The Lion in Instagram's Gym

“You’re not skinny like the rest of girls in class…” my male classmate informed me during a Math lesson in tenth grade. It was a a day where I felt comfortable and proud, and I opted for an outfit that involves wearing a tight shirt and shorts.

At five foot seven and a half, with naturally well-endowed legs, arms, and stomach, I welcomed the Instagram fitness generation with open arms. Finally! Here were some mainstream representations of curvy women who diverged from the five-foot-eleven-legs-up-to-heaven-Jack-Wills-thigh-gap-Tumblr aesthetic I’d grown up with. I could finally embrace my short ‘scrum-half’ thighs, the anxiety over which had, among a complex multitude of other factors, contributed to an eating disorder from the age of fifteen to nineteen.

Between Blogilates at the end of the fitness spectrum and the protein-powered bodybuilders at the other, came a hoard of girl-next-door hourglass influencers with their “strong not skinny” slogans and progress shots, providing us with resources and hope that we might one day achieve that level of their “thickness” and see the light at the end of our own “fitness journeys.” However, what has become clear to me more recently is that as long as social media is fueling the fitness industry, our ‘journey’ will never end; new paths will form, and it will keep changing direction depending on the fickle barrage of images illuminating our phones each day.

Unsurprisingly, this can lead to dysmorphia and relentless perfectionism, and it is no healthier than watching Victoria Secret adverts. Because you find yourself trying to enlarge your bum but not your thighs or tone your arms without making them “bulky.” Or you may exercise your chest and put weight on your boobs but not your stomach. It makes bodily satisfaction practically impossible, because there is always more work to be done. And then, it’s no longer just a case of “booty gains” but of sculpting your “side booty”, “upper booty”, “under booty” (who KNEW there were so many different parts of booty?) and suddenly your Instagram Discover page is a veritable minefield of at-home workout videos by beautiful women in wonderful shape all doing the same exercises. It is so hard to take your eyes off of these women but before you know it, you end up operating like the exercise machines you use.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t save pretty much all of the aforementioned workouts for my gym sessions, and that I don’t feel great when my bum feels perky — the overwhelming irony of this article is that I am a complete slave to what I’m critiquing — but when you’re in the gym doing 40 donkey kicks on one side and you start thinking about how ridiculous it actually is, it does break the spell a little.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to feel and look good. But it still capitalizes on insecurity while making us feel like we are entirely our own agents. We are told that we are in control of our bodies and our workout plans, but we’re still subscribing to an exhausting ideal that has just as much capacity for self-loathing, physical shame, and guilt as the other extreme. What starts as an easy and empowering method of toning up can often end in a desire to sculpt every limb to perfection.

Will I stop utilizing these Instagram workouts and attempt to switch off from this gym generation? Probably not, no. But it’s still important to be aware of that lion lurking in the shadows, and how addictive this healthier approach to achieving body confidence can become. As with everything nowadays, it feels like we’re so focused on becoming that we forget to simply be.