5 Reasons Why Fitspo Is Unhealthy

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I spend way too much time on Pinterest. It’s a great resource for inspiration about anything. How to decorate your bedroom. What to wear with your new yellow crop sweater. What new haircut you should try next. How to find motivation to stop spending so many hours sitting on the couch watching TV and start being more active.

The latter has a name. Fit inspiration, or Fitspo. Images involving beautiful, super fit women, often accompanied with motivating phrases like “the voice in your head that says you can’t do this is a liar”, and “never give”. They seem innocuous enough, and a great way to inspire people to get healthier.

And some of them are. But too often, rather than a healthy desire to lead a more active life, these images induce body shame and hate, undermine self-esteem, and perpetuate the message that a woman’s value is based only on her looks. Here’s how:

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1. Fitspo promotes impossible to achieve ideals

Just like women’s magazines, Fitspo encourages us to compare ourselves to others, which is never healthy. It is even less so when the ideal you are encouraged to strive for is unachievable. Fitspo promotes only one body type, and the girls who appear in those photos are chosen because theirs conforms to this advertised ideal of beauty and already exercise a lot.

Even then, they are usually very young, undergo fitness and dieting regimes for a few days before the photoshoots, and have their images taken by professional photographers using short-term “peaking” techniques. But only after a makeup artist and stylist have used their skills to hide their flaws (that’s if they get to show their faces at all).

And what can’t be hidden, can be deleted with photoshop. That’s also how their waists are made smaller, their breasts bigger, and every inch of their body altered to make them look fitter and slimmer. But even if these images weren’t digitally altered, no one can achieve someone’s else body type. A short, pear-shaped girl will never become tall and with a tiny waist, no matter how much she exercises or how little she eats.

And that’s ok. Everyone has a different body type, and they are all beautiful. But Fitspo ignores that. Just like it ignores that our bodies have different limitations, and different fat storage systems. Most importantly, it ignores the fact that women are more than their bodies, and that we should be valued for our goodness, intelligence, and achievements, not the way we look.

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2. Fitspo perpetuates fitness myths

Even when we realize we’ll never look like the models and athletes in those photos, we still believe the lie that losing weight is simply a matter of eating less and exercising more. And if that doesn’t work, it’s because we’re weak and lazy. If only we had more willpower, we would achieve our goals. That’s a lie. Weight loss is more complicated than that. Socio-economic factors, stress, bad habits, hormones, and genetics can all affect your weight, and all need to be tackled if you really need to lose some. Eating less and less and exercising more and more will just make you ill.

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3. Fitspo encourages us to exercise for the wrong reasons

Working out is one of the best things you can do for yourself. It improves both your health and your mood. But that’s not what Fitspo usually focuses on. It tells you to work out to “make your supporters proud and your enemies jealous,” implying that a tight arse or a flat tummy, nor your brains or good heart, are desirable characteristics highly valued by your friends and who make your better and worthier than your enemies.

Worse, Fitspo often reduces women to sexy eye candy for leering men. Images rarely show the whole body. Heads and legs are usually cut off, implying that these body parts aren’t really that important. That women’s job is not to think or talk, but just to look sexy. Often, these women don’t even wear gym clothes, but just a bikini, underwear, or nothing. Even when they’re dressed, they are usually pictured in sexy poses that objectify women. The message is clear: we should exercise to be sexually attractive to men, not to be healthy.

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4. Fitspo can trigger eating disorders

Charlotte Hilton Andersen, author of The Great Fitness Experiment, believes that “fitspo may be thinspo in a sports bra.” So do I. Thinspo, or thin inspiration, are pictures of very thin women used as willpower motivation for eating disorders like anorexia. Fitspo is supposed to be healthier. After all, it tells you to exercise and eat healthy, which are very good things. But in moderation. If you exercise too much, and keep going even when your body is too tired, you’re going to seriously injury yourself.

And demonizing food can lead to eating disorders. A diet based on hamburgers, french fries, and cupcakes will make you ill and overweight, but in moderation, they don’t do any harm. But Fitspo makes you think otherwise. It tells that, if you want to be fit, you can’t eat anything tasty and, if you’re still not losing weight, it is because you’re still eating too much. For some people, these messages can trigger eating disorders, such as anorexia and orthorexia.

