Despite only being created in 2010, the social tsunami that Instagram has become is undeniable. Not only are we able to lock into what our favorite celebrities are doing 24/7, but we can also keep up with the latest trends from fashion to food to fitness—one of the fastest growing categories on the platform. But the “ideal” body started way before the ‘gram. Feminists once pointed at Barbie’s unrealistic proportions, while others blame reality TV about the rapid emergence of large chests, small waists and of course, a HUGE ass.
Unfortunately constantly staring on those tiny screens (and into the lives of others) not only affects our perceptions of reality, but self value, worth and self-esteem. Admit it, haven’t you felt like “perhaps” you could stand to lose a few pounds after scrolling through Teyana Taylor’s feed or add in a few reps of squats after coveting one of the Kardashians? We’ve all been there.
Easy access makes it even easier to compare yourself to people you traditionally wouldn’t cross paths with—all courtesy of your explore page. Even more difficult to navigate? How they got there. Is it all hard work and sweat, or perhaps a little assistance by way of a nip-tuck? Your guess is as good as ours.
To tackle the hefty topic, we spoke to seven Black fitness and wellness experts about what motivates them to keep pushing despite the problematic social media landscape, how they are redefining health stereotypes and why we all need to let go of the obsession with the “perfect” body.
See what they had to say below:
Who: Brandon Coleman, founder of @twerkaerobics
Location: New York
“My passion for fitness and wellness was instilled in me at a young age. My parents lived active lifestyles i.e. weekend runs in the park, growing vegetables in our backyard, enrolling my siblings and I in sports (gymnastics, horseback riding, tennis, tap dance) and providing healthy snack options. Therefore, when the idea for TwerkAerobics materialized, I had the foundation to support the idea.
“The message people are receiving is, if I do X,Y, and Z just like their favorite celebrity, influencer then they will have the same results, without realizing the person you’re idolizing has a different schedule than you, access to chefs, personal trainers, and a completely different body type. Moreover, those that are beginning their fitness odyssey, may be extremely intimidated and feel a sense of defeat before beginning the process. Having transparent conversations about fitness and your wins and loses are the way to a better life both physically and mentally.
“Positively, Instagram opened doors for fitness/wellness instructors to reach a larger audience; both nationally and globally. With a large social media following, people in different countries have the privilege to join a fitness instructors class at the comfort of their home and ask them questions using video or sliding into their DM’s…and who doesn’t enjoy a good DM conversation?”
Who: BreAnna Dore’, Fitness Activist @fitnessdore
“My fitness journey started during a tough time in my life—I was grieving the loss of my dad to a heart attack at the age of 16. During this time, I experienced depression and considered taking my own life at one point. It took four years of going from 160 to 99 lbs. (and feeling the weakest I’ve ever felt) to wake up one day and want a change. I looked myself in the mirror one day and made a vow to never allow depression to control me again. I started working out and eating a high-caloric diet to gain my weight back. Eventually, I started to see a change and decided to share my journey with the world through social media.
“According to yourhearthealth.com, African-Americans are at a greater risk for heart disease than other races. [It’s one of many topics] our community does not talk about it enough. We don’t understand the causes or even how to take preventative measures. So, being someone who experienced this with my own dad is the reason why I feel a responsibility to share my knowledge to help others.
“I hope to change the mindset of our generation and the world by using my story to influence. I believe that others can relate to me. I work a corporate by day and I’m hustling each night trying to turn my passion into a business. Along with all of that, I’m still human. I still experience setbacks and this what makes me relatable because I’m willing to be transparent. The majority of people typically go on a fitness journey due to a life change event. Someone is either getting married, just had a baby, or going on a vacation. So, we have trained our minds to set a goal (vacation), reach that goal and then go back to our normal unhealthy lifestyles. Then, we wonder why we can’t maintain these goals. So, the key to not only seeing results is by making fitness and health your lifestyle regime.”
Who: Ife O, certified-Pilates instructor and owner of @thefitinbedstuy
Location: New York
“People of color have not been made to feel welcome in places for a long time. And, in this current political environment, it has brought to light something that people may have thought had gone away. So it was important for me to create a space where everyone feels comfortable but especially those who are women of color because I know what it feels like specifically in the fitness space. I did that by bringing it straight to the community where the majority of residents are people of color and by giving those residents quality and supportive instruction from a diverse group of instructors who are largely women of color. If you can see people that look like you and understand your journey, it makes you feel more welcome.
“Speaking of social, many fitness studios alienate people of color strictly because their marketing is almost exclusively white. Whether it’s because their staff is largely white or those are the models they know/use. But when the initial touch point with a brand is social media or an ad, and you can see no one who looks like you in it, you question whether they even want you there.
“My goal is to portray healthy bodies as ones which are prepared to handle the everyday tasks they will come across without injury. Those are the terms we speak in. You want to be less winded going up the train stairs? Let’s work on that cardio. Dealing with back pain? Let’s strengthen your core and stretch those hips. Have a baby at home? Let’s get those arms ready for carrying her around. Health is a lifestyle, not a look.”
Who: Derrick F. Partman, owner of @r.i.s.e.fit
Location: Hamilton, Ohio
“[My fitness journey] started with my grandfather Dr. Samuel Johnson being a chiropractor—that’s when I became fascinated with human body. Plus, I was crazy about bodybuilding at a young age. I made my mother buy me a weight set for Christmas and started to transformation my body at a young age. Living in Rock Island, Illinois on 12th street you saw unhealthy people all the time eating bad, not exercising or staying fit. I told my childhood friends (Sam, Darryl, Josh, and Jerome) I wanted to owned my own gym someday. But you have to be passionate about training, so you cannot just wake up and do this.
