Authenticity is a word that has been tossed around a lot in the media. Probably because we live in a world where we have to discern between fake and real news. Where air brushing apps are within everyone’s reach, not just professional photographers’. And where Instagram and Facebook algorithms dig their hooks in and glue us to devices. Ever heard the saying “If there isn’t a picture, it didn’t happen”…? Sometimes I wonder if people remember that I’m an exercise professional since I don’t take very many photos while working out like some fitness pros and exercise fans do. *Sigh.*
Summer is the second-most photographed time of year to the holidays. It’s natural to want pictures to hold on to memories, to tell a story, and to capture the feeling of the moment. After all, holidays and summer vacations are special times of the year. But what about when picture-taking becomes more about being seen and fitting a mold than about embracing who you are and enjoying life? This is where we come into problems. And it’s not a problem exclusive to frequent picture-taking, it’s also a challenge for many people who embark on fitness goals. People come into exercise with an idea of what they want to look like and try hard to force their bodies to change shape. Like if they don’t look a certain way by a designated point in time then they’ve failed.
I get really disappointed when I see personal training clients struggle. There are so many positives to be gained from exercise, even if your results don’t make you feel like snapping selfies in your bikini left and right. (Many of those who do are feeling proud for fitting into a mold – a toned physique, chiseled abs, plump booty, etc.) In my opinion, exercise isn’t supposed to make us all look alike. It’s about helping us live our individual, unique lives to the fullest.
The definition of authenticity is “made to be or look like an original.” Blogger on PsychCentral, Margartia Tartakovsky, explains how she lost touch with her own voice and originality when she struggled with body image and exercise:
“Sure, it may seem obvious but when you’re deeply entrenched in a negative body image and someone – a weight loss or diet company, women’s magazine – offers you a solution, you hold onto it with all your might. You grip the rope tighter and tighter, hoping that your hips being smaller will give you something you’re seriously missing. Hoping that happiness will come through the door.”
I see what Margartia describes happen a lot. People exercise rigorously thinking it will build up their confidence and fill the void of whatever troubles them. The second that results slip or they get sick or injured, that entire facade comes crashing down. They realize their worth wasn’t all that secure after all. They pinned it on something temporary and fleeting – physical achievement.
So how does one chase after their fitness goals (and even snap and post pictures) while remaining authentic?
Psychology Today explains the following qualities of inauthentic people:
- Are self-deceptive and unrealistic in their perceptions of reality.
- Look to others for approval and to feel valued.
- Are judgmental of other people.
- Do not think things through clearly.
- Have a hostile sense of humor.
- Are unable to express their emotions freely and clearly.
- Are not open to learning from their mistakes.
- Do not understand their motivations.
Conversely, these are the qualities of authentic people:
- Have realistic perceptions of reality.
- Are accepting of themselves and of other people.
- Are thoughtful.
- Have a non-hostile sense of humor.
- Are able to express their emotions freely and clearly.
- Are open to learning from their mistakes.
- Understand their motivations.
While we may not identify with every quality on each list, there’s a strong chance we identify with some on both. For example, I’ve gone through periods in my life when I looked to others for approval, was less apt to learn from my mistakes, and made quick, emotionally-charged decisions that weren’t well thought through. We all live, learn and grow. But what’s important is not that we’re perfectly authentic each and every day but that we’re self-aware enough to move our lives in that direction. To understand the heart of what motivates us and to ensure it aligns with our original selves. To be careful that we don’t lose ourselves to false, image-driven virtual realities or to working hard to fit into a mold.
Everything changes when the motivation behind exercise and fitness goals shifts. For example, someone who wants to get skinny because they want “revenge” on an ex, to prove how special they are, to attract more outside attention, or to look more like their friends, isn’t exercising from a place of motivation that can last. (And it if does endure then they’re likely setting themselves up for other personal obstacles.) Someone who exercises because they want to feel their best, stay healthy, be more energized, etc. is going to better handle the ups and downs that life and shifting exercise schedules dole out.
Inauthentic Reasons to Exercise:
- Desire for more outside attention
- Desire to look better for pictures and social media approval
- Seeking “revenge” on an ex; “look how great I look now that we’re not together”
- To look better than one’s friends
- To look similar to one’s friends
- To fit the mold of a particular body type or physique
- To look good for the opposite sex
- To gain followers or fans
- Self-inflicted punishment for shame and guilt
- Because someone said “you have to exercise”
Authentic Reasons to Exercise:
- To improve quality of life
- To better enjoy one’s body
- To improve both internal and external health
- To see what one is capable of
- To improve the body’s quality of movement
- To look one’s personal best
- To improve posture and body language
- Desire to gain confidence and improve body image
- Desire to prevent and improve injuries
- Desire to improve at and enjoy a sport
If you can think of more examples for either list I would love to hear them!
Being authentic can change your health and elevate your fitness results thanks to giving you a solid platform from which to jump. One you can return to when you need a breather and to feel reassured before jumping forward again. And again. And again. Being inauthentic will simply leave you treading water. What motivates you to exercise?
Yours in health and wellness,