Body Image and the Media

Hey all, this is Sam wishing you a happy bank holiday weekend!

As most of you know I have been working hard these last few weeks to finish my final assignment for my degree with the Open University! This year in particular has been about contemporary issues in sport and exercise and has helped me really get critical over what we see in the media, how we may be unknowingly brainwashed from a young age and how to find good scientific studies in order to make up our own mind about a subject.

My topics included how "everything we know about nutrition is wrong", which was a fascinating eye opener to see how governments and media have been influenced by bad science and big corporations. I've looked at gender inequality in sport, which ranged from the obvious such as male athletes being the highest paid and their sports being the most visible on tv, to the subtle such as the comparison of camera angles and use of gender-stereotyping language during coverage of Olympic sports and athletics. I've researched what up-to-date knowledge there is about how effective recovery strategies are, comparing compression gear or sports massage and the value of studies done (interestingly, there is still no clear answers - most of the proof is psychological as opposed to physiological).

My final topic which has been my focus for the last 5 months has been about body image. More specifically it has been about how Instagram as a social media platform affects women, how we feel about our bodies and how it then impacts our engagement with exercise. What a big subject right?! It has been so fascinating and, as with all the previous topics it has really made me consider my own journey and my reasons for training a certain way or eating a certain way.

The most interesting things I discovered from my assignment are as follows:

In a survey by the Royal Society for Public Health, Instagram was rated THE worst for mental health in young people - particularly in regards to body image.

Women that engage in fitness based hashtags such as #fistpiration/#fitspo or #thinspiration/#thinspo are more likely to feel more negatively about their own body image when viewing these images and therefore more inspired to exercise but potentially in a disordered way.

#Bodypositivity or #curvyfit type posts promoting fitness for health reasons are less likely to inspire women to take a disordered approach to diet and exercise and are a couple of examples of a changing trend.

However, many of the 'healthy' hashtags even including #bodypositivity/#bopo tend to show young, attractive, slim white women who can be difficult to relate to.

Research looking at the impact that manipulated/touched up/filtered posts have on women show that photo-editing can still be seen as a 'normal' view of what a woman should look like, potentially giving us an unreal expectation of what we can or should achieve in the way we look.

Through the years we have been sold a lifestyle of what we should look like, mostly through big corporations, the diet industry, fashion magazines/media. Instagram is a space where we connect at a more trusting level with the images we see, yet they can still impact us in a negative way.

Ideas to help avoid being impacted negatively through social media is to unfollow accounts that do not bring you any feeling of positivity - in fact follow accounts that make you smile! Maybe try to limit your time on social media - Ash has recently downloaded an app that will show him how long he is spending on different apps! Remind yourself how awesome you are, what amazing things you can do with your body! If you do post pictures of yourself on social media, try and get avoid the habit of always choosing the one where you look 'thinner' or 'prettier' or with the 'perfect smile' - show YOU, because YOU are already amazing!

We have had many years of conditioning to believe that we must look a certain way, so it we cant expect to change these habits overnight, but being more aware of how images affect how we feel about ourselves is one step closer to avoiding guilt-induced training.

Sam and Ash

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