As active women, many of us are familiar with being held up as an “Inspiration” by people in various circles, be they close, casual or virtual. There are a lot of ways I do not like being identified as an inspiration. The worst is because I’m thin. That has nothing to do with me or anything I’ve tried to accomplish. It’s just me. Nat has written about being a fat woman who is an “Inspiration” here. Women are told they are inspiring because they’ve lost lots of weight and because they look hot with those triceps (I do love a tight triceps, don’t get me wrong). But much of that kind of inspiring is whether we have met or are on our way to meet the normative beauty standards of our culture. In other words, they are only skin deep.
Just today, however, one of my friends who is a prolific Facebook poster tagged me as part of her “Power Squadron” who inspired her to start walking every day at lunch. It got me thinking about the influence of social connections and social media to inspire us positively to get out and move in the ways that are best for us and our bodies.
As I was mid think, another friend posted a run via her running app. She’s a self-identified feminist and big woman athlete. Running is something recent for her and she’s burning up the pavement by leaps and bounds. She will be running 10k before the end of the year I predict. I was excited for her and I said so. Last sentence of my comment was “Keep going and keep posting about it.” She responded with thanks and we got into a discussion around whether posting these things is good or annoying.
Complicating my contemplation was a recent article about personality traits in Facebook users and qualities of their correspondent Facebook updates:
In line with Hypothesis 7, narcissism was positively associated with updating about achievements and with using Facebook for validation. Moreover, the use of Facebook for validation and for communication predicted the frequency of updating about achievements over and above the control variables and traits (b = .14, p = .02 and b = .13,p = .04, respectively). The association of narcissism with updating about achievements was significantly mediated by the use of Facebook for validation (b = .04, p = .05 (CI: .006–.07)), consistent with narcissists’ tendency to boast in order to gain attention ( Buss & Chiodo, 1991). Also consistent with Hypothesis 7, narcissism was positively associated with updating about diet/exercise, but the use of Facebook for self-expression rather than validation was positively associated with updating about diet/exercise over and above the control variables and traits (b = .24, p < .01). Self-expression mediated the association of narcissism with updating about diet/exercise (b = .03, p = .03 (CI: .003–.04)), suggesting that narcissists may broadcast their diet and exercise routine to express the personal importance they place on physical appearance ( Vazire et al., 2008).
In other words, people who post a lot about achievements and specifically diet/exercise may be more likely to be narcissists. 1
Something about that felt wrong to me or perhaps, something about part of that felt wrong to me. I have been trying, as much as possible for a maybe-narcissist, to resolve what I feel is a positive behaviour that nets positive and valuable results among my friend circle with this idea that it is annoying and self-centred. I came up with a few thoughts.
First of all, women who are self-centred, or think about themselves and their needs at all are often perceived as selfish. So already I’m wondering about the bias here. Second, middle age women who start to walk, run, do endurance sports or generally make themselves physically more formidable may make some other people uncomfortable. Aren’t I supposed to go softly into my middle years, usher my children out of the nest, relinquish my active sexuality and stay quiet? Now obviously I think, “No freaking way”. Many of you think that too but I think we are outliers and that is the point. Finally, the study itself pairs diet/exercise sorts of posts for the purpose of their analysis. I think that’s a fatal flaw. My views on diet posts, calorie counting posts, weight watcher updates and “OMG I’m so FAT!” posts are vastly different than “OMG fastest ever 5k!” posts.
My running friend also eschews the calorie counting elements of posting. We have both researched whether our apps are posting calories and if they are, we try to hide that useless info. I remember when I first started to read this blog and follow some of the people associated with it. They inspired me to keep going, push harder and do more. Even better, they did that with thoughtful commentary and self awareness. They did it for these awesome affirming reasons and if they are secretly narcissists, I don’t care (secretly narcissist would be a perpetual state of oxy-moron anyway). Keep posting people and I’ll keep cheering.
1-Narcissism as a personality trait and the corresponding personality disorder, is associated with an exaggerated positive self-expression that covers over a highly fragmented and worthless sense of self. It is also associated with a profound lack of empathy with others and an inability to see past one’s own need to maintain the false front. It’s not nice. Full disclosure, I’ve contemplated my own Narcissism before here so. . .maybe it’s a thing.