How The Fitness Industry Is Destroying Women's Body Image - StrongLife

How The Fitness Industry Is Destroying Women’s Body Image


Is the fitness industry having a negative impact on women’s body image, confidence and self esteem?

Is it a cause for concern among teenagers and young girls especially?

Today, I’m going to highlight my concerns with the way things are going and the effect it’s having on women.


A few weeks ago, I wrote an article on the negative impact the fitness industry is having on teenage boys.

It was actually a very popular article and highlighted issues that many spoke to me about.

Body image issues are fairly new to us men, however, they’ve been a long time issue among girls.

So hopefully the following will resonate with you on a few levels.

The History Of Body Image Pressure

Pick up any magazine from any decade and you will see headlines, pictures and articles targeted at females based on their phyqisue.

You will see them all promoting a certain way to look, especially when it comes to the size of your body.

We’ve had decades where stick thin was the only way to look.

Your level of beauty was determined on what size clothes you wore.

Women were dieting themselves into unhealthy situations just so they could declare they were a size zero.

The thoughts of clothes shopping was a nightmare as you didn’t want anyone to see you wore a size 14.

Everywhere you look, you were bombarded with images and headlines promoting skinny bodies and harsh diets to achieve such a physique.

Then of course you have the endless amount of weight loss pills, potions and powders with the promise of helping you drop 10 pounds in 33 minutes while crying into your pillow.

Add in the pressure from ‘fashion’ companies and clothing lines that require a certain shape of body.

(Keep in mind, I’m a 31 year old male so the term ‘fashion’ means shorts and a hoody to me!)

There’s nothing more disheartening than spotting some jeans and a nice top on the rails.

Yet when you enter the changing room and slip them on, your heart sinks.

You look in the mirror and feel disgusted.

You hate how they look on your body and you suddenly feel terrible about yourself.

What was meant to be a nice day out has left you completely demoralised.

Your levels of self worth, self esteem and confidence just took a beating.

Standing there, you start to wish you had a flatter stomach, why can’t your stupid love handles go away, and why can’t you have skinny thighs like other girls.

But the scenarios, the magazines, the clothes shops, they all required you physically going to seek them out.

You had to go to the shop to buy/see the magazines and the clothes.

Sure you even had to hear that crackling of the dial up connection to go online.

You weren’t subjected to constant scrutiny of how you looked and felt about yourself.

But now, in 2018, we carry that constant barrage of visual impressions in our pockets or our handbags.

The Smartphone, The Carrier Of Constant Self Criticism

First thing in the morning, last thing at night, we flick open a world of visuals.

We subject ourselves to images, videos, articles or every possible genre known.

If you’re into looking after your health and fitness, then you more than likely follow many gym/trainer pages.

So every single day, you’re exposing yourself to images of fit, lean, toned bodies.

You flick through your Facebook newsfeed –  ads for gyms, diets, shakes, plans and more fly by.

After a few minutes you flick over to Instagram for a nose.

A few more scrolls of looking at everyone living a perfect life.

There’s girls with toned bodies, abs, on holidays or hanging with amazing boyfriends/husbands.

The ‘influencers’ are on there 24-7 making sure you take notice of them.

But after a while, this seeps deep into your own mind.

You start to question – “Why don’t I look like that, why can’t I lose weight”.

You’d love to look like them, you’d love to live like them.

Yet here you sit on your bed, empty tub of Ben & Jerry’s beside you from last nights pity party, a little roll of belly hanging over the top of your pants and you’re tired.

Yet here’s Sally on Instagram in her brand new gym pants and crop top that almost lets you see what she had for dinner last night.

“6am cardio session hun, gotta burn those calories #20%discountcode”.

There she is with her makeup perfect, hair done, tan done, nails done and looking like she’s ready for a night out, yet she’s in the gym at 6am being your #inspiration #fitfam.

You lie there looking at your phone.

Then you look at yourself.

Hair wild like a bush in a hurricane, struggling to comprehend what planet you’re on because you’ve not had coffee yet.

And let’s not talk about that long overdue eyebrow appointment.

You feel fat, tired and sad.

Your confidence is rocky, your self esteem is in decline and you don’t love your own body.

That’s before you open your phone.

Social media can be like pouring petrol on a fire.

If you already have underlying unhappiness or issues with your body, it will surely exacerbate it.

Everywhere you look you will see images of what a ‘perfect body’ should look like.

So many images and videos won’t inspire you, instead they will highlight your own insecurities and flaws.

But don’t for one second worry about it.

Because everyone has flaws.

Everyone has insecurities.

As humans, we strive to become better.

We rarely settle for what we have –  be it finances, experiences or our own physique.

No matter how perfect someone’s life seems online, it’s never a true representation.

And if anyone tells you that their life is perfect then it’s absolute bullshit.

As I tell clients, even Beyoncé’s farts smell.

So be careful of what you believe.

The Reality Of What You See Online

My advice to everyone is this – take every image or video you see with a pinch of salt.

Instead, look at the context behind them.

An image is a millisecond of a persons life.

A video may be a minute.

