A cognitive dissonance is where you hold two conflicting beliefs at the same time, causing you unconscious psychological distress. January, the month of remorse, regret, and resolutions, seems to emphasis two particular conflicting beliefs; that body confidence is for everyone, and on the flip side, that only a specific body image warrants body confidence. With the ascension of #fitspo and #irishfitfam into many Instagram feeds, this distress has been becoming more clear, conscious, alive. Sometimes being female feels like a constant struggle, between trying to achieve the perfect body image and being body confident despite/because of the body you have.
Body image is the perception that a person has of their physical self and the thoughts and feelings that result from that perception. Body confidence is seeing yourself accurately, feeling comfortable and feeling good in the way you look, no matter how you look. This is the hymn sheet prevalent Instagrammers, vloggers, bloggers are singing from. However, body confidence seems to be something that can be bought, not learned, and can fit into a certain sized pair of jeans.
Transformation Tuesdays, flash back Fridays show a "Then" and "Now". Pictures of a smiling overweight person, transmogrified to a smiling, toned person accompanied with an inspirational quote about how the person on the left ate and drank too much, went out too often. Had shatteringly low self-esteem, while the person on the right is apparently entirely different, having shed the persona of their fat self and having gained confidence, passion, and a newfound motivation to live life to the fullest.
The picture that draws you in, the one that garners the most likes on social media, the attention-grabbing ones are the transformations. Pontificating about the positive impact that a healthy diet and workout has had on their life, as if they alone have discovered that eating well and moving more leads to mental and physical health.
Life on the Treadmill
Hook, line, and sinker, they've got you. Apprehensively stepping onto the treadmill is the final step of the implicit contract, accepting the steep gradient of an uphill battle. Currently at a low speed, you're not moving anywhere, but your eyes fixed on slowly rising number of calories burnt.
With that, a new phase of your life begins, your social media is inundated with more fitness accounts, you know what #iifym stands for, and how to do it, MyFitnessPal is an essential on your phone and your runners have been taken out of the depths of your wardrobe, ready and willing to be used.
Initially, it's great. A bit of conscious control makes it easy to adapt a healthy way of life. Sure, as they all preach, it's a lifestyle, not a diet. Rice cakes instead of chocolate bars, more natural, less of the artificial. You find out your optimum calorific intake for the day, weigh yourself, muscle is heavier than fat you know!, take the stairs rather than the lift, work your schedule around it, coordinate your weekly grocery shop, control, control, control. There is little to no interest for an occasional glass of wine, slice of birthday cake, life's little pleasures have become a waste of calories.
Members of the #irishfitfam tell their audience, that they were lucky enough to discover their "passion" in healthy eating and exercise as they hit their teens/early 20s, after seeing a photo of themselves that made them shocked/upset/angry/disgusted etc. etc.
Revealing that they have no interest in sports, or competing in bodybuilding events, didn't even do exercise growing up, struggle to climb stairs without feeling breathless, but that they are living their best lives now that health and fitness is at the forefront. Turning the search for the ideal body image and body confidence into a full-time job. The tacit hint of insecurity lingers in the cold winter months; "bulking season", eating more so they can lift heavier to build more muscle, to grow, progressing, letting their body image transmute into someone physically bigger. Some confess their doubts about it, having an issue with the months long bulking process because it means that they'll be putting on weight * the devil*, which will invariably change their body image, and with that their confidence. The realisation that the changing of their body image is directly linked to body confidence seems to bely the hymnsheet about confidence they'd been singing from. (What ever happened to Practice what you preach ... ?)
Somewhere along the never-ending treadmill track, without you even noticing, (eyes on the prize, calories burnt), the speed and gradient have been increased to a virtually impossible height, now having to work harder to keep up. The fastidious transformers who have been pontificating body confidence and how the arrival of #fitspo, weight lifting and flexible dieting has changed their life for the better and for ever, are confessing that they've decided to get a boob job, giving you discounts for fake nails, joking at how they hate their skin when they're pale, showing off their weekly trips to hair salons, discounts with hair extensions, dentist trips for veneers, clear braces, the "perfect smile". Evidently being toned, fit and healthy isn't enough. Confidence doesn't come hand in hand with improved health. You should be (fake) tanned, sporting (fake) nails, with (fake) teeth and of course, (fake)boobs.
Eating yourself fit and beautiful, courtesy of Ireland's only Miss World winner, is all well and good but not when eating that way is the bed rock of your confidence. When all of a sudden body confidence looks more like a smug pride at fitting into a very specific image, promoted by Society™, then it's time to re-evaluate. Body confidence is at the root of how we feel about ourselves, and this shouldn't be extrinsically linked to meals or workouts (or lack thereof) , is a few kilograms really enough to warrant you feeling hatred or disgust at your body? Ashley Graham's confidence wouldn't falter if she either lost or gained a few pounds, could the Victoria's Secret angels say the same?