The Fitness Goddess™ as we know her today has expanded far beyond the front cover of women’s health magazines. She oversees a dedicated following across social media, and she shares with her audience workout tips, meal planning and a variety of sleek and form fitting athletic apparel that never ever gives her a camel toe. I have no disrespect for the personal trainers who have launched their careers into the stratosphere with the help of Instagram and Youtube. What I find exhausting is that I do not recognize myself in any of them.
I come from a family that values fitness and a balanced lifestyle so from a young age I was always moving. Summers swimming in the backyard pool, dance classes, bike rides, long walks with the dog after dinner, camping trips, cross country meets, and softball matches. Alongside all of this was an abundant adoration of food, cooking and sharing meals, forever how I understand showing love. In addition to this my parents were very conscious to not put pressure on my sisters and I about our looks. We were told to brush messy hair, or make sure to floss and once the great puberty fairy arrived, deodorant and other supplies magically made their way into our toiletry cupboard. One of the greatest gifts my mother ever gave me was that growing up I never once heard her disparage her own body.
Enter moi, as a teenager. Roms coms and saucy TV shows aside I had very little awareness of modern beauty standards for women. I was far more enamored with the clothes on Gossip Girl than the measurements of the actresses wearing them. Apart from slow developing décolletage (though according to my bosomy pals I dodged the bullets of backaches and extortionately priced bras), I was comfortable and happy in my body. I exercised, I loved carbs.
Two elements coincided in the complication of my relationship with my body and fitness. Firstly I went off to University, where as my metabolism slowed down I was hoodwinked by bizarrely good dining hall catering and the U.K’s drinking culture. Additionally, before this I had yet to truly get invested in social media. Facebook became the way people organized group projects and you were more likely to get asked for your Instagram handle than your phone number on a night out. While I enjoy social media as it allowed me to carve out a space to express myself creatively and led to the founding of Cady Quotidienne, it was the first time I was truly bombarded with images of The Fitness Goddess™.
That is not to say that social media and Instagram in particular is solely responsible for the narrowing of beauty and health that we see today. The preoccupation with image and being fit has become ingrained in western culture, both in men and women. But when fitness becomes synonymous with appearance and appearance is synonymous with an incredibly narrow selection of bikini or sports bra clad bodies with legs that go on for miles, for anyone existing outside of those parameters it can make you ache in your very soul. Trying to become this visual embodiment of desirability (complete with good lighting, editing and strategic poses I might add) is ultimately unsatisfying.
Furthermore, very few accounts successfully balance worthwhile authentic advice alongside the aspirational imagery. Alice Liveing, who I had the pleasure to hear speak last May at She Can She Did Mid-Week Mingle, for example gives in depth tutorials and offers a nuanced approach that I find very refreshing. She’s also a professional personal trainer and three-time best selling author. She knows her stuff. Too many accounts play the Fitness Goddess without any substance behind it. And while I think that more people investing in their health is fantastic, it does grate when there is little to no depth and diversity. I’m not trying to police people from sharing their fitness journeys on social media. Audrey Leighton Rogers of Frassy Audrey is the woman responsible for reaffirming my love of strong thighs and getting me into lifting 12 kilo free weights. But she is conscious and adamant that she is not a professional and I find this sort of honesty rare on Instagram. I cannot even tell you how many accounts promote fitness alongside ‘thin’ tea and waist trainers. It’s enough to make a gal want to scream.
The reason I struggle with the message of The Fitness Goddess™ is that ultimately it all rings hollow for me. Last spring, I challenged my body and my mind as I never had before, training and running the 2018 Paris marathon. It was discipline unlike anything I had ever known. In the final four weeks of training I was increasing the furthest distance I had ever run in my life by two miles every week. 12 miles. 14 miles. 16 miles. 18 miles. 20 miles. And then the 8th of April arrived, and I stared down the Champs Elysée feeling like my heart was going to beat straight out of my chest, jolting forward at the sharp crack of the starting gun. 26 miles later, approaching 5 hours and 40 minutes I tearfully encouraged another runner, a young woman my age who was struggling as we were within sight of the finish line. ‘We’re almost there- come on! Oh god we’re almost there’ I believe was what I said but who knows at that point I could have been speaking incomprehensible babble. I crossed the finish line holding the hand of my running partner, my fifty-one-year-old mother, who had been beside me every step of the way.
Coming out the other side of that race, yes, my legs were lean and muscled, but I didn’t have washboard abs. I still had wide hips and softness on my stomach. It was not the physical strength that has stayed with me in the six months that have passed. Largely because the exercise I was doing for the marathon simply isn’t sustainable in my everyday life. It ate up my weekends. Saturdays were spent running two to three hours and then refueling and sleeping as my body tried to recover. As I often like to say, the amount I was running was actually a bit insane. Here is where I find that the paradigm of modern fitness falls short. Mentally and emotionally, I am in a far better relationship with my body than a year ago. I remain active: going on runs, hitting the gym for ab burning Pilates classes and incorporating weight lifting for strength into a routine that suits me. But I am decidedly not anything close to The Fitness Goddess™. I do not look like her largely because my life is not like hers. I am not a trained fitness professional, I am not doing this to make a living. Even if I did, genetics means that it is highly unlikely I would ever achieve the proportions of the perpetually tanned figures covering my explore page. I refuse to chase something that would only leave me empty inside. Climbing to reach this pedestal, only to never feel like you’ve arrived. I’ve learned that fitness and health are so much more holistic and personal. So, no, running a marathon did not turn me into a fitness goddess. It simply returned me to me.