Lesser known than other eating disorders, orthorexia (the term was coined in 1997) starts with a genuine desire to eat healthy, but sufferers soon become so obsessed with it to the point of worsening the quality of their lives and even putting their health at risk. They may start by becoming vegetarians or vegans (nothing wrong with that), but soon the amount of foods on their blacklists becomes so long that they can’t eat anything that’s not “pure” and that important nutrients are left out of their diets. And that’s never a good thing. Our bodies need all nutrients, including fats and carbs, to function properly.

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5. Fitspo undermines your self-esteem to sell you stuff you don’t need

Have you ever wondered who creates a lot of these images, and why? Sports brands like Nike, gyms, work out DVDs, and anyone else in the fitness industry profits by these images. Images that depict beautiful toned women, often without heads, in alluring poses. At first glance, these shots, and the accompanying slogans, may seem empowering, but in reality they are designed to make you feel bad about yourself. To lower your self esteem and make you feel like you’re not good enough until you look a certain way.

And to achieve that, you’ll have to buy their DVDs, or sneakers, or whatever else they’re trying to sell you. That’s why women’s waists and thighs are getting smaller and smaller every year. The goals must be unachievable because, should you ever become comfortable in your own body and love the way you look, you’ll stop working out so hard and so often. And their profits will collapse.

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Of course not all Fitspo is bad. Some photos can really inspire you to stop spending so much time on your sofa watching TV and start being more active so you can be healthier.

How do you know when fitness motivation is healthy?

When it focuses on health, fun, and a balanced lifestyle rather than looks, sex, and dangerous extremes.

When it makes you feel excited about working out rather than miserable for not looking hot enough.

When the goal is to be healthy, not skinny with muscles.

Only when you take good care of your body, rather than trying to change it, you can truly be healthy and happy.

What do you think of Fitspo?

4 Ways To Stop Emotional Eating

I am an emotional eater. For years, whenever I felt sad, lonely, or anxious (which was very often), I would reach for some chocolate biscuits, a packet of crisps, or a Mars bar. They were my crutch, a way to distract me and ignore what I was feeling inside. For a while, I’d feel much better. But those negative feelings would always come back.

Comfort food wasn’t working. It just made things worse, and was harming my health too. While I’ve been never fat or very overweight, emotional eating caused me to gorge on too much junk food and chomp on too few fruits and vegs, which isn’t good for you. I knew I had to change. It wasn’t easy, and, every now and then, I have a relapse and eat a sweet treat when I am feeling down, but for the most part, I managed to get my emotional eating under control. Here’s how:

1. Identify your triggers

The first step in overcoming emotional eating is to figure out what triggers it. Are you turning to food to numb feelings of sadness, anxiety, loneliness, or shame like I did? Do you eat more when you’re stressed out? Or maybe you indulge in some sweet or salty treats to reward yourself when you’ve accomplished a goal? Or you often find yourself, maybe because of work or an active social life, in situations where food abounds? Or do you eat when you’re bored, just to have something to do? Or is there another reason?

Whenever you feel the urge to eat too much or reach for your favourite comfort food, stop a moment and figure out what’s causing it. To better identify the triggers, keep an emotional eating journal. Write down the mood you’re in when you eat, what you ate, at what time of the day, on what occasion, how you felt while eating, and what you felt afterwards. After a while, you will see a pattern emerge. Once you’ve found the cause, you’ll finally be able to fix it.

2. Experience your feelings – even the bad ones

Tackling your feelings head on, especially when they are negative, is downright scary! That’s why many of us turn to food, so that we can numb the pain rather than experience it. But that doesn’t really help, does it? Our feelings are a window into our soul. Fear, anxiety, loneliness, and other bad feelings help us to understand what is wrong in our life, what we are frustrated and stress about, what we dream about and makes us happy. By ignoring them, you’re just prolonging your unhappiness.

Instead, whenever you feel the urge to emotional eat, try to experience the feeling that’s causing it. Take a deep breath and, remember: although it may feel like your feelings will overwhelm you if you let them flow, they subside relatively quickly when you let them run their course and don’t obsess about or ignore them. It won’t be pleasant, but by staying mindful and experiencing what you’re feeling, you’ll realise that you can tolerate those negative emotions. And then, you’ll be able to fix the issues that are triggering your bad eating habits.

