Look at any fitness Instagrammer’s feed and the first thing you’ll notice (apart from their impressive abs) is how damn happy they look! It’s easy to look at their wide, bright smiles contrasting against their perfectly tanned skin and think “I want that.” And why not? Who doesn’t want to be healthy, happy and fit?
But here’s the thing. Having the mindset of “I’ll be happy when I have abs,” is a dangerous game. Not only does it imply that you don’t deserve happiness in your current state, it’s also hanging your hopes on something that may not actually make you happy after all. Here’s why.
Think about the happiest people you know. Do they have a perfect, Insta model body? Probably not, because happiness isn’t based on external things. There’s no magic pill for happiness, whether that’s abs, that dream job or the ‘perfect’ relationship. Sure, it’s important to strive for the things you want, as it’ll give you a sense of achievement. But ticking things off a list ultimately won’t make you feel fulfilled. People who are truly happy are that way regardless of their circumstances, not because of them.
Another thing to consider is that #fitspo models only share a highlights reel of their lives. We can’t tell how they truly feel inside from a smiley Instagram photo. Take Alexis Ren, for example. With a smokin’ bod, more than 9.5 million Instagram followers and a passport stamped with exotic destinations, the 20-year-old had, it seemed, the perfect life. But she recently revealed that behind the scenes, things weren’t so peachy.
“I would look at my profile and be like, ‘Look at this girl! She has, like, the most perfect life!’ and I would feel so guilty for not feeling blessed all the time,” she told Cosmo. Meanwhile, she was secretly battling an eating disorder triggered by her mum’s death and pressure to lose weight from her modelling agency. She managed to find the support she needed and is now happy and healthy. But it goes to show you can’t always take things at face value.
If having abs was easy, everyone would have them. Sure, it seems to come a lot easier to certain people — like those women who inexplicably keep their abs at a higher body fat or throughout their pregnancy. But for most women, we have to be at a very low body fat to see ab definition. Not only does being that lean require a lot of sacrifice (say goodbye to Friday night pizza or impromptu trips to Messina!), it can actually affect your hormones and fertility. There’s a good reason that VS models and fitness competitors only get that shredded once a year — it’s not sustainable or particularly healthy long term.
For a lot of people, the sacrifice just isn’t worth it. Former bodybuilder Jolene Jones recently went viral when she shared a side-by-side body transformation to Facebook. The photo on the left is from her fitness competitor days, while the one on the right is after a three month break from exercise and restrictive eating. In the post which has received more than 118K likes, she shared that she was far happier now that she had relaxed her diet and could socialise with friends.
“I went from being controlled by my grueling gym regimen and weighing chicken and having protein shakes in my purse to fully enjoying a social life. Today I went rafting with friends and enjoyed food the old me would have drooled over and wouldn’t have dared to touch.” she explained in the caption. “I’m right where my body wants to be and that makes me happy! I have absolutely zero regrets stopping. I had a goal, I completed that goal and I have moved on, and I feel really good about that.”
What happens if you do finally achieve abs and it’s still not good enough for you? This is something that many fitness models experience. They get to the point where they’re, by any standards, extremely lean. But once they arrive at a fitness show to compete, they see there are other girls with more defined abs than them. So, they feel like they have to lose more body fat to reach their own high standards. But if those standards keep getting higher and higher, you never reach that elusive ‘end point.’ As Jolene Jones put in her post: “A six pack didn’t make me happy. I was never enough and always needing to improve.”
There’s a good reason people who set goals like ‘lose 15 kg’ or ‘get a flatter tummy’ often fail: aesthetic goals aren’t all that motivating! Many people get frustrated when they don’t see physical results within a week, and give up. Or, they compare themselves to svelte Instagram models and get disheartened. However, when people see themselves becoming able to run further or lift heavier weights, it’s incredibly encouraging. That’s why non-aesthetic (ie. strength or performance based) goals tend to be more motivating than ‘get abs.’ And hey, if a 6-pack happens to make an appearance somewhere along the way, then great! In need of some inspiring fitness goals? Check out this article.