The Pornification of Fitness


Having grown up in the world of gymnastics, I idolized Dominique Moceanu and Shannon Miller, gold medalists at the 1998 Atlanta Games. These ladies were, unquestionably, the best in their sport. Their fearless skill execution and unwavering dedication encouraged me to step beyond my own comfort zone, testing my mental and physical limits. I knew that I would never compete at their level, but their mastery and passion for the sport inspired me to be the best I could be. Dominique and Shannon were true models of strength and fitness.

Today, fitness models in magazines, blogs and on social media pages provide a similar source of motivation and are used to reaffirm society’s definition of fit. With carefully staged shots or selfies, these models can encourage women to shoot for the moon regardless of whether a six pack and perfectly sculpted shoulders are realistically attainable for the average enthusiast. I fully appreciate the commitment and dedication required to attain a “fit” physique and I myself am an avid follower of many fitness channels.

Unfortunately, health is not always what is portrayed. As I scroll through my social media feeds, it would appear that I have a serious obsession with soft-core porn rather than fitness as the women on the pages I follow are dressed more for the bedroom than for the gym. You may disagree, but a thong and a lace bra are not what come to mind when I think of comfortable workout attire. Where do you draw the line? How many perky breasts popping out of sports bras (that are clearly two sizes too small!) does it take before you question whether these images are motivation to bench more weight, or to call your local plastic surgeon? How many bent over selfies will it take to question whether you should squat heavier, or get a bikini wax? How many pictures of ladies posing in six-inch heels will it take to question whether you appreciate their defined calves, or the fact that they haven’t yet rolled an ankle amongst the crowded gym environment?

Sex sells, I get it. Scantily dressed women grace the pages of advertisements outside of the fitness world to promote everything from watches to perfume to cars, and it’s not going away. It seems, at least to me, that the fitness industry has taken “fit” to a whole new level. Most of these women are not selling products or services at all, and are often not even getting paid for their work. They are exploiting themselves in the name of “fitness” and getting a rush of adrenaline from the likes and comments left behind by complete strangers. When is the last time you saw a Victoria’s Secret model with her legs open or with a nipple nearly showing? Never. There is a difference between sexy and trashy, and unfortunately the fitness industry appears to be edging closer to the latter.

I empathize with women who are trying to break into the industry and feel compelled by the need to keep up with the norm. They are influenced by what they see, trusting their local photographer to position them in ways that will help and not hurt their careers. When you  dream of establishing yourself in the industry, it becomes more difficult to make the distinction between classy and trashy. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. When a picture goes viral, it can be very difficult, if not impossible, to remove. One unfavourable pose could have a devastating impact on future careers and relationships. And for what?

I for one have started unfollowing fitness pages that I feel do not portray a true image of fit. It is unlikely that my actions will change the industry, but I feel that this small action has allowed me to refocus my motivation. I am making a conscious decision to filter what comes into my world. In this increasingly technological age, every like, follow or subscription is a reflection of what you choose to support, and I encourage you to choose what you support wisely.

Kristen Vidlak is a registered dietician and personal trainer. She grew up as a competetive gymnast and later attended the university of Maine on a full athletic scholarship where she was captain of their record breaking women’s track & field team. Currently, Kristen enjoys modelling and competing in fitness events throughout North America. Her experiences in athletic training and competing, coupled with her dietetic education give Kristen a unique and well-rounded perspective when it comes to health in fitness.

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