3. Find healthy ways to cope

Learning to manage your emotions takes time, especially if you’re used, before you even realize it, to reach for a slice of cake or a box of cookies whenever you feel bad about something. Breaking the habit is hard and, one of the best ways to do it, is to substitute foods high in fat and/or sugar with a healthier alternative. I’m not just talking of substituting cake with a healthier snack like an apple or yogurt. Whenever you feel the urge to emotional eat, do something else that makes you feel good both in the short and long terms, like playing with a pet, listening to your favourite songs (as long as they’re positive ones), exercising, taking a bath, reading a good book, or talking to a friend.

4. Adopt healthy lifestyle habits

A lot of people are able to lose weight only when everything is going well in their lives. At the first sign of stress or problem, they once again head to the refrigerator. Problem is, life is full of surprises, and a lot of them aren’t nice at all! To keep your weight down and overcome emotional eating, you need to learn how to deal with the curveballs that life throws at you. And that’s a lot easier to do when you’re strong, healthy, and relaxed. That’s why it is important to adopt healthy lifestyle habits that will keep in good physical and emotional shape:

Exercise daily: even going for a short walk with your dog helps. Exercising keeps you fit, releases feel-good endorphins, and reduces stress.

- Take a few minutes a day to relax: I know it sounds selfish to take some time for yourself every day, especially if you’re juggling a job, kids, a husband, and a social life. But you won’t be able to take care of your loved ones and do your job well if you’ve always burnt out and exhausted. Find the time to take at least 20-30 minutes each day to unwind. Meditate, take a long bath, read, or do anything else that relaxes you.

Get your beauty sleep: did you know there is a link between sleep and overeating? When you don’t get enough sleep, your body produces more ghrelin, the hormone that stimulates appetite, and less leptin, the one that tells the brain when you are full. So, the less you sleep, the more food your body craves. Try to get at least 8 hours of sleep at night.

Socialize: Create a positive environment around you that supports health and wellbeing. Surround yourself with positive thoughts and spend time with positive people. They will help you see the positive side of things, put them in perspective, and allow you to relax. They will also be there for you whenever you need help or just someone to talk to.

I hope these tips will help you as much as they’ve helped me. :)

Are you an emotional eater? Do you have any more tips on how to overcome emotional eating?

16 Ways To Cheer Yourself Up When You’re Feeling Down

Everyone has bad days when they feel sad and blue. But wallowing in it does you no good. There are many things you can do to shake off a bad mood and turn that frown upside down. Here are some ideas that will help you lighten up your spirits:

1. Help someone. Do your friend a favour. Help an elderly person cross the street. Volunteer. Helping others always makes you feel better straight away.

2. Write a gratitude list. Jot down on paper all the things you’re grateful for right now. Yes, there are many good things to be happy about in your life, even though it doesn’t feel like it at the moment. Remember the friends who stand by you. Be grateful for your loved ones’ wellbeing. Appreciate a warm and sunny day. Once you start writing, more and more things to be grateful for will pop into your head, making you realise that things aren’t as bad as they seemed.

3. Keep a journal. Whenever something upset you, write it down. Dissect the situation to find out why you feel so bad about it, what went wrong, and how you can fix it. That way, you can get it out of your system. If a journal is not your thing, write a blog post about it. And no, you don’t have to publish it.

4. Indulge in your guilty pleasure. I like to eat chocolate and watch Project Runway. Whatever your is, enjoy it.

5. Listen to music you love. As long as it is positive, cheerful, and inspiring. Turn up the volume. Let the music flow all over you. Dance to it. Sing along.

6. Start a creative project. Learn how to sew and make your own clothes, write a poem, paint a picture or stick rhinestone, little crystals or glitter on your wallet, shoes, or nails. Whatever gets your creative juices flowing.

7. Buy some inspirational art for your walls. Decorate your house and office with original artwork that awes and inspires you. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to do this. There are many inexpensive prints for purchase on etsy. Or you can google some art works and inspiring quotes and print them. Or photocopy them from a book.

8. Tackle your to-do list. This may be the last thing you want to do when you’re feeling sad, but striking at least one item off that list will make you feel productive and improve your mood.

9. Play with a pet. If you don’t have one, play with your friend’s cat or your neighbour’s dog. When they’re jumping around all excited, how can you not feel good?

10. Play with a child. See the world through their eyes. Be amazed at how wonderful even the simplest things can be. You’ll soon realise the world is a much better place than it seems.

