Guest Post: Three Rules to Help Keep your Fitness Social Media Experience Uplifting & Safe

Hello SRC Community! Kelsey here with a wonderful guest post from the lovely Adrienne Shirk.

Adrienne graduated from Millersville University (’04) and Villanova University (’14). As a native from central Pennsylvania, Adrienne is a fierce advocate for eating disorder awareness and hopes to write a book on the topic. For the past two years, Adrienne has been a volunteer coach for female runners at the collegiate level. In addition to being a “retired” distance runner, she is also a naturopath and nurse. Adrienne loves scrambled eggs (preferably with almond cheese and ketchup!) and is the creator of the AMAZING Instagram account @healthyhappyfast!

If you’re anything like me, you probably use social media as a place to connect almost-daily with a community of: positive people, fellow coaches or athletes, or friends who face similar goals and challenges. But fairly recent studies have also linked social media use – particularly Instagram – with increased rates of depression and body dissatisfaction. So, how can we reconcile the undeniably uplifting nature of our online community with the not-so-uplifting parts – comparison, competition, commercialization, and otherwise? It’s a question I’ve thought a lot about in using social media while recovering from a restrictive eating disorder, and it’s something I still often think about in my role as an online mentor to college athletes. Below are three rules that can help you make sure your own personal social media experience is, above all, a happy and helpful one.

  1. Make your own rules.

I cannot stress this enough. Everyone has a different perspective for what they see online, so there really isn’t a universally right answer that is going to fit everyone.

I get a bit upset when I see popular athletes repeatedly posting obviously under-nourishing meals – mainly because I know young athletes on our team who follow them and look up to them. However, someone else might see the same post and have a completely different evaluation and reaction to it. This is okay. Neither person is a bad person in this situation for having the opinion they do. And chances are, the person posting under-nourishing meals isn’t a bad person either: they’re probably struggling, maybe in ways they don’t even yet fully realize.

There is also no rule that says you cannot change your mind. You are completely entitled to change your mind if at any point something that once felt healthy and supportive no longer feels right. This is true for consent, this is true for friendships, and this is absolutely true for social media too.

  1. Remember that ad’s are NOT reality.

Okay, yes, most online advertisements can be kind of annoying, but if they promote an unhealthy lifestyle or product, they can actually also be quite damaging. If witnessing any online post or possible ad (it’s still often hard to tell which posts are endorsed) starts to make you question your own body image and value, please remember that almost all advertisements will do the following:

  • Promise results faster than any coach, professional, or physician will agree is healthy or even possible
  • Promote a product that is targeted to one, specific body part (or an aesthetic) rather than overall health & wellness
  • Place unrealistic (read: altered) images & ideals of women in ads for the sole purpose to convince you that you’re somehow flawed … so that you will spend money on their self-improvement product … to become un-flawed
  • Play on an (absolutely false) association between exterior shape / body type and interior worth & moral value

Your physical shape has nothing to do with your value as a person. The ‘perfect’ calves, magazine-worthy biceps, or flattest abs honestly don’t translate into guaranteed athletic potential or automatic success in a sport either.

Maybe most of this seems obvious, but on a bad body image day or in a particularly emotional moment, sometimes we momentarily forget our own beauty and worth and begin to believe the lies. For this reason, I often encourage my athletes to follow positive, real-life role models: women who are overcoming oppression, limitations, or disability; reputable coaches, dietitians, and sports-psychologists; or pro-athletes in their own event who have healthy relationships with their bodies and with food.

  1. If you don’t see enough of what you need to stay positive: help create it.

There are very few things more uplifting than becoming a part of a group of strong, positive, & honest women. This is absolutely the beauty of so many of the women I’ve had the chance to meet (online) via the SRC community. It is also the thing I find the most rewarding about interacting with the college-age women on our team too. I’m in awe of all the women who have recognized this need for a more uplifting online community and who use their time and their voices to help create solutions.

Helping contribute to a positive, online community has personally helped me tremendously. It’s made me so much more aware of what affects me negatively. It has allowed me to become a lot braver and more intuitive about removing damaging content from my feeds too. Using my voice as an agent of positive change in the online community has given me a sense of purpose, a lot more confidence, and it has really increased my self-esteem too.

Even if you don’t have the time or desire to start a blog or account of your own, you can still help promote healthy values by commenting on or re-posting content from those who already do. In doing so, you can use your own voice to help spread a message of positivity and body-acceptance. There are no special qualifications needed to become part of a healthy, uplifting, & body-positive community online – and there is really no limit to how much these actions can help offset the negative effects of advertisements, thinspiration, fitspiration and other detrimental internet experiences.

The next time you see a post that makes you feel bad about your body or question yourself, remember:

You’re not alone.

Your value is immeasurable.

Your body is more than a size, number, or single body part.

Your realness is much more valuable than perfection.

AND You are surrounded by a community of women who love the real you.

To connect with Adrienne:

Instagram: @happyhealthyfast

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