“In my opinion, I think it’s crazy and lazy (to believe the social media hype). You’re taking the easy way out!! Promoting skinny tea, killer waist trainer and etc. it’s crazy because you have to love yourself first. You would do anything for a likes, followers or comments—people treat social media like blood (which we actually need blood to function). It's social media’s fault people are willing to die over a big butt, coca cola shape body and great cheekbones. Instead of going to the gym, trusting the process and working for it.
“I take pride in my profession. I worked really hard in college, sacrificing to attend early morning workshops, fitness conferences, etc. [In terms of making] small changes, we can start off by searching for sales on food items, local farmers or take the time and grow your own garden. Free trial at gyms and Groupon are helpful too. We have all the resources to make healthy eating/fitness our #1 goal.”
Who: Briana Owens, CEO & Lead Instructor @SpikedSpin
Location: New York
“One thing that is alarming health issues is that African-Americans have been desensitized to deadly diseases that are disproportionately killing them. Obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure have become accepted as 'cultural norms.' African Americans constitute more than 35% of all patients in the U.S. receiving dialysis for kidney failure, but only represent 13.2% of the overall U.S. population. Most people don't think about how the diseases are connected or how they could affect their daily lives. In terms of eating, there is usually a lesser of two evils - start by choosing the lesser... fruit slices over fries, remove one bun from the burger, etc. Also, don't over complicate it. Fresh green beans seems ideal, but canned green beans are still a better alternative than not eating vegetables, or only eating carbs. Another major help is to cook instead of eating out. Cooking is both more cost effective, and healthier - as long as you're not cooking processed foods.
“The most dangerous message being sent through this [social media] surgery epidemic is that health is only about exterior image. I know that most fitness marketing is done through imagery and the promise of quick results to transform the body, but realistically, the most important part of health happens inside. If people are fine with only a quick external fix, the internal issues and health epidemic will remain. While surgery itself is not an issue, getting surgical enhancements and marketing them as 'fitness results' is detrimental because these false claims cause unrealistic expectations—which can lead to people giving up on fitness, or not starting at all—again contributing to the negative statistics of Black health. Given the current statistics of people of color suffering from obesity and the ailments that come as a result of the disease, we cannot afford to give people another excuse.
“People have always had an obsession with 'nice bodies', that is not new. I don't think fitness has ever properly been mass marketed to benefit health, it's always been about having a nice body, and obtaining it quickly! I think what has changed recently is that we are bombarded with imagery more than ever from celebrities to 'instamodels', and therefore the obsession feels more prevalent than ever before. However, I love to see celebrities and influencers who show themselves practicing healthy lifestyles, and who embrace and highlight diversity in body imagery: Karrueche Tran, Gabrielle Union, Tracee Ellis Ross, Eniko Hart, Christina Milian, and Jada Pinkett Smith.”
Who: Taye Johnson, Wellness Lifestyle Consultant @taye_jay
Location: New York
“While a student at Parsons majoring in Fashion Design, I was looking for a part-time job when I discovered a brand new fitness movement just after its inception called SoulCycle. I was hired by one of the original founders, Julie Rice, to operate the front desk and perform odd jobs around the studio while learning about the brand. As fate would have it, an instructor called out sick and I was given the instructor's podium to lead the class. The experience awakened me. A fire from within was ignited and I fell in love. SoulCycle gave me a platform to inspire and motivate others about fitness and life.
“No one is perfect. Beauty comes in all different shapes, sizes, colors, etc . But, If you are not healthy this all can fade. One alarming health statistic that you often see within the African American community that goes overlooked is hypertension. I always encourage my clients to be the best version of themselves (mind, body and soul). Focus on your own journey and to block out all negativity distractions or opinions.
“Small steps that people can make to access healthier food and affordable fitness options. Always shop the perimeter of any grocery store because that is will you will find the healthier options—Trader Joe's has been known to be affordable. In addition, you can YouTube, Google or use Instagram as an resource for home workouts. Or, seek out your local YMCA and Boys and Girls Club for cheaper fitness classes. Lastly, you can walk around your neighborhood and take the stairs when possible!”
Who: Elisa Shankle, co-founder of @HealHaus
Location: New York
“I think as a society specifically in this country, we tend to pay more attention to what we put on our body, as opposed to in our bodies. I think a lot of it is due to lack of education and accessibility. Unless you grew up around holistic health practices, it's not something you are going to learn in school automatically or see in mainstream culture. We live in a very consumerist culture where people are more concerned with selling something to us, rather than understanding what is actually good for us body, mind, and spirit.
“Instagram has been great from the context that now wellness is a lot more accessible, and the mainstream circuits are catching on. Our goal at HealHaus is to make “Healing a Lifestyle,” so it helps that people are starting to be more open and willing to invest in their health perhaps over a pair of sneakers or a bag. Social media has helped to push this narrative and with a global platform has allowed people to share information amongst each other.
“The downside is that the wellness industry is becoming very saturated and you have to weed out what is 'faux' wellness and what is real. People want to call everything wellness now, and also want to make it feel exclusive, when wellness is different for everyone.”