11. Watch a Disney movie. Or any movie you loved as a child. Grab some comfort food and let yourself be a kid again.

12. Karaoke with friends. Yes, it’s cheesy, but fun. You don’t have to be a good singer. Just sing your heart out for the heck of it.

13. Meditate. Go to a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed, sit down, and just breathe. Pay attention to nothing else but the air as it enters and exits your body. This will center you, and release both your tension and sadness.

14. Take a walk. Or go for a run. The fresh air will do you good and the exercise will make your body release lots of feel-good endorphins.

15.Smile. Smiles are infectious. When you smile at someone, they will smile back at you. And that makes you even happier.

16. Talk to someone. Tell a friend how you’re feeling and what upset you. It’s not a sign of weakness, but one of strength. A true friend will listen and support you without judging you.

How do you cheer yourself up when you’re feeling down?

14 Ways To Love Yourself Right Now

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Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all. And the hardest work there is. Sometimes, the road can seem too long and the task too daunting. Where do you begin? Here are 14 tips to get your started:

1. Make a list of your strengths

We all tend to sell ourselves shorts, concentrating on our weakness and failures rather than our strengths and our successes. But we all have positive qualities and gifts that makes us unique and can make the world a better place. Grab a piece of paper and write them all down. You can also ask your friends what they love about you. We focus too much on the nasty comments we receive, so it’d be a great confidence booster to discover what great things others really think of us.

2. Reach out to other people. Even strangers.

Don’t be afraid to talk to your friends about how you’re really feeling. Everyone can feel sad, confused, and lost at times. Dealing with those feelings alone will only make things worse and may even make you fall into depression. Your friends will be more than happy to offer you support. Also, don’t be afraid to show support to your friends, your family, or anyone else in your life. Listen to people, care about them, engage with them. Even with strangers. We’re told early to be scared of people we don’t know, but strangers can be friends you haven’t met yet. You’ll never know until you reach out to them.

3. Go on media fasts

The media is everywhere. And it is constantly telling us that we’re not good enough and scaring us with all the horrific things that are going on in the world, making us think it’s a much more dangerous place that it really is and that we don’t have what it takes to succeed, or even just survive, in it. Escaping these messages completely is impossible, but you can reduce the amount of media you consume by going on media fasts. Choose a day a week to stay away from television, magazines, social media, and even the internet. Instead, live in the real world, go out, talk to real people, or even spend some time alone, getting to know yourself. You’ll discover the world isn’t such a bad place after all, and that lots of the things the media has taught us to worry about aren’t really that important. And if you really can’t stay away from media altogether, chose to watch programmes or read articles that make you feel better, not worse, about yourself.

4. Get out of your comfort zone

It’s called comfort zone for a reason. It’s cozy and comfortable in there. But fear of the unknown, or simply of what people may say if you do something different, will prevent you from growing and becoming the person that you are truly meant to be and doing what you really want to do. So get out of your comfort zone and do something new. It can be something as simple as dying your hair a unusual colour or wearing a red lipstick. Or you can enrol into a new course. Learn a new skill. Take a short trip on your own. Find something you’d like to do, and then just do it.

5. Surround yourself with positive people

The world is full of pessimists who always see the glass half empty, find fault with anything, and are just never happy. While you shouldn’t eliminate them from your life completely, hang around with them less. Instead, surround yourself with positive people who believe it is possible to make your dreams come true, appreciate the little joys in life, and find something to be grateful for in every situation, no matter how bleak it seems. It’ll remind you how good people really are.

6. Take some time for yourself

Work. Study. Children. Friends. Household chores. We have so many obligations these days that we often feel worn out. Taking some time just to yourself can seem selfish when you have so many things to do, but you won’t be able to help others and work your best when you’re exhausted. So grab a book and read. Meditate. Have a relaxing bath. Find the time every day to do whatever makes you feel centered and at peace, ready to face whatever challenges life throws at you.

7. Volunteer

Choose a cause that is close to your heart and help out. You can donate your time, your skills, your money, and even your influence. People will appreciate and be grateful for your help, and you will be feel much better for contributing to make the world a better place.

