Individuals who are active participants in online health and fitness communities experience greater success in meeting their health and fitness goals when they portray a performative identity of a fit and healthy individual on social networking sites. Firstly, this paper will discuss the role of community in influencing individual members to achieve their health and fitness goals. It will then explore online health and fitness communities on social networks with examples from posts tagged #bbgcommunity on Instagram, posts from the subreddit /r/intermittentfasting on Reddit, and comments from the YouTube community for the channel Yoga with Adrienne. Finally, it will discuss the role the individual plays in online health and fitness communities to achieve their goals while developing connections within the community through identity performance.
Health and Fitness Communities Online
Health and fitness communities are made up of individual members who each have a desire to improve their physical and mental wellbeing, with individual members joining these groups for inspiration in their own weight loss or fitness journey. For these members being an active participant in these types of online communities, the benefits to improving their own health and wellbeing can be enhanced by their online interaction with the community and its members.
Etzioni (2004) describes communities as being made up of two parts. The first is that the individual members are interconnected in “a web of affect-laden relationships”, and secondly that community members have a “commitment to a set of shared values’ (Etzioni, 2004). Individuals are encouraged to join communities and to unite in their fitness journey with others, because their relationship to others is based on working towards a shared common goal together. To expand on the notion of community, Etzioni (2004) adds that communities are strengthened by members having a “shared history and identity” (p. 225). Health and fitness communities are driven by the relationships of their individual members in being able to unite in their health and fitness journey. One example of how community members unite in their fitness journey can be found on Instagram, whereby a hashtag can be used by a community’s member to connect with and join other individuals of the community (Instagram, 2020). The hashtag #bbgcommunity is added to a user’s post on the social network, usually accompanied by an individual’s weight loss or fitness progress photos (Instagram, 2020). The use of hashtags like #bbgcommunity provides the user with a sense of belonging to and being a part of a greater health movement (Pfortmüller, 2017).
Furthermore, members of health and fitness communities often share like history or identity in being overweight or in poor physical shape making them feel more connected to community members. As Pfortmüller discusses this proxy effect provides a ‘sense of shared identity’, that we are in this health and fitness journey together. This means that community members can begin to build trust whereby ‘even though I don’t know you, I trust you more than the average person because we are part of the same community, we share the same identity’ (Pfortmüller, 2017). For those seeking to belong to a health and fitness community by having access to a group of peers of shared identity and values, members are more likely to be motivated to achieve their health and fitness goals (Leahey et al., 2012). As Larango and colleagues (2015) discuss, being part of a community ‘can promote social support and social influence, facilitating health behavior change’. For community members to interact to facilitate this behavioural change, trust is important in building relationships with other community members. Hampton argues that traditional communities have found new ways to thrive online, and this is evident in the way that traditional gym or workout communities have turned to online spaces (Hampton, 2018). Web 2.0 technologies have provided opportunity for virtual social interaction and for accessing health and fitness support in ways that distance or time can no longer impede (Hampton, 2018). Porter (2015) discusses the concept of ‘virtual communities’ as ‘communication communities’ that serve more of a ‘social function’ rather than an exchange of information between members. These ‘network-based virtual communities’ can be described as communities that operate on social networking sites (Porter, 2015). Because some of these communities consist of ‘large and disparate individual networks’ what unites this virtual community is the support of the social network and the shared interest of its members (Porter, 2015). Health and fitness communities as virtual communities on social networking sites can be seen across a multitude of platforms. What social networking sites offer for health and fitness communities is an opportunity for members to interact with each other by exchanging photos, videos and messages that fuel motivation, peer comparison and competition in themselves and others towards achieving their health and fitness goals.
Communities on Social Networking Sites
Health and fitness groups have embraced new communication technologies, with Web 2.0 technologies such as social networking sites being embraced to connect individuals in their health and fitness journeys.
Platforms such as Instagram have acted in support of fitness movements such as the Kayla Itsines, Bikini Body Guide (Instagram, 2020). Users of the fitness program are encouraged to post photos of their journey with the progress picture playing a vital role in connecting individuals in the community in support and solidarity. By posting photos of ones fitness journey and applying the tag #bbgcommunity, members of this health and fitness community are united in completing the exercise program together. Furthermore, the use of the hashtag #bbgcommunity by Instagram users highlights how a tag can be used to foster and build community on a social networking site. From a hashtag fitness movement on Instagram, fitness instructor Kayla Itsines has further embraced how web 2.0 technologies can support an individuals health and fitness journey by introducing the platform Sweat to her #bbgcommunity (Sweat, 2020). Sweat is a mobile application that members sign up to to receive workout routines and to connect with other community members who are on the same path of achieving their health and fitness goals (Sweat, 2020). This embrace of new technology to support an online health and fitness community to connect, motivate and inspire each other to workout is an example of community in action and a community being strengthened by new technologies.
In their research into how social networks can increase physical activity, Zhang and colleagues (2016) argue that ‘networks that emphasize social comparison among members can be surprisingly effective for motivating desirable behaviors.’ For the community members of Sweat, being an active participant in the forum discussing their fitness journeys and exchanging photos of themselves and their fitness progression, members receive back support and motivation from their peers, encouraging them to keep on striving for their health and fitness goals. In addition to this their results also suggested that being part of a ‘supportive environment significantly increased exercise levels’, suggesting that while social comparison in individuals can be motivation, a ‘support-based environment can change ineffective health networks into highly motivating social resources’ (Zhang et al., 2016). This support focused community environment is also seen in the example of yoga YouTube channel, Yoga with Adriene (YouTube, 2020). The viewership on this network are connected by their shared interest in yoga, and subscribe to content creator Adriene to view her pre-recorded and live yoga class streams (YouTube, 2020). This network of users who connect over the shared interest being broadcast by the producer, may not necessarily connect with other community members as much at an interpersonal level as with the Sweat forum. Due to the live nature of YouTube Streams, interpersonal interaction amongst this yoga community is limited. However, this collectie of like-minded individuals all share a common purpose of building on their own personal yoga practice. As seen in examples of YouTube user comments in the Yoga with Adriene community (Youtube, 2020), a sense of belonging to a cohort of individuals all following an online yoga course together, unites this community of followers on this platform. The support that the broadcaster and followers of the community provide to each other in the form of comments highlights this network’s effectiveness as a motivating social resource for individuals (Zhang et al., 2016).
While social networking platforms have facilitated social fitness influencers like Kayla and Adriene to grow online health and fitness communities, individuals seeking to achieve their health and fitness goals, have also embraced web 2.0 technologies to connect with other like minded individuals on their health and fitness journeys and to find support within a community. Online forums such as Reddit support individuals in being able to connect with others with shared interests and goals, without necessarily having anything more in common than the subject of the subreddit they each are members of (Reddit, 2020). The difference between other social networking sites like Instagram, is that Reddit allows individuals to express more anonymity, whereas their identity can be more private or perhaps just part of one’s identity that they choose to project online (Reddit, 2020). While there is conjecture into the authenticity and truthfulness of practices of anonymity and pseudonymity in individual profiles online, there is an important role that this level of privacy plays in allowing individuals ‘to control what they reveal about themselves and who they reveal it to’ (van de Nagal et al., 2015). As explored in the subreddit ‘Intermittent Fasting’, individuals who are in pursuit of their health and fitness goals may often identify as overweight or obese individuals (Reddit, 2020). The act of posting a progress photo onto a social network such as reddit, amongst a community of members who are also practicing intermittent fasting, allows an individual to project a partial identity of oneself to a group of people that may not necessarily be a part of their day to day lives. By having this anonymity, an individual who might usually be embarrassed about sharing a photo of their weightloss journey online in contrast feels supported and empowered to share their story on Reddit because they may not be viewed by other individuals in their day to day interactions (Donath, 1999). van de Nagal and colleagues (2015) state the practice of identity anonymity in a community such as a weight loss community, provides the possibility to connect with people who share the same weight loss goals but are separate from the ‘social factors that routinely shape everyday life’. As such, the act of posting a weight loss progress picture to Reddit, allows an individual to share their story and gain support and motivation from others, who are separate from an individual’s community in their real life and who may not be able to relate or share the same health and fitness goals as the individual (van de Nagal, 2015).
These examples from Instagram, Reddit and YouTube