Social media is an important element of today's society, with an estimated 3.6 billion users globally. However, browsing through posts religiously, particularly those that elicit negative emotions or glorify a specific body type, might have an influence on one’s self-perception. Body dysmorphic disorder is described as an obsession with perceived flaws in an individual’s appearance that generates substantial distress and impairment (Himanshu, Kaur, and Singla, 2020). Generally speaking, females are more dissatisfied with their weight, facial hair, height, and complexion. Males, on the other hand, are more dissatisfied with their muscular bodies, acne, stature, weight, and hair loss.
Despite variations in areas of concern, both males and females can become uncomfortable within their bodies. Various historical and contemporary societies have employed exercise to prevent illnesses and enhance health and well-being throughout history. Exercise has been shown to enhance mental health by lowering anxiety, depression, and negative emotions, as well as improving self-esteem and cognitive performance (Bauer, 2020).
Boxing and strength training help you reduce stress, trigger the production of endorphins, improve sleep, and focus your mind. The goal of 12RND Fitness is to maintain a strong standard of health and fitness and preserve physical and mental health long-term. This principle is at the core of what the coaches at 12RND share with their members. Sylvia is a personal trainer, the owner of 12RND in Blacktown, and a psychology student who is constantly searching for ways to make people feel good in their own skin and owning it! I interviewed Sylvia to find out her views on body dysmorphia and to find out some strategies that we can implement at home to solve this issue.
Q. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your journey in the fitness industry?
A. “My name is Sylvia Iskandar, and I am the owner of 12RND Fitness Blacktown. Health and fitness are something that I have always been passionate about, with the love starting when I was young. I knew I wanted to be a personal trainer after breaking my ankle during a soccer game and being on the bench for months. After getting back into it, I realised the effect fitness had on my mental health. So, I made the decision to complete my Cert III and IV in health and fitness in 2013, and I’ve been in the industry supporting people with their goals and overall health and wellbeing ever since.”
Q. What sort of impact do you think exercise has on someone’s health, if any?
A. “The overall impact that exercise can have on someone’s health, both physically and mentally is immense and endless. Although extremely underrated, exercise has the ability to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression levels through the release of endorphins. Additionally, exercise increases your productivity, improves general health, and enhances sleep creating better functionality for the individual. I know, have met, and was one of those people that did not want to leave the house because I was constantly unmotivated and did not feel good about myself. When someone feels like they have an inability to function day to day, it can be depressing, and the worst part is no one understands, sometimes you don’t even. I have seen so many changes from my clients and myself since I started to focus more on myself, my whole self, spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically, and less at comparing my progress and my life with others that I see on social media.”
Q. How has your outlook on body image changed since you began exercising?
A. “Body image is an individual’s most insecure feature because it’s the first and most predominate feature outsiders see. I realised how much going on social media took its toll on me when I began to look at videos and photos of models and started losing an immense load of weight. I get overwhelmed when I look back, but I feel proud of where I am now. So, for me, exercising allowed me to feel more comfortable within my own skin. Exercise produces endorphins into the body allowing individuals to feel happier and accomplished. Exercising changed my outlook on body image as it has shown me that no matter what shape, height, size, or age you are, people will surprise you with their skills.”
Q. How do you think that proper training will change the way someone feels about themselves?
A. “Everyone’s situation is different regarding why they get started, but a proper training schedule can immensely improve how someone feels about themselves through the sense of accomplishment one gets after completing a workout, especially when you don’t feel like exercising. With a proper training regime, sense of self becomes heightened as body changes begin to occur and effort begins to get acknowledged, in turn leading to a better state of mental health. Exercise always starts as a ‘need’, then turns into a habit, and finally an obsession, because even after a single workout you feel a sense of accomplishment and feel good about yourself.”
Q. Are structured exercise programs the only way?
A. “Structured exercise programs help when you’re working towards a specific health and fitness goal; however, no it’s not. Exercising in general is a great way to improve your mental and overall health.”
Q. How can one get started?
A. “Understanding your health and fitness needs is the most important part of getting started on a healthy journey. Once the individual knows what their health goals are, they will be able to locate a fitness professional and/or gym that will be able to accommodate those needs. At 12RND Fitness Blacktown, we try to understand your training goals as much as possible, so our performance coaches can help guide you towards them. Our coaches act as mentors and can help you design a path to achieving a general better state of mind by fueling your body with exercise and food. It is important to have guidance when beginning but our coaches are always up for a chat to help you.”
Q. What do you suggest for someone who wants to start within the comfort of their own home and improve their sense of self?
A. “As hard as this might sound, get off social media. We live in a world where the internet is so easily accessible to people, no matter where you are. I truly believe body dysmorphia or insecurities stem from what we witness on the internet with all these ‘social media fitness influencers’. If something does not nourish you, get rid of it. Social media provides a glance into someone’s life, but it does not tell a story. Social media is only helpful if you look at the right content and get out of this mindset of continuously comparing yourself to what you see on the net. Instead, maybe start telling yourself daily affirmations, go for walks, create better eating habits. Someone can be active and get involved in creating a healthy mind through exercise by first changing the small things, such as the mindset we have towards exercise or creating healthier eating habits, which lead to a healthier mind, and so on. Exercise creates the ability to ‘sweat out the negatives’ and unclog the mind.”
Q. Any last remarks?
A. “Exercising for mental health needs to be normalised. Fitness centres have had the perception of places people go to lose weight or gain muscle; however, exercise is predominately used to mentally rejuvenate and as a society we need to stop being scared to show that.”
Over the years, much has come out of how mainstream media promotes exaggerated levels of beauty in the shape of photoshopped celebrities or fashionable models. With influencers populating our feeds, it's tempting to believe that social media, too, is harmful for body image (Chae, 2018). The institutionalisation of standards of beauty causes individuals to evaluate the disparity between their own bodies and this 'ideal’ and may lead to body dysmorphia when this ideal is not met. Adolescent body dysmorphia is a major public health issue because it causes a myriad of negative outcomes, including impaired emotional well-being, poor self-esteem, depressive disorders, and disordered eating. Proper exercise and healthy eating have been scientifically proven to enhance how one feels about themselves. It is encouraged people draw away from the façade media displays as it can negatively impair one’s self-esteem, and instead begin the process of creating a healthy lifestyle.
Bauer, J. K. (2020). The Effects of Instagram Influencers and Appearance Comparisons on Body Appreciation, Internalization of Beauty Ideals and Self Esteem in Women.
Chae, J. (2018). Explaining females’ envy toward social media influencers. Media Psychology, 21(2), 246-262.
Himanshu, A. K., Kaur, A., and Singla, G. (2020). Rising dysmorphia among adolescents: A cause for concern. Journal of family medicine and primary care, 9(2), 567. https://doi.org/10.4103/jfmpc.jfmpc_738_19