8. Stop judging people

It’s easy to judge people, especially when they do something you don’t agree with, or they’re constantly shoving their perfect lives down your throat on social media. But the truth is, you don’t know what really goes on in their lives, how hard they worked to get where they are, or what challenges they are currently facing. Judging other people tells more about your character than it does about them. And it teaches you to judge yourself just as harshly. You’ll never be happy if you’re constantly comparing yourself to others, find fault with them, and are jealous and envious of them.

9. Forgive yourself

We all have things we regret. We all wish we had done some things differently. We all make mistakes. Don’t let them define you. Forgive yourself. Leave them in the past. Move on.

10. Find a mantra

Find a mantra and repeat it several times a day, or whenever you start feeling bad about yourself. I use “even though [insert whatever it’s wrong here], I completely love and accept myself”. I also like “I am thankful for what I have, even if it’s not perfect.” So powerful!

11. Dress up

Too often we chose how to dress based on the people we want to impress. We may wear something sexy to impress a date, or buy a certain brand of sneakers to be accepted by a peer group. But you’ll never be happy by pretending to be something you are not. And soon, your friends or date will realise that you were just pretending anyway. Instead, be yourself. Dress up for yourself. Wear what you like. What makes you feel confident and beautiful. Please yourself, not others.

12. Stay away from your scales

There was a time, when I was younger, when I’d weight myself every week. I’d rejoice when I’d lost some weight, and feel crappy when I gained some. Then, one day I just stopped. It’s so liberating not to focus on how much you weight all the time. Now I can’t even remember when I weighted myself last. Instead, I just go by how my clothes fit and how good I feel. As long as I’m healthy and happy, the number on the scales doesn’t really matter. So, don’t look at it.

13. Listen to uplifting music

Music is a powerful motivator that can instantly change your mood. Whenever I feel down, or start doubting myself, I listen to a playlist of uplifting songs I built over the years. It features inspirational tracks such as Beautiful by Christina Aguilera, Hall of Fame by The Script ft Will.I.Am, and Defying Gravity from the musical Wicked. You don’t have to listen to these, though. You can find inspirational songs in every genre of music. And when you do, sing along. Dance along. Even play along, if you have a guitar or drums (or make your own with some chopsticks and boxes). You’ll feel better straight away.

14. Wear a tiara

Seriously. Get a tiara and wear it at breakfast. Or in the bath tub. Or whenever you feel like it. It’ll instantly make you feel glamorous and amazing.

What are your favourite self-love tips?

A Tan Isn’t Worth Dying For

Summer is fast approaching, and I can’t wait. I love the hot and sunny weather, the cute skimpier clothes, being able to eat ice creams without shivering, and the general easiness and relaxation of the season. But there is one thing that I really can’t stand: having to explain to people why I’m not tanned.

When you live in a coastal town, having a tan is expected. It’s the done thing. Whenever people have some free time, they all rush to the beach, lying on the sand, soaking up the sun. Usually without enough, if any, sunscreen. Everywhere you turn, you see lobster-red, burned skin, or complexions that, having been exposed for hours every day to the sun, have become so dark they look completely fake and unnatural.

And then, there’s little, old, pasty, white me. A ghostly complexion stands out more than a neon sign, and, every time I meet someone I haven’t seen in a while, they all ask, concerned, why I haven’t found time to go to the beach. Have I been working too hard? Been unwell? “Nope,” I tell them. “I just don’t like a tan.” By their puzzled expressions, you’d think that two green horns had suddenly sprouted on top of my head.

The concept that tan equals beauty and health is so deeply rooted in our society that most people, especially women, can’t  conceive the idea that anyone could ever find pale skin attractive. Pale skin is seen as something to be ashamed of and that needs to be covered up.

Coco Chanel has some blame in this. When the famous designer stated “the 1929 girl must be tanned” after returning from a holiday, perceptions started to change. Until then, a tan had been considered a sign of poverty and vulgarity (it meant you were a labourer who worked long hours under the sun) to one of wealth and glamour.

But it would be wrong to place the blame entirely on Chanel. She may have started the trend, but it is only in the 1980s that beauty companies recognized that there was a lot of money to be made in tanning. Tanning salons started appearing everywhere, promising to turn women from sickly white ghosts to beautiful bronzed babes. Constantly sported by most models and celebrities, a tan is said to make you look more attractive, thinner, healthier, and increase your confidence.

