A few weeks ago Virginia Sole-Smith at Burnt Toast wrote about posting workout selfies. The internet did what it does, which is have a variety of opinions. I posted a link to the article on my personal Facebook page… some folks messaged me privately to say it was an interesting article and they were thinking more about it after reading. Other friends commented publicly to say they agreed or understood the point of the article. One friend said “I’m sure I don’t agree – not sure on the why,” and there were additional “disagree” or “agree, but that isn’t why I do it” comments.
The article also got posted in the FIFI Facebook feed, and received multiple responses. After going back and reading through the responses I noticed that a lot of them are in favor of workout selfies and felt the article was out of bounds in saying that they were unnecessary. A few folks said they were interested in sitting with the why behind the selfies, as Sole-Smith suggests: “we should sit quietly for a while with why we do it. And name its potential for harm.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about this article since my first read of it, and have revisited it a few times. I like the nuance Sole-Smith brings to the piece, and the fact that it isn’t presented as an all or nothing argument. I follow many “influencers” on social media who document their athletic movement, most of them doing so in larger bodies. I follow them specifically because I want to see larger bodies doing joyful movement, and my feed is carefully curated to avoid weight loss and diet influencers. If someone I follow is interested in changing their body I support that goal, but I’m likely to unfollow them if they talk about intentional weight loss as a virtuous endeavor, because that isn’t something I’m interested in reading about. There are a few folks that I think manage a good balance between discussing weight loss and activity because they understand the potential harm of weight loss discussions that aren’t contextualized. For me, Sam is a great example of this where she has chronicled her path to knee replacement surgery over the years (sorry that it still hasn’t happened, Sam!)
Influencers aside, I have several friends who post workout selfies on their social media accounts. Some do it to keep themselves motivated and share their movement journey with friends. They get “likes” or favorable comments which helps them feel supported. One friend runs a monthly marathon for local charities and her daily run selfie includes images of local scenery, social justice-orientated signs/murals, and related social commentary. Another friend is a sociologist studying race in running spaces. She posts her daily running selfie to show a Black woman in our local, white-dominated running environment. I’m so used to seeing these posts that I rarely stop to think about them and what they mean or convey about workout/diet/selfie culture, if they mean anything at all. But I often notice when friends who don’t normally post workout selfies start posting them, especially when they also post about intentional weight loss. Sometimes their commentary comes with statements like “been inactive for too long, gotta get myself back in shape” or other similar sentiments. Those posts always make me a little sad because I don’t feel like they are moving for movement’s sake or for joyous purpose, but rather to try and punish their body for being “bad” or “too big.” And once I start thinking about those types of comments I start to wonder what they think about the “bigness” of other bodies, and how that shapes their perspectives and interactions with folks who have those bigger bodies.
Overall I’m in agreement with Sole-Smith’s perspective on workout selfies. I don’t think they are needed very often. I love being in supportive movement-specific groups and that is where I expect to see, and sometimes share my own, movement updates or sweaty selfies. And I’m not here to tell anyone else what they can or should post on their social media accounts. We’re all different and we all enjoying posting and viewing different types of things. But I think it is worth some self-reflection to understand why we are or are not posting that workout selfie, what the goal is for sharing, and how it might be received.
Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.