Fitness should be fueled by the desire for health, not beauty standards

Exercise should be for you, not others

a rack of large dumbbells in a gym
PHOTO: Aria Amirmoini / The Peak

By: Sangwoong Choi, SFU Student

Content warning: mentions of eating disorders.

On Instagram and TikTok, workout videos are uploaded countless times a day. If you watch enough of them, you’ll likely feel guilty about your body image. It’s almost as if countless influencers are looking at you through the screen saying, “Hey, you there! How long are you going to sit there on your phone without exercising?” Many of these posts advance a narrow set of standards our bodies should supposedly meet to be accepted in society. This is damaging, and it prevents us from accepting our individuality.

With the recent rise of discussions about self-care and well-being, exercise has become a piece of content for views. Workout videos have turned into a means of being validated by others for your appearance. Displaying your so-called “perfect” body online is a common yet superficial way of being recognized. Ironically, the purpose of the self-care movement, which began with the genuine purpose of living well and accepting yourself, gradually shifted into a means of satisfying the desire to be admired.

People on social media make posts reflect the ever-changing standards held by countless users. If you build your body according to this set manual, your posts will be promoted on social media. In many fitness spaces, it doesn’t matter whether or not you are truly healthy. There’s this idea that it’s okay to wear yourself down as long as others view you as beautiful. The meaning of health has been extinguished, and it’s been replaced with showmanship and competition. Furthermore, a problematic belief is rising that says someone with a socially acceptable body is hardworking and diligent, while others are “unmotivated.” 

This phenomenon explains why social media’s diet culture has fallen into an obsession with fitness. People preoccupy their minds with attempts to meet other people’s standards, and as a result often suffer from eating disorders. Studies have found a relationship between too much high-intensity exercise and poor health: the stress of excessive exercise can harm one’s body and lead to serious health complications. You can see how dangerous the results of fitness obsession can be when an activity that should be health-oriented turns into an act to please others, rather than yourself. Fitness culture often overlooks the fact that everyone’s body is different, regardless of how often they may work out. 

It’s natural for us humans, who use digital technology daily, to participate in society and engage in exchanges through social media. After all, adapting to a new environment is an important part of human survival. However, the idea that we need to accept body standards that exclude or bring down members of society puts our health and well-beings at risk. We need to reconsider what the goals of exercise should be. Mental and physical health should be what drives our desire to be active, not superficial concepts of beauty.

Only you can define yourself — not others. Our lives are not meant to be lived according to other people’s body standards. Life is a long process of getting to know yourself. When you look in the mirror, you must have a conversation with yourself to find the true “you,” which others can’t discover on your behalf. Instagram is not a mirror. Starting today, rather than looking at others, why not find your true beauty that is different from others through conversation with yourself?