Making sense of the Instagram fitness army

There is an extremely popular trend of charting your fitness journey on Instagram.

Written by Lia Grogan


You better watch out, there’s an army on Instagram. It’s an army kitted out with smoothies, flawless tans, hashtags and candy-coloured Nike Frees (But no candy. Candy isn’t allowed). The fitness industry always does big business at the turn of the New Year, and this time around they have their marketing techniques down to a tee. I’m sure you’ve heard – fit is the new skinny. Instagram timelines are slowly becoming a reel of glutes, abs and quads. We flock to these sculpted individuals, looking for answers. We want a magic recipe to acquire the, ‘dream body.’ Fitness gurus can give us that, and more.

Kayla Itsines is one such fitness guru. She is young, Australian, impeccably white-toothed and – of course – fit. Her followers are loyal and even have their own hashtag – #thekaylamovement. Itsines’ product is her, ‘BBG' – her Bikini Body Training Guide. The BBG however, has an essential edge. On the 11th page of her eBook, a ‘photo criteria,’ is outlined. She suggests participants take, ‘before,’ photos prior to starting her program. On page 12, Itsines gives a final note in which she states, ‘feel free to upload and tag me.’ There is nothing she enjoys more than seeing her advice help other women change their lives – apparently.

Whether or not there is an element of truth to Itsines’ altruistic mantra, it certainly works. Women upload their body transformation photos in their hundreds, and Itsines reposts them to her own Instagram. Often, spectators are supportive in the comments beneath these photos. They offer encouragement and awe, express delight. In equal measure, they make derogatory remarks out of envy, apathy or plain vindictiveness. Yet, Itsines has amassed almost two million Instagram followers, and BBG eBooks continue to fly off the eShelves.

Sometimes I feel very alienated by the Instagram, ‘fitspiration,’ I engage in. The collection of carefully chosen, filtered and edited photos becomes a breeding ground for superficiality and falsity. Judgements are exchanged like currency and people quickly lose sight of what’s real and what’s not. It concerns me, because for many like me, The Kayla Movement is not just an online movement. You can spot us crammed into the gym in the evening. We’ll be sweating, squatting, starting and stopping, all within the 28 minute duration. I count my fellow BBG girls as friends. More often than not, there is a wonderful sense of solidarity and support. However, as teenage girls, we inevitably view each other with a harsh and critical eye. There are always whispers, and we will continue to look at each other. I often wonder about the merits of the whole BBG experience and whether or not it is just a farce. Even so, I take part in it. Comparison and competition are excellent motivators, as are positive, chirpy slogans.

As one of my personal favourites states, “the hardest lift of all is lifting your butt off the couch.” Kayla Itsines’ success along with that of countless other fitness gurus is all down to initial motivation and, ‘fitspiration.’ When I first became interested in fitness, my self-esteem was at rock bottom and I had a hunch in my shoulders. I was extremely uncomfortable in my own skin. I began to exercise out of vanity. I, like so many others, desired that, ‘dream body,’ above all else. However, somewhere along the line, it becomes less about the, ‘results,’ and more about the ritual. Exercise feels good and as it becomes a habit, it grows into an addiction. It is an addiction that makes your heart, body and mind stronger and in my opinion, a wonderful addiction.

As I have progressed on my, ‘fitness journey,’ my motivation has changed. I have grown to accept that the body I see in the mirror will never be that of a Victoria’s Secret model, but it can be strong and vibrant. I look forward to exercising now, not because of the goal body at the end of it all, but because it releases stress and calms my nerves. What began as an egotistical mission to achieve the, ‘dream body,’ has become a central part of what gives me balance in my life.

To me it has become clear that initial motivation is irrelevant. We are all vain creatures at heart and want to better ourselves, physically or otherwise. When I see a newcomer at the the gym, I remind myself not to stick up my nose, regardless of whether or not they’re doing squats correctly. I remember that I had to start somewhere, just as Kayla Itsines and anyone else did. The intention is there and with some dedication they can begin to see exercise for what it really is. As one of my favourite Instagram fitness gurus and yogis, Jessica (@HealthyxJessx) advises, “Change how you see, not how you look.” She admits that she too used to see exercising as a means to an end, but also that working out is now more about what it does for her on the inside.

We all grow to understand the true benefits of fitness eventually. External results just come as part of the package. Whether that desire to change stems from desperation, boredom or an Instagram photo of a fitness guru, depends on consequence. It is the journey, not the beginning, that counts. Yogi Jessica summed it up for me when she said, “Any physical changes that happen to my body are an amazing side effect of how I like to live my life, how I look does not define who I am.” Maybe if we all tried to remember this, the Instagram fitness army would be less intimidating and a bit more uplifting, regardless of whether or not you have a six pack.

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