My bum never looks this good in jeans,” “your figure is incredible,” and “I aim for a booty this peachy” are all comments under fitness blogger and influencer Carys Gray’s most recent Instagram post. The caption includes an advertisement for jeans accompanied by a motivational message to her followers encouraging them to exercise hard. Gray is only one example of a fitness mogul, a self-proclaimed expert in their field, and a contributor to gym culture on social media. Gym and fitness culture on platforms like Instagram have transformed public attitudes towards exercise attributable to the “you can do it too” mantra endorsed by fitness influencers. However, this demanding lifestyle of clean eating, meal prepping, and weight lifting has evolved into a cult-like subculture that glorifies strict fitness regimes and promotes an unhealthy obsession with working out.
An oversaturation of fitness content exists online at the hands of influencers, most of whom preach “correct” dieting and healthy appearances, spewing medical jargon on social media despite not being experts on health and wellbeing. “Before and after” selfies exist on Instagram to celebrate an influencer’s hard work and progress, but these selfies epitomise the conflation of fitness and beauty that gym culture encourages. Body positivity is marketed primarily towards hypermuscular males with washboard abs and lean, thin females who are urged to focus solely on gluteal and abdominal workouts but, paradoxically, “gymfluencers” defend the ideology that progress is about looking good rather than feeling good while reminding their followers not to compare themselves to anyone else.
Fitness influencers often build businesses once they have established their online presence, becoming creators of the exercise plans that they sell. They are living proof that these regimes are successful, but the admiration and idolisation of online figures by their cult following contributes to a follower’s vulnerability, allowing for easy marketing of products and business models. Fitness influencers’ followers buy into the products they endorse – figure hugging and butt-accentuating Gymshark leggings are popular in the fitness community and blogger Grace Fit UK sells resistance bands that help to “achieve” the perfect bum and gluteal muscles. But why do we accept and support this association of the perfect body with the images and products sold to us by fitness influencers? Are we ignoring the negative impacts of the fetishisation of online gym culture because we are convincing ourselves that we are aiming for progress, not perfection?