Rise of the gym selfies

Last updated 09:47 01/08/2013
Fitness selfies
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FITNESS SELFIES: The Rock, Irina Shayk and Ireland Baldwin share their gym sessions with the world (something most of us would shudder at the thought of doing).

Fitness selfies
RE-RE-WIND: Craig David releases more half-naked selfies than he does singles these days.

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Here she is, front on, T-shirt lifted to reveal abs that bring to mind the sectioned torso of a ninja turtle. And here, a calf muscle or a bicep or two tanned arse cheeks squeezed into black hot pants. And here she is again in tight, fluoro attire that I guess are gym clothes because she's wearing trainers.

The Instagram frame is spliced into three sections, each showing a different angle so we can fully experience the curve of her waist, her cellulite-free thighs, her powerful shoulders.

Are you for or against? Fitness selfies are everywhere: gym check-ins, Twitter updates of muddy runners at the True Grit finish line, and friends dripping sweat and self-congratulation onto Facebook feeds. Just check out #gym and #gymflow on Instagram - there's a lot of people intent on proving their fitness wins to the digital world.

"When we take a photo of ourselves and post it on social media, we are trying to communicate a specific message," says Kellie Hodder, a psychologist at Bodymatters Australasia, an eating disorders clinic.

"In the case of gym selfies, we are attempting to convey perhaps that we are hardworking. The pursuit of health is seen as something to be revered in society. Fitness and health have moral meanings attached. People who pursue health and fitness are viewed as being disciplined, motivated, controlled and valued members of society.'

A smug gym selfie doubles as a visual brag then, declaring with false nonchalance, "I'm better than you." Unhealthy people are perceived as lazy and undisciplined, so by posting a photo at the gym we are sharing our moral worth.

When I'm scrolling through my newsfeed, working through half a block of Dairy Milk and on my fourth cup of milky, sugary earl grey, the last thing I want to see are shiny bodies in lycra bursting from my screen.

People who only eat egg white omelettes and pretend they like the taste of kale in post-gym smoothies want the social media world to know that they are strong. And the rest of us, who sleep-in on drizzly mornings, are weak.

Gym selfies exude an irritating moral high ground. And your suspicion that these people care more about illustrating their lives rather than experiencing it, like teenagers videoing a rock concert, it's often true.

Social media continues to erode private space, and now every personal victory is broadcast. Our every action, including our fitness regimes, are constantly out there, creating a sense that our lives are on display.

Hodder shows concern that we construct our experiences through images. Instead of creating a meaningful life, we concentrate on presenting it to others.

"The other aspect of this is that people begin to believe that in order to be successful, their achievements need to be acknowledged publicly,"she says.

"What we are looking for is validation and praise that what we are doing makes us worthy."

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But we are only praised if we fit the mould. Consider this meme, captioned "Strong is the new skinny" with a picture of a thin, young woman wearing a padded sports bra and lifting gloves. But she has one arm resting on her head in a classic gesture of submission, and is gazing demurely at the ground. Strong? I only see a culture of beauty obsession masked with a new hashtag.

"Gym selfies have the intent of obtaining praise for how fit or attractive the body looks," Hodder says. "So essentially, people are looking for validation that their body looks good."

Gym selfies of women with inexplicably perfect hair, are all about complying with a beauty norm.

"This contributes to the mentality that our bodies are objects that are on display and exist to be judged," Hodder says. "In addition to this, it perpetuates the belief that in order to be healthy, our bodies should look a certain way or be a particular size."

Any culture that demands a particular conformity may be damaging. "Thinspiration" and "pro-ana" sites are forums where young women encourage each other to starve themselves. Thinspiration has a new incarnation in gym selfies that Hodder calls "fitspiration".

"What makes this movement problematic and damaging is that the focus is on the aesthetic rather than health and wellbeing," she says. "The photos we generally see in fitspiration images show one type of body, shape and size. This communicates the misleading message that fitness and health are related to the appearance of one's body.'

I'm not going to lie - a newsfeed without duck faces or Lorna Jane would be a relief. So friends, I humbly request of you: decide that you are brilliant and special without Facebook validation. Embrace your individual beauty and if you want, get healthy, but don't post a photo about it.

- Daily Life

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