And in 2018, both of those will be curated, planned, edited, photoshopped,  filtered, angled, lighting enhanced,… you get the picture?

Images online are the furthest thing from reality.

It’s getting easier and easier to portray a certain images of ‘success’ online these days.

You can filter, edit and crop images to enhance how you look.

Add in posing and photoshop and you can literally become anything you want.

But are we really kidding anyone but ourselves?

If we all went and edited our photos to suck in our waist, makes our thighs smaller and boobs bigger, then we’d never be able to leave the house.

Because no matter how or what we portray online, it’s very easy to find out the truth in person.

So here’s some factors I want you to consider the next time you begin to judge yourself based on an image you see online:

  • How long have they been dieting to look like that?
  • How many years have they been training?
  • Are they using any substances to achieve such a look?
  • Have they manipulated lighting/filters, or altered their pics on photoshop/apps.
  • Did they dehydrate themselves to just get that one photo?
  • How many times a day do they train?
  • Do they punish themselves with exercise after eating ice cream?
  • Are they happy in life?
  • Have they a positive relationship with their body, mind and food?
  •  Are they enjoying themselves or spending every day obsessing over how they look and what they eat?
  •  Are they a nice person?
  • Is their levels of self-worth directly in relation to how many ‘likes’ they get online?
  • Do they suffer with disordered eating?

Then I want you to ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I happy?
  • Do I have good friends and family?
  • Do I enjoy my job?
  • Am I healthy?

It’s very easy to get bogged down and feel so little of yourself because of your perception of others.

It can be quite debilitating and is a cause for concern when it comes to mental health.

Nobody should ever question their own self worth based on someone else’s life.

We should focus on ourselves, our own happiness, health and self worth.

If we choose to constantly compare ourselves to others, then we will never spend time find out who we really are ourselves.

It can be easier to say this.

No matter how strong of a mind you have, you WILL have off days where you let it creep in.

But it’s about removing yourself from it all and get back to focusing on yourself.

“Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today”


Who You Should Look To For Motivation

We live in a time where anyone with a smart phone can become an “influencer”.

A term referring to how many ‘likes’ or ‘followers’ one has.

This, for some strange reason, dictates that this person should be one we look up to and gain motivation and advice from.

Yet it promotes the idea that we should focus on how many, likes and followers we get online rather than how good we can live life off it.

It gives me the impression that we should all look up to someone who spends all day on their phone showing you what they had for dinner, airing their inconveniences or telling you what toilet paper they find best for wiping the glitter and rainbows.

(I assume they use €50 notes).

Among younger girls, the whole role of an influencer can be dangerous.

Teenage girls are very impressionable and will follow advice a lot easier without any real evidence to back it up.

They can crave the stardom and image of the great life projected online.

But in reality, they shouldn’t look to online for influence and motivation.

Instead, they should look to the single mother who manages to get her kids to school, football, training, study, keeps the bills and house in order while working every minute she can.

They should look to the woman who has gone through the heartache of losing a child, yet still gets on with life and can still find rays of happiness.

They should look to the women of the world who were born into poverty, yet smile as they walk 10km every day to get water for their kids to drink.

These are the true women of the world who we can gain inspiration and motivation from.

But you won’t find them updating their instagram every hour.

Instead, they’re busy getting on with life.

No matter how tough things get, they get on with it and keep going.

They build resolve and are the workers of the world.

And the best things is –  they walk among us every single day.

So put down the phone every now and again and get to know those around you.

What To Focus On

So it’s time to start wrapping this up now.

And I want to leave you with what you should focus on:


That’s the ultimate goal for you.

Focus on yourself, your happiness, your health (mental and physical), your wellbeing.

Celebrate all the amazing things you’re able to do with your body, and less on what you cannot do.

Fuel it with good food, limit the bad stuff.

Maintain a healthy bodyweight, this is a major factor in longevity.

Life some weights.

I honestly don’t mind if you don’t do it in StrongLife Gym, but find someone to show you and programme some weight lifting for you.

I’ve yet to meet a girl who has not massively boosted her confidence, self esteem, body image and love for their body by lifting weights.

That and the fact that getting strong will develop your mind and turn you into a strong, independent woman!

Laugh lots, go on adventures, challenge yourself and don’t be afraid to step outside your own comfort zone.

If someone or something online is affecting your mentally, then block or unfollow it.

What’s out of sight is out of mind.

Surround yourself with those that have your best interests at heart, and remove those who don’t.

Talk less about others, talk more about events, adventures and ideas.

Life is meant to be fun.

Make sure and do what you can to keep it that way.

And most of all, never be afraid to talk.

A problem shared is a problem halved.

And finally, to all new moms out there, you may be struggling with your body image now.

But don’t stress that you might not look like you did pre-pregnancy.

Instead, celebrate the fact that you just done the most amazing thing a human can do.

Celebrate and love your child, because not everyone is as lucky.

Just make sure they don’t grow up to think they need to constantly pose in their underwear online just to try get some free gym gear!


Thank you for reading.



P.s. My article on the impact of the fitness industry on teenage boys is here: The Impact Of The Fitness Industry On Teenage Boys


Colm Duignan

Colm Duignan

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