Social media can help you spread the word of wellness to new audiences as well as your current clients—but not all content has a positive effect, especially when it comes to helping your followers feel good about their bodies. In fact, multiple research studies indicate that time spent on Facebook and Instagram can contribute to negative body image for both men and women (Fardouly & Vartanian 2016).
In a new study of 130 undergraduate women in Australia, researchers looked at the effect of 16 images sourced from Instagram and tagged with #fitspiration, a hashtag often used to categorize posts promoting “fitness inspiration” and healthy eating. Fitspiration images in the study showed women posing in exercise clothes or engaging in activity. A control group viewed Instagram travel photos. Results showed that subjects who were exposed to the fitspiration images reported increased negative mood and body dissatisfaction (Tiggemann & Zaccardo 2015).
Despite the potential for breeding bad body image, posting about fitness inspiration can also lead to more encouraging outcomes: Subjects in the Tiggemann and Zaccardo (2015) study cited above reported feeling more inspired to improve fitness levels and eat well after viewing Instagram fitspiration images. This is an important takeaway for fitness and wellness professionals because it tells us our social posts can make a positive difference!
Doing It Right
The key is to publish content that bolsters the potential for inspiration without resorting to messages and images that counteract this positive effect by triggering poor body image. Incidentally, although fitspiration imagery is most associated with women, a content analysis of more than 600 Instagram photos under the hashtag #fitspiration showed that almost 30% were of men (Tiggemann & Zaccardo, in press).
The bullet points below will guide you in creating inspiring social media posts intended to increase body satisfaction and overall wellness for your clients and followers:
Representing Your Wellness Brand
- Consider how you might describe your wellness brand in about five words or key phrases. Do the captions and images/videos you use in your social media posts effectively communicate those words and your brand?
- How do you want to be known as a wellness professional? If you post selfie-style images and videos, do they convey your talents and skills beyond what your body looks like?
- Imagine your typical client or the target person you hope to reach via social media. Are your social posts tailored to that audience?
- What’s your philosophy on wellness? What about body image? Do you think a variety of body shapes and sizes can be attractive and inspiring? If yes, how could you reflect this perception in your social posts through images, video or text-based memes?
- When selecting hashtags for your social posts, especially on Instagram, research each hashtag stream in advance. (Type the hashtag into the search bar found on the social platform you’re using.) Are the majority of images in those streams consistent with your brand, messaging and wellness philosophy?
Inspiring Your Audience to Wellness
- Before you post to social media, ask yourself why you’re posting that particular content. Is it to help/inspire your audience, or for your own gratification?
- When posting content intended to be inspirational, consider the overall message. Does the accompanying image complement or detract from (or even contradict) that message?
- Is there harmony between what your write in your posts and the images you show?
- Images of women are often objectified or sexualized. When posting photos of a person or yourself doing an inspiring exercise or yoga/Pilates pose, how is the subject’s body being displayed? Is the entire body visible, or is the image segmented to showcase just half the body or a particular body part? If segmented, is there a specific reason why?
- When you post images of yourself or someone else for the purpose of #fitspiration or #yogainspiration (i.e., inspiring your audience to fitness, yoga and/or wellness), is the subject in the photo doing an activity, or is he/she “modeling”? If the latter, is there a reason for this?
- If you’re taking a selfie that showcases how good your body looks, what is the intention?
Looking at the Big Picture
- How would you distinguish between fitness-centered content that could come across as shaming your audience versus content that would inspire them?
- Would a person who is new to fitness or mind-body exercise feel uplifted by your social content? Why or why not?
- What are your goals when using social media? For example, do you aim to educate or motivate your audience as a role model, present the ups and downs of your own wellness journey, or perhaps a bit of both (or do you have a different goal altogether)? Now think about your social media posts from the past few months. Whatever your intention, do your posts reflect your goals?
The point of these reflective questions is to make you more aware of your audience and the messages you send via social media. You have more influence than you may think; it’s up to you to decide how to use it.
Fardouly, J., & Vartanian, L.R. 2016. Social media and body image concerns: Current research and future directions. Current Opinion in Psychology, 9, 1-5.
Tiggemann, M., & Zaccardo, M. 2015. “Exercise to be fit, not skinny”: The effect of fitspiration imagery on women’s body image. Body Image, 15, 61-67.
Tiggemann, M. & Zaccardo, M. (in press). “Strong is the new skinny”: A content analysis of #fitspiration images on Instagram.