Updated: Feb 21, 2019
Like many people I am an enthusiastic, if measured, user of social media.
Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and Google+, I use them all to both reach out to those interested in my work and to stay connected to those around me. It is strange to think, however, that social media as we know it today has only been the all-pervasive force in our lives that it is for a few short years.
There was a time before we broadcast ourselves via the internet and turned a camera (because social media is, essentially, a visual medium) on how we want the world to see us. Not so much who or what we are, but how we would ideally like to be, in a superficial sense.
Is this a good thing, for us as individuals and for society more generally?
Only time will tell if this powerful form of connectivity builds a stronger and increasingly stable self and world, or whether what it is actually being created are millions of more fractured and insecure individuals and a more dangerous planet.
The jury is out, and will probably remain out for some time to come on this issue (though the recent developments with Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are not exactly encouraging).
In the fitness industry, both for the professionals who operate in the market and for the consumers who engage with it, I find the use of social media to be fascinating. Not only in the way that it encourages a 'shop window' effect, all mirrors and tanned tattoos, perfect teeth and youthful smiling at the camera; but also in the propagation of the fitness ideal (particularly for men) that goes on via the use of social media.
For casual observers the world of the professional fitness trainer and gym-goer may appear to be one of perpetual, almost flip confidence and constant dedication to discipline where diet and exercise is concerned. Jocular, youthful narcissism is encouraged in this environment, while self-doubt is frowned upon; to be perfect in the gym is to be aspired to, just as much as insecurity and occasional failure is to be condemned.
We are to be judged on our superficial successes that can only be measured, apparently, in our Likes.
But the truth, as I have discovered over the years whilst working in the industry, is that the gym floor can be as complicated place as any other part of our society, marked by the same insecurities and human failings as any other. It can be a place of quick wins taking on the grandeur of long-term achievements, and where filtered photographs can gain the same accolades as painfully delivered art.
It can be an unmediated den of unrestrained ego.
In short, rather than being some magical happiness factory, it is in fact the same in its underlying principles as any other arena of our lives, populated with the exactly the same kinds of people with the same sort of problems as anyone else, but with better lighting and tighter clothing.
I am a firm advocate of a healthy, fitness lifestyle and of the benefits of challenging and structured exercise. I believe that without these components our lives can be less fulfilling, weaker, more vulnerable to illness or injury and not as enjoyable as when we are able to engage with the world around us with energy and commitment.
I applaud those who train and attain.
But beware the lure of the unmastered ego and the immediate appeal of online applause. Because the truth of the matter is that in the real world we are respected for our qualities of character and appreciated for our strengths as individuals.
Which, at the end of the day, is far better and healthier than being Liked.