. More disturbing is the use of the colloquial “thinspo” which is an abbreviation of “thinspiration” – a movement associated with anorexia and appearing to be anorexic.
As someone who embarked on the fitness experiment myself this year and has gone from being able to barely remain upright and moving for 10 minutes to being able to complete a 10km fun run AND beat at least 15 people who weren’t a) either under 16 or over 60 and b) not pushing prams, I can vouch for the fact that being fit does not equal abs nor an instant tan. I’m fitter than I’ve ever been in my life but my body shape has hardly shifted. I’ll probably never not have chunky legs or a squishy stomach. I also acknowledge I’ll probably never not have eating as a favourite activity. But I digress. What I really resent is that body image is still so closely aligned with leading a healthier lifestyle (for a great piece on this and a new feminist hero/girl crush, check out Fit & Feminist).
For women, self worth is still so closely associated with the size and shape of their body that they often come to these diets and plans wanting the quick fix, rather than seeing it for what it can be, which is a first step in the gradual stages of making changes to your lifestyle. But they need to stop using a “hot body” as draw card, and inject a decent dose of reality to these sorts of movements.