The Wonderful World of Fitness Memes (or how to motivate by shaming, comparing and judging)

er...no, it's not. Strong is strong. End of story

er…no, it’s not. Strong is strong. End of story

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll remember my post a while back about my favourite fitness memes.

Today, I’m coming at it from the other angle – fitness memes I cannot stand.

And there’s a lot to choose from.

Whether it’s the phony motivational quote superimposed over an impossibly ripped body, or the thinly veiled threats that scream: “workout or you’ll be a disgusting fatty!”, the field is wide open, and growing all the time.

I’m all for memes that inspire people to get off the couch and I’ve even posted quite a few on my facebook page but there’s a thin line between genuine encouragement and shaming folk.

Here are some repeat offenders:

well yes, but there are other reasons

well yes, but there are other reasons

I see this a lot in different forms. It is peddling the idea that we’re all busting our asses at the gym to make sure those asses are aesthetically pleasing.

Wrong.

There are umpteen reasons to exercise and only one of them is about what you look like. In fact, if you are only going to the gym to get the ‘perfect body’ (which, FYI, is a fictional, media-driven concept) then it’s very likely your exercise regime will fail.

If you’re there for superficial reasons then the gym is going to start feeling like a joyless prison of self-hatred. Workout for how it makes you feel, the amazing things your body can do and the long-lasting health benefits. Not (just) so you can wear those booty shorts.

lesson: you are weak and pathetic. Hate yourself

lesson: you are weak and pathetic. Hate yourself

These kind of shame memes are everywhere.

You see that athletic, muscled, trim goddess in the picture? Well she got that way because she has SELF CONTROL. If you don’t look like that, you have no self control. You are a lazy slob who needs a good kick in the pants.

In reality of course, the superbly toned model is probably blessed with good genes and adheres to an intense workout regime cos, y’know, looking like that is her job.

Mere mortals like us cannot compete. And that’s my issue with this. We shouldn’t have to compete. The only comparison we should be making is with our past selves ie “could I do this move four weeks ago?”, “am I recovering faster now because I’m fitter?”

So ditch the shame, because all the self control in the world won’t guarantee you’ll look like that.

yeah, she's totally holding her breath

yeah, she’s totally holding her breath

Fun fact: six packs are genetic. That’s right, you could roll through every ab move ever invented on a daily basis and still not have a six pack like the chick in the poster.

C’est la vie, as the French would say.

(actually they probably wouldn’t say that at all. They’d say: “stop obsessing over ridiculous things and go eat some brie.” )

This meme is a fusion of the above two, with the core messages being as follows:

  1. If you don’t workout really hard now then you’ll have to watch your tubby stomach later, cos you’ll be a fat fatty.
  2.  I’ve a tiny waist and steely abs because I sucked it up. Unlike you. Fatty.

*sigh*

oh really. My Saturday squat bootcamp begs to differ

oh really. My Saturday squat bootcamp begs to differ

Considering everyone has the same goal (to be fit and healthy), there’s an awful lot of snarking in the fitness community.

Runners look down on gym rats, zumba fiends look down on yoga bunnies, Crossfitters look down on cardio junkies*. There seems to be a strong sense of I’m right-you’re-wrong.

Take the above poster. Apparently unless you are a marathoner, you have no idea what tired is.

I don’t run. I hate running. I will never be a runner.

But I know what it feels like to exhaust myself with an intense workout. It might not be your idea of fun but so what? I don’t exercise for anyone but myself.

Find what works for you.

but I don't even like junk food!

but I don’t even like junk food!

Yeah, because it’s that simple. Junk food is completely cancelled out by exercise…uh huh.

Exercise shouldn’t be a mental game of “I can have that cookie, because I’ll burn it off in the gym.” Because that’s crazy talk.

Eat junk food if you want to eat junk food. But don’t kid yourself about cancelling it out at the gym. The repercussions of that mystery meat burger go way beyond calories (I’m talking GMOs, pesticides and the resulting inflammation and damage to your long term health).

Oh, and if you’re craving junk food then you’re likely not eating enough real food. Get some healthy fats down your neck.

you are weak! Be ashamed, be very ashamed!

you are weak! Be ashamed, be very ashamed!

This is a classic. Again it’s using shame to motivate – the inference being that if you are tired, you’re weak and should just push through.

While I’m all for giving it 100% in your exercise of choice, it’s irresponsible and dangerous to encourage people to ignore what their body is telling them.

Overtraining can put serious stress on your system and even shorten your life.

Weigh in: What’s your take on fitness memes? Do you find any of the above to be motivational? Where do you draw the line between encouraging and shaming?

*NB: Obviously this doesn’t apply to everyone who enjoys those exercises. I’m just making a point. Please don’t write me angry comments.

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15 thoughts on “The Wonderful World of Fitness Memes (or how to motivate by shaming, comparing and judging)

  1. I agree with you wholeheartedly. I am so tired of all those memes that are trying to shame us into “shape” or the perfect life…
    Sure, it’s great to get some motivation, but it should not be at the detriment of living a happy from shame and self flagellation life…
    Now, let’s eat some brie 😉

  2. I think you make a lot of sense, there are far too many negative messages out there that are damaging and breed self hate. I think the skill is in learning to navigate the negative messages so that they don’t gain any importance in your psyche and learn to be kind to yourself and create your own positive internal dialogue and not rely on finding it elsewhere.

    These kind of damning messages will only hold any weight in your own mind if you let them.

    • I think you hit the nail on the head with: “learn to be kind and create your own positive internal dialogue”. A healthy psyche can easily ignore and withstand all the junk messages we’re bombarded with. The trick is getting that healthy psyche!

      • That is the trick, and it can take years to develop but it’s worth it in the end. Yoga helped me; it’s through yoga that I silenced the negative internal dialogue, learned to love and accept myself, and developed the tools I need to pick myself up if I hit any lows. It’s been a true gift after 40 years of self attack!

  3. I LOVE the way you think. Not only are so many of these “motivations” not very physiologically accurate, but make pretty horrible assumptions. I would like to point out that all the “strong is the new skinny” posters feature a model that is…skinny.

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