The Latest Fitness Trend: Endangering Your Audience | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

The Latest Fitness Trend: Endangering Your Audience

Phoebe Hughes-Broughton comments on the fitness blogging epidemic, and whether we can trust what we read online

Personally, I am not a fan of fitness bloggers. I would much rather spend my evening watching Brooklyn 99 with a bar of Dairy Milk in my hand, than lifting weights at the gym (even if I did spend an extortionate amount for a membership at the beginning of the year). So since I don’t spend much of my time in the online world of fitness bloggers, you might not think I’m particularly qualified to comment on them – but, as it turns out, I have about as many qualifications in the world of fitness as most of these bloggers do: i.e. none.

That’s right, being thin and looking fit is not actually a qualification.

It’s one thing to post pictures of yourself, but the “advice” that can be found in the comments under many of these photos is where fitness blogs can turn from innocuous to ugly.

To be a fitness blogger, the only qualification you need is the ability to gain followers – whether through your photography, your personal appearance, or your willingness to post outrageous comments like Budgen’s that thrust you into the limelight and inevitably only gain you more fans

The most recent – and horrifying – example of this is the comments recently posted by Brisbane blogger Olivia Budgen on her Instagram account. She claimed that “Cancer and disease is your body trying to save you […] Being open-minded and changing your perspective around what disease actually is and why it’s happening will allow you to take back control of your health”. Her general point here seems to be that having a negative perspective can make you ill, and that developing cancer is your body’s way of trying to save you from yourself. Surprisingly, the one thing she left out of this extremely long rant is medical qualifications or a doctorate of any kind that would give her the right to share her medical opinion.

And unfortunately, that is the exact issue with these blogs. There is no barrier to entry. No one asks to see your GCSEs before you can create a blog. Arguably, that is a good thing, as it means that everyone is on equal footing and everyone’s voices can be heard. But when they’re voicing opinions that may actually be medically harmful like Budgen’s, you have to start questioning whether stricter regulations should be enforced on these blogging sites.

To be a fitness blogger, the only qualification you need is the ability to gain followers – whether through your photography, your personal appearance, or your willingness to post outrageous comments like Budgen’s that thrust you into the limelight and inevitably only gain you more fans.

If you follow many fitness accounts, you’ll be used to the constant barrage of sponsored posts from weight loss teas, to juice cleanses, to those adorable gummy teddy bears that the Kardashian clan are always posing with that claim to improve your hair health

Perhaps even more harmful than Budgen’s deluded comments are that of another Australian blogger from around 2015. Belle Gibson claimed that she cured her terminal brain cancer through healthy eating alone, and made thousands of dollars through the subsequent app and cookbook that she released off the back of this story. Her claims were as wild and far-reaching as alleging that her brain cancer had spread to virtually every organ in her body, as well as her blood, and that she had had multiple heart surgeries that even caused her to momentarily die on the operating table. It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that it was revealed this year to have been entirely made up. Belle had never had cancer, and was using the whole situation to further her own career and profit off the people she had tricked.

Gibson has now been ordered to pay more than $400,000 AU, but for the vulnerable people who did have cancer and believed her lies – some even refusing medically recommended treatments in favour of Gibson’s natural remedies – it may come as too little, too late.

And it’s not just the dramatic situations like this that are issues in the fitness blogging community. If you follow many fitness accounts, you’ll be used to the constant barrage of sponsored posts from weight loss teas, to juice cleanses, to those adorable gummy teddy bears that the Kardashian clan are always posing with that claim to improve your hair health.

Perhaps the best thing to recommend would be to take each and every one of these ‘fitspo’ (or fit-inspiration) posts with a grain of salt

The issue with these posts, of course, is that there’s no way to know if the reviews are genuine. With a non-sponsored review, you can assume that the opinion shared is genuine because there would be little tangible benefit for the reviewer in lying to their audience. But when money is on the table, it becomes a lot harder to tell what people really think, and suddenly people with firmly-held morals become a lot greyer in their beliefs.

Fortunately, the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) is cracking down on the clarity in posts like these, and Instagram is attempting to make it clearer for customers to see when a post is sponsored, but in such a vast, global community, it will be difficult to make everyone conform to these new regulations.

For now, perhaps the best thing to recommend would be to take each and every one of these ‘fitspo’ (or fit-inspiration) posts with a grain of salt. Remember that most of the images you see have been through many layers of Photoshop before reaching your feed, and that the comments you read are very rarely coming from trained professionals in the field of health and nutrition. Always do your research before dramatically altering your lifestyle, and when in doubt, speak to a medical professional.

Aspiring author. (@PhoebePhairy)



Published

9th December 2017 at 9:00 am



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