No wonder then that women, mostly young ones aged between 16 and 29, started flocking to these tanning salons. Problem is, there is no such thing as a healthy tan. A tan is a sign that your skin has been damaged. In the worst case scenario, that can lead to skin cancer. Unfortunately, that’s becoming more and more common.  Since the ’70s, incidences of melanoma have massively increased both in the US, UK and other Western countries where a tanned complexion is regarded as a beauty ideal to achieve at all costs.

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In the US alone, one person dies of melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer) every 57 minutes. It is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old and the second most common form of cancer for young people 15-29 years old.

But the majority of the victims are young women. Between 1973 and 2004, “melanoma incidence among men aged 15 to 39 increased from 4.7 cases to 7.7 cases per 100,000. In that same age group, the figures more than doubled among women, leaping from 5.5 cases per 100,000 in 1973 to 13.9 in 2004.” (Source).

If women are more likely to develop melanoma is because they are more likely to associate a tan with beauty. And it’s based first on their looks, and only later, on their accomplishments, that women are still judged today. By getting a tan, women therefore hope to be loved and appreciated. A natural desire, but not one worth to be pursued with any means necessary. A tan is not worth dying for.

As the dangers of sunbeds became known, some governments have taken steps to ban them, at least for young teenagers. But forsaking sun beds is not enough. Also important is to wear sunscreen every day, not just at the beach. Unfortunately, even when people don’t purposefully refuse to use it while sunbathing for fear it will prevent them from developing a tan, they either don’t apply enough product, or slather it on often enough (how many bother to reapply it, even after swimming?) or choose a bottle not labelled as broad-spectrum.

Not using your sunscreen correctly will make your skin prone to sunburns, skin cancer and premature aging. Yes, because UV rays make your skin develop wrinkles and sun spots a lot sooner than they would otherwise appear. We spend millions of dollars every year on creams, fillers, and surgical procedures to get rid of wrinkles, and yet we often ignore the main thing that will prevent them in the first place: sun protection. And we often do this in the name of beauty, to get a tan. Ironic, isn’t it?

Of course, there is always fake tan. That, at least, is safe. Or not? Well, a bottle of self-tanner won’t give you cancer, but it can send a very dangerous message. It tells you that your pale skin is ugly. It implies that women with fair skin aren’t beautiful and, as a result, worthy of love.

But why? Who has decided that pale skin is less attractive than a bronzed complexion? And why? The self-tanning industry has created a problem that simply wasn’t there before and provided us with a quick-fix solution. They’re making billions of dollars by preying on our insecurities that we’re not good enough. And, sadly, we’ll never be good enough. There will always be someone who won’t hesitate to use body shame, and exploit or invent “flaws”, to make a quick buck.

But we don’t have to buy into this conditioning. It’s high time that we start to love our skin tones. I am a white, ghostly pale Caucasian girl. I own it, and I’m proud of it. Whatever your skin tone is, you should embrace it too. You don’t need a tan (or, a skin-lightening product if you live in a society where pale is the beauty ideal) to look gorgeous. You already are.

And if you really must get a tan, get one in a bottle. But only do so if you genuinely love that bronzed look, not because you’re ashamed of your skin tone, or because all your friends are doing it. Don’t succumb to pressure. Be your own gorgeous self. Always.

Do you tan? If so, do you do it because you like it, or because you hate your natural skin colour?

How Going On A Media Fast Helped My Self-Esteem

media fast magazines© Thierry Caro

I was happy with the way I looked until I was 14. The media had never been a big part of my life until then, so I didn’t know I had to look a certain way to be loved or worthy. My mom had never been into Vogue or Marie Claire and the only magazines that would occasionally enter the house were gossipy rags I had no interest in.

The internet didn’t exist. Not in my house anyway. It would be my parents’ present for my 18th birthday. TV? Only a couple of hours a day, either a cartoon or a show like Growing Pains. It’s not that I didn’t like TV. I just had better things to do. Like spending time outdoors, bicycling, skating, playing volleyball and just generally running around with my sister and our friends.

All that changed when I started high school. I had a lot of homework, so I started spending more time indoors. Afterwards, I’d just relax by watching TV. Sitcoms, movies, MTV, whatever was on. I also discovered teen magazines and devoured all their stupid advice on how to look prettier, get boys to like you, become popular and have a lot of friends (all things for which being hot was apparently very important…).

