At first, this doesn’t seem like much of a statement. After all, we say it all the time. But most people don’t really bother to try applying that statement to the fitness industry, and in particular, to their image of the way athletes and fitness models should look.
We see images of male and female athletes on magazine covers all the time, and they look fabulous. We see videos of competitors pumping iron, and they look fantastic. We see shirtless actors in movies all the time. There’s nothing wrong with admiring a good body here and there, but the problem is that it’s easy to take these images at face value. It’s easy to imagine that we should all look like that.
The reality is that most of these images are carefully crafted to hide all the negative bits, so that all that you can see is the positive ones. A guy wearing a tank top in a fitness video might look like he has great musculature because of his massive arms and shoulders, but that tank top obscures his belly, where most people tend to store their excess weight - chances are, his abs aren’t as well defined. A bodybuilder on the cover of a fitness magazine looks amazing - but that body is a temporary state created for competition, and it’s unlikely that that bodybuilder looks like that year round due to the difficulty involved. Blemishes are photoshopped out. Pictures are warped to make certain muscles look larger. Pictures never display the struggle that went into them, or the effort spent carefully crafting a lifestyle and set of habits that could produce the body needed.
With the rise of the internet and the growth of data, we have this sort of “always on” expectation where we expect our favorite fitness role models to deliver content consistently, year round. They need to be constantly putting out videos or blog posts or instagram pictures in order to develop a business and establish themselves. In this way, they can make money doing what they love, and that’s great! But the problem is, that often means that more misdirection has to happen to appear as perfect as possible.
With the internet, everyone is expected to be perfect at everything. Have an amazing powerlifting total? Haha, bet you can’t run more than five minutes without falling over. Got a bit of extra weight because you’re not in season for a competition? Haha, you’re fat. Have an amazing powerlifting squat? Haha, an Olympic lifter could get way deeper than you. Injured yourself during training? Haha, they know someone who wouldn’t have gotten injured in that situation because of some bogus magic trick they’re trying to peddle.
Fitness professionals are being held to a much higher standard than ever, and that standard is impossible because it requires that we be the best possible at a wide variety of astoundingly different disciplines, that is, that we somehow specialize in everything at once. This is, quite simply, impossible. We’re expected to be as strong as a powerlifter, as lean and jacked as a bodybuilder, as durable as a marathon runner. We’re expected to eat nothing but kale and broccoli and chicken and rice, and we’re expected to sweat for eight hours a day while holding down a full time job.
Nobody’s perfect. But the problem is that we often have to pretend to be in order to make a following, and that’s a problem for both sides. The dialogue escalates, each fitness professional has to seem more perfect than the last. Meanwhile, fans see this “perfection” and think that they need to aspire to it.
The truth is that no one is a perfect fitness role model. Everyone has issues. Some of the best lifters and athletes in the world are that way because of their amazing genetics, and manage to look amazing and succeed despite some bizarrely head-turning habits. Many of us have extremely warped ideas of what fitness is, but the reality is that fitness is just a journey towards self-improvement. You’re looking to get better, and you’re just putting one foot in front of the next.
One step at a time, anyone can get better. That’s all it takes. Everything else is just misdirection.