A young woman approached me at an event last week and shyly said, "I'm on a fitness journey, too. I've been following your progress on Instagram." And instead of saying, "Cool, thanks! What's your IG, I'll follow you back," I said, "Really!?" in a completely incredulous voice.
Maybe it's a generational thing, but I still find myself amazed when the internet manages to bring people together like this. And deep down, I still think that if I post a photo of my physique, my dinner plate, or my gym, all of my friends are going to immediately think, "Ugh. What a narcissistic egomaniac. She thinks she's pretty effin' special."
Of course, depending on who you ask, that's exactly what plenty of people do think. For example, the rules at this year's Coachella music festival read, "No Selfie Sticks/No Narcissists." And a recent study out of Ohio State University supports the notion that people who post selfies on social networks are more likely to exhibit narcissism and other self-serving social behaviors such as Machiavellianism (manipulation of others) and psychopathy (acting without regard for other people's feelings). There's even a National No Selfie Day on March 16th to offset National Selfie Day on June 21st.
So what's the upside? Well, to counterbalance the negative reports, a survey by Today/AOL, 65 percent of teenage girls said seeing their selfies on social media actually boosts their confidence. And 40 percent of all teens say social media helps "me present my best face to the world." Psychologists call this idea that you can control your own world "self-efficacy," and it's definitely a predictor of success in life.
So what's the solution? You like the feedback, the motivation is helpful, and you want to be a part of the #gymlife, but you don't want your business connections or your favorite Aunt Ethel to think you're a self-involved asshat.
Here are my best recommendations to have all of the value from social media and none of the backlash.
1. Pick Your Channel Thoughtfully
A few years back, you were likely in a single social media camp. You were a Facebook person, a Twitter devotee, a forum troll, or a Myspace case, but probably not all of the above. Now, you have choices, and you probably have multiple platforms.
Use them! Instagram and Snapchat are where photos are expected, and people are more receptive to self-expression on these channels. If you're on Facebook blasting out every Flex Friday to your second cousins, long-forgotten high school classmates, and that girl you met at the Atlanta airport two years ago, your fitspiration is probably getting more eye-rolls than likes.
If you're really just looking for a place to share your fitness journey, consider a fitness-specific social media channel like BodySpace. Posting progress pics to get constructive feedback is one of the key functions of the site. If you've got the best-ever recipe for protein pancakes, the BodySpace crew wants it. Want to post a beautifully lit shot of those new finger-shaped muscles on your rib cage? BodySpace members will appreciate it—and the work it took to get there.
2. Be Selective With the Type of Photos You Post
Ask yourself: What do you want your account to reflect? Is it a mirror on your life, or just a window into one part of it? That may sound like an odd question, but if you post muscle shots on the daily and pretend like your kids don't exist, your friends who aren't gym lovers are going to be put off. And if you aren't wearing much, your grandma might get nervous.
The great thing about social media is that you can have it both ways. Consider opening separate, fitness-dedicated, and perhaps private (i.e., approval required) Instagram and Snapchat accounts. Then, direct your gym squad and fans to these accounts for training and diet-related posts and pics.
3. Use Moderation
Even though you're super excited about your newly found horizontal ab lines, posting seven shots a week won't appeal to most of your network. They might not notice incremental improvement, but they will notice how you're clogging up their feed. If IG is your jam, your followers probably don't like you to post unless you have something cool and new to share. That means more than one post a day is probably a stretch.
And sure, you love your gym. It's like church to you, and you want to promote this revelatory experience to your buds. But if you check in at your beloved place on social every day, the only person who might care is the gym owner. And even he or she is probably like, "Dude, I get it already."
4. Become a Master of Captions
If you're somebody totally different online and in real life, then I've got some sad news: The people in your life know it. And they think it's weird.
Online, try your best be sincere, and use captions to your advantage. Even if the shot is just salmon and kale in Tupperware, or you flexing in a sports bra with your shorts pulled up, it's still a reflection of your goals and passions.
If people understand your motivation, they are more likely to view photos with an open mind.
But, What if You Don't Want to Do all That?
Maybe softening your message to please the normies just seems like too much work. I get it! If the gym is your world, fitness is your everything, you're proud AF of your hard work, and you want everyone in your social community to know about it, go ahead and shout it from every social rooftop.
Just keep in mind that the hiring manager for that financial services job you fiercely want could be peeping at your social profile before bringing you in for an interview. If she's a gym junkie, it might help get you the job, but conversely, it might get your resume recycled.
That might not seem fair, but the reality is that everything gets more complicated when we're talking about bodies. If your great passion is macaroni art, you could regularly post about how to make the macaroni, tag other aspiring macaroni artists, and share pics of the results, and nobody would bat an eye. The difference is that the macaroni art is not you.
When making muscles is what gets you up in the morning, the project-in-progress is not just personal, it is quite literally you. The beautiful result of the hours of hard work, piles of protein, gallons of BCAA-spiked water, and mountains of steel-cut oatmeal is a walking, talking, breathing, human work of art.
Not everyone is quite ready for this revolution just yet. Sure, the 5-year-olds in my kiddo's kindergarten class talk about selfies as if they're just another part of life's routine, but they're not on the hiring committee...yet. By the time they are, the gym selfie will be old hat. Until then, use common sense when you use your front-facing camera, and you won't regret it.