I thought it was harmless fun. And yet, the more the media invaded my life, the worse I felt about myself. Reading mags, watching Tv… I enjoyed it at first, but, after a while, and without even noticing it, I started to feel bad about myself. I kept seeing all these gorgeous women, with their flawless skin and perfectly shaped, cellulite-free bodies, and I would ask myself why I couldn’t look like that too.

media fast tv© Anton Novoselov

Sure, I knew they had stylists, hairdressers, plastic surgeons, fitness trainers, photoshop and who knows what else to make them look that way, yet the ideal of beauty they represented seemed achievable. “You could look like that too”, the mags said. “You just need enough willpower and determination to follow our advice.”

So, I would try their crazy diets for a week or so, during which I’d feel even worse. I was hungry and tired all the time, which made it difficult to do pretty much anything, including studying. And all that effort got me nowhere because I only lost a few grams. And yes, I know you can’t really achieve any significant results in a few days, but wasn’t that what those magazines promised you? To get you bikini-ready in five days? So, if I couldn’t do it, it was my fault.

At first, I started to redouble my efforts. I lost a bit of weight, but I never looked like the gorgeous women gracing the covers of magazines or appearing on TV shows. I had enough common sense by then to realise I never would and ditched the diets and crazy fads, but not enough to understand the ideal of beauty I was fed was unrealistic and impossible to achieve. I thought I was ugly and worthless and that there was nothing I could do about it. My self-esteem was at a rock bottom.

I started suffering from depression.  I can’t say the media was entirely to blame (it was brought on by undiagnosed and untreated selective mutism, plus, because of another misdiagnosis, I was taking a medication for epilepsy that can cause feelings, such as sadness and discouragement, associated with depression), but it certainly contributed to it. It gave me one more thing to worry about, one more thing that was wrong with  me: my body.

media fast social media

It was a thing to hide behind layers of clothing. I would wear jeans even in the burning hot Italian summers if I had to go out because I wasn’t comfortable with people looking at my legs. My insecurities also prevented me from having fun when out with my friends and were even spoiling my relationship with my boyfriend. It was at this point that I decided to fast again.

Only this time, I didn’t give up food. No, I embarked on a media fast. First, I turned the TV off, which was easy enough. By then, it was full of reality TV shows, a genre I always hated. Next, I gave up magazines. All of them bar Vanity Fair, which I still read. But what about all those ads on the streets? Or your friends and family rehashing the advice they learned from TV? And now, there’s social media too.

You can’t escape the media. It is everywhere. But the good news is, you don’t have to reject the media altogether. You just have to take it, like everything else in life, in moderation. You see, when your brain is exposed to something for a long period of time, it’ll come to consider it as normal. If you’re exposed to thousands of images of airbrushed women every day, your brain will think it is really possible to look like that. And that’s very dangerous.

But when you return to watching those images after you’ve been on a media fast, even if for just a few days, you will be more sensitive to their messages, especially to those that hurt you. It will make you question what they say and notice how unrealistic and weird those photoshopped images really are. It will give you the tools to defend yourself against negative messages, so that you can make healthier and better choices.

media fast billboard© Jenny Poole

Little by little, you will start loving your body more. You will appreciate everything it does for you and will be able to take better care of it by listening to its needs, rather than trying to turn it into something else it was never supposed to be. You will never look like someone else, and surely, you’ll never look like those airbrushed models on magazine covers. Not even them do. Some standards are unattainable for everyone.

And that’s ok. Because you don’t have to fit into an unrealistic beauty ideal to be happy, healthy and worthy. But you have to love yourself. My life became a lot better since I went on a media fast. I started reading more books again. I now wear whatever I want. I try to eat healthy, but I will indulge in a pizza or a slice of cake every now and then without feeling guilty about it. I’m less self-conscious and more open to new experiences. And although the media fast didn’t cure my depression, it did reduce it, making it easier to treat.

Of course, not all the media is bad. As I said above, I still read Vanity Fair. I still watch TV shows, such as Supernatural and Glee. I do read blogs (obviously). But these days, I only consume media that makes me feel good. If a magazine is trying to make me feel awful about  the way I look, I throw it away. If a TV programme is talking down to me and makes me doubt myself, I turn it off.

The media won’t change. After all, they’re making millions by exploiting our insecurities. But we can change the way we think. Going on a media fast is often the first step to do that.

Have you ever gone on a media fast? If not, are you planning to?