For better or worse, every decade in recent history has had its own iteration of the "fitness influencer." In the 80s, it was Jane Fonda and her VHS workout tapes, and in the 90s, it was Richard Simmons sweatin' it to the oldies. The early aughts saw Jillian Michaels rise to fame, and the 2012 launch of the 'Bikini Body Guide" catapulted Kayla Itsines to international prominence. We've long turned to famous faces to guide us through our fitness routines, but when Instagram launched in 2013, it made it possible (and pretty damn easy) for anyone with a matching sports bra and leggings set to become a #fitfluencer. And in the latest episode of The Well+Good Podcast, we're diving in on whether or not that's a good thing.
As our social media feeds have become flooded with influencers in brightly colored leggings and sports bras schilling #fitness content, it's become more and more difficult to discern what's legit. Which begs the question: Is it time to phase out the fitfluencer once and for all? To find out, Ella Dove, W+G's Director of Creative Development, sat down with three industry insiders—Charlee Atkins, founder of Le Sweat; Simone De La Rue, founder of Body By Simone; and Dr. Rick Richey, an exercise science pro who specializes in trainer education at the National Academy of Medicine—and the consensus was that we, as consumers, need to be more discerning about who we trust.
Listen to the full episode here
Part of the issue, the experts say, is the nature of social media in general. "[It's] a vicious cycle, because when you're promoting content, the stuff that performs the best is usually the least factual stuff or the terms that aren't scientifically correct," says Atkins. This means that in order for influencers to grow their followings—which, ultimately, can help them grow their businesses—they're forced to make the decision between posting something that's factually correct or something that will get them the most likes. "What sells is 'toning,' 'lengthening,' 'burn,' 'booty,'—all of these words that didn't have definitions until the fitness industry created them," says Atkins. ".... And so those of us who are in the fitness industry and promoting our products, for us to reach a larger market we're almost forced to also use those terms."
It's worth noting that Atkins and De La Rue both have hundreds of thousands of followers of their own, but the difference between them and many of the other #fitfluencers on your feed is the fact that they have the appropriate training certifications to support the content their serving. "Every single person on the planet is sharing what they eat and how they exercise with nothing to back that up," says De La Rue. "... There are so many young people getting information [on social media], but just because someone looks fabulous in a bra top and leggings does not mean that they are qualified to give you that information."
Relying exclusively on unqualified influencers to dictate your fitness regimen presents its fair share of potential problems. On the one hand, you could seriously hurt yourself, and on the other, you could work out nonstop and never actually see any results. Because of this, it's become increasingly important for consumers to educate themselves before putting blind faith in any influencer who pops up on their "discover" page. "Do a little research," says De La Rue. "You just have to go online or go into someone's website and see what their qualifications are. If they've got a certification... you know that you're in good hands."
Of course, that doesn't mean you need to smash the "unfollow" button on every fitfluencer on your feed. To find out how to better curate your feed—and take advantage of all of the truly great fitness content that social media has to offer—check out the full conversation here.
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