Is Instagram making health seem unrealistic?

Health journeys can’t fit inside a carefully-curated square grid.

OneLife  staff writer

OneLife staff writer

Staff writer

If you’re one of the five million Australians who are active on Instagram, you’re probably familiar with the term ‘influencer’ by now. In case you’re not, we’ll break it down: an influencer is an individual with a large social media following, who has a level of trust and authority with their audience.

But just how MasterChef shouldn’t be your comparison point for cooking, ‘#fitspo’ influencers don’t necessarily provide achievable goals when it comes to your health journey. It’s vital to approach influencers with a healthy level of rationalism, and instead aim for more realistic personal goals when it comes to your wellbeing.

Keep it real

From intricately constructed chia-seed bowls to professional-level photos of fit influencers on Pilates machines, much of today’s health industry is being documented on social media, Instagram in particular. But health journeys are hard – they involve sweat, dedication and discomfort. By nature, they’re not picture perfect – and that’s OK.

On top of that, we need to be mindful of how the influencer model works: people with large social media followings regularly monetise their posts through sharing photos of products or businesses they are paid to endorse.

For many health influencers, their jobs are to work out and eat nutritious Insta-ready food – then produce a stream of supporting content that shows that off. This is hardly a realistic model for, say, a 9-5 office worker or busy parent.

Rachel Service, founder of training company Happiness Concierge, says, “It’s important to note that individuals who have had success on social media are also brands, and they represent a portion of their life, not their whole life.”

Just how we tend to share our favourite images or moments on social media, a picture can never reveal what’s going on under the surface. “We’re most likely to share the highlights – our personal show reel – than perhaps the lowlights,” says Rachel. “It’s about not comparing yourself to somebody’s curated profile.”

Inspirational, not aspirational

When it comes to who you follow on social media, there’s a line to be drawn between people who inspire you on your health journey, and those who are simply aspirational emblems of an idealised lifestyle. The key is assessing how you respond to their images. The people you follow shouldn’t make you feel bad or defeated.

“There’s a difference between inspiration and distraction, and I think the individual has to know where that line falls for them,” says Rachel.

Rachel says there are some important questions to ask yourself: “'When I look at this image, do I feel inspired? Do I think this content is fun? Is it teaching me something new?' and 'is it helping me get closer to my goal?' If it doesn’t tick any of those four boxes, I’d be asking myself, 'What value is it adding to my life?'”

Rachel recommends undertaking a regular review of who you follow, to make sure your social feed is helping, not hindering, your progress. “Each stage of your life will require a different version of you, and as you learn more about yourself, you might find the people you are following no longer reflect your interests, or no longer help you to be inspired or teach you something new,” she says. "Regularly auditing who you follow can be a wonderful step in the right direction."

Make your #onechange

Take five minutes to do a ‘follower audit’. Remove any influencers who don’t inspire, entertain or teach you from your Instagram feed.

Forge your own path

Ultimately, influencers can provide you with the inspiration you might need to kick start or amp up your health journey, but instead of comparing yourself to people who are paid to be popular, you’re better off looking at the changes you can make to improve your own life.

“With all media that we take in – whether it’s social media, magazines, music videos, or even our peers who may appear to have it all – it’s important to remember that comparison can really dull how fabulous your own life is,” says Rachel.

So, next time you catch yourself playing the comparison game, stop and create some health milestones and focus on what you need to do to hit them.

“Defining what makes up your mix of health is different for everyone, and often, [comparing] ourselves to other people [is] a distraction technique we’ve created to avoid looking at ourselves,” says Rachel. “If the time we all spent looking on social media, we spent starting our own projects or practising our own hobbies, it might result in people achieving their goals.”

OneLife  staff writer

OneLife staff writers come from a range of backgrounds including health, wellbeing, music, tech, culture and the arts. They spend their time researching the latest data and trends in the health market to deliver up-to-date information, helping everyday Australians live healthier lives. This is general information only and is not intended as medical, health, nutritional or other advice. You should obtain professional advice from a medical or health practitioner in relation to your own personal circumstances. The information in this article is general information only and is not intended as medical, health, nutritional or other advice. You should obtain professional advice from a medical or health practitioner in relation to your own personal circumstances.

The information in this article is general information only and is not intended as financial, medical, health, nutritional, tax or other advice. It does not take into account any individual’s personal situation or needs. You should consider obtaining professional advice from a financial adviser and/or tax specialist, or medical or health practitioner, in relation to your own circumstances and before acting on this information.