Your body is your business card… But maximizing your impact shouldn't mean minimizing your attire.

 Hypocrisy in a 90 Dollar Gitch

I think it’s oddly fitting that the morning after I started working on this, Facebook and Instagram went down for a while due to some technical difficulties. I couldn’t help but wonder what people whose entire livelihood depends on those mediums are thinking to themselves, whenever things aren’t going as planned on social media. Will the universe explode?

We live in an interesting time. The days of dial-up internet, land lines, and text message limits are a thing of the past, and they’ve become just as antiquated as human interaction.  Because of the widespread (over)use of social media, people seem to have lost the ability to be themselves. The internet has created a place for the poorly raised to demand attention, and it only builds on itself by the amount those less poorly raised cheer it on with their likes, shares, and follows.

In fitness, the issues above become compounded, given the fact that the industry I belong to is arguably one of the most steeped in superficiality of any in existenceand that’s a reality that won’t change.  There are a number of crusaders out there trying to level the playing field, but they’re still largely outnumbered by those who would rather play the same game to what they perceive as their own advantage.  The hot-button to more “followers”, more likes, and more shares is a simple equation: Remove clothing, and try to look attractive.  In this day and age, entire “fitness careers” have been built around this premise, with nearly nothing ever delivered as far as actual fitness training content is concerned.  It’s an ongoing issue that has legit coaches pulling out their hair for the sake of this industry’s integrity.

I’m not going to sit here and pretend I don’t remember what I’ve said in numerous articles; I still stand by the fact that I believe a person who’s an expert in fitness should possess (or be well on their way to possessing) a body and health that clearly demonstrates an above-average handle on fitness than the average person.  Not only does it show you’re a disciple of your own craft, but it also has a zero percent failure rate as far as making your business credible at the surface level, from outsiders looking in.

But with all of that said, I believe it’s important we don’t drink the same kool-aid that fuels 80% of the pernicious culture of social media fitness marketing. Even if we try to make that kool-aid “different” by simply changing the flavour.

Scroll through a virally popular influencer’s Instagram really quickly and you’ll be surprised at how much it all blends together to end up looking like one consistent piece of naked flesh. Really. Try it. It’s bizarre.  I got Instagram 7 months ago now, and I was amazed. I thought things were bad on Facebook, but clearly I had no idea.

In combating these thirst-trap accounts, many coaches will try to juxtapose their own nudity with upbuilding quotations, mantras, or otherwise verbose ramblings that are meant to inspire. To this day, I haven’t seen one that actually creates any justifiable linkage between the words and the posted image.

Before keyboard warriors get at me to say the above is exactly what has all been helpful and inspiring to countless people who have personally reached out to them (or inspiring for them themselves!) as they begin a fitness journey, I’ll say this:

  • We shouldn’t act like we can’t tell if someone has a great body until they drop their tank top and shorts.
  • If what I’ve described above is REALLY what it takes for people to be inspired, then perhaps it points to a deeper issue.

On that second point, I believe “deeper issue” puts the term lightly. And I believe it’s an issue that the online fitness industry has been doing nothing but coddling and fertilizing, by way of actions I refuse to contribute to.

We need to remember that if we became certified fitness experts, we’re supposed to be in this to help people over the long term. If we keep the idea brewing that the key to confidence, happiness, fitness, health, and a greater self-esteem ultimately comes from taking off your clothes for public consideration, we are not helping anyone over the long term.  And that’s regardless of whether we’re the ones doing it ourselves, or the ones promoting it.

What this says about you

Well, let’s start with the obvious.

Regardless of the amazing content you may have to share with the world, on a superficial level, this puts you in the same boat as many of the fluffy fitness accounts that have a totally different agenda; a boat that many purists hate. If you’re okay with that, then press on.

Beyond that, I’ve formulated my opinion on this when I see it done in abundance: I feel it can suggest an insecurity – either an insecurity with one’s own body and the need for positive reinforcement concerning it, or an insecurity with just how much you actually know about fitness on an academic level, thus compensating.  Neither of these is good.

I also believe that it can misrepresent what fitness should be all about to an unwitting client. The messages of confidence and empowerment and victory that are usually coupled with social media accounts like the ones I’m describing, do not hold up if the only visualization of said confidence comes from taking bathroom selfies and awaiting comment thread activity to create and preserve a high.

The problem is, most fitness professionals who are guilty of contributing to this flawed culture will never admit it.  

It’s one thing to “play the game”, and use your great physique and supposed confidence as a way to enhance buy-in.  It’s quite another to turn the pursuit of fitness and training goals into a never-ending feed of salacious fodder that serves little more than one purpose – often cheaply disguised as “motivation”.  To me, that’s egregious and appeals to an audience who largely doesn’t care about the actual expertise you might claim to have. By extension, it could suggest that you largely don’t care either.

What this does to them

I’ll be blunt: it perpetuates a stereotype that many of us would rather not fall under. You can’t claim to be against something if by your actions, you’re simply recreating it with different packaging.

Remember: For professionals who are worth their salt, a lot of this behavior may stick out like a sore thumb, but the typical consumer may not be as savvy when it comes to separating the wheat from the weeds in the world of fitness. That’s the whole reason gimcrack training infomercials are still a thing and haven’t yet gone extinct. The public perception of fitness as an entirety is still very superficial and cosmetic-based.  A video of a half-naked person doing good quality biceps curls will inevitably get more attention than a fully clothed person doing the same thing.

For the longest time, I’ve seen tweets, accounts, and entire movements that seem to be dedicated to keeping a balanced view of all of this stuff. Instead of introducing people to the idea that confidence and clothing can successfully coexist, many instead encourage people to believe that the more confident you are, the more often you should expose yourself – and the more of yourself you should expose.

This is hammered home by the experts themselves by training, posing, and posting nearly naked, to reinforce the idea that such behavior is the key to some form of self-improvement.

The overall result for the masses has been more of this:

Cool, but rather than professionals maybe cracking down on the oversell of sexuality as it permeates the fitness industry and trickles down to the impressionable masses, it’s just been encouraged all the more so in attempts to get more people of all shapes and sizes to rethink the idea of “privacy”, and ultimately play the same game.

It’s an overpowering influence that has transformed the remainder of us into guests in our own industry.  But the truth of the matter is, the information and knowledge that drives our industry forward is often spearheaded by the unsexy, lesser known coaches; Ones who do indeed practice what they preach, but see no need to go this route for the sake of a big online following.

If you’re a person who’s seriously after getting results in the gym to improve your fitness, health, and body composition, it’s perfectly fine to be inspired by a Greek God or Goddess Instagram physique. Or by someone whose confidence seems to be through the roof. But it’s worthwhile to remember a few things:

  • You don’t know what goes on behind the scenes. For every posted half-naked photo, there could very well have been 20 outtakes to find the right lighting, angle, facial expression, and filter.
  • Bare-skin fitness accounts are a dime a dozen. It’s worth asking if there’s anything noteworthy about the content being put out for mass consumption, or if it really just comes down to being an eye candy thirst trap.
  • If you’re trying to take life advice from a certified personal trainerespecially one who seems to rely on exposing his or her naked body for their traction – then chances are you’re being led down a dangerous path by a role model not quite worthy of the title.


What I’m Saying

If you’re a fitness professional who walks the talk, then you’re to be applauded. This isn’t meant to discourage you from continuing to pursue goals that involve getting a strong, great looking physique, nor from encouraging others to do the same. This is to shed light on another fact: If most of your content on social media is putting that physique on full, uncensored display for no real reason, then remember that you’re no different than hundreds of thousands of other social media jockeys who are doing the same thing. It’s nothing we haven’t all seen before, and although it may boost your numbers, it can be a strike against as far as the quality of the following you’re working so hard to achieve goes.

Aside from bringing absolutely nothing new to the table in the industry, you’re running the risk of exacerbating an ongoing problem that this profession has been dealing with for years:  That of gauging credibility solely based upon your body. I’m not against the notion of your body being your business card; In many ways, I believe it is.  But when too many people are using it to offset what they don’t know about fitness, it might lump a smart coach who follows suit into a questionable association. Especially if half of those folks are truly giving out a silent cry for help.

If you really want to stand out as different in the personal training industry, try keeping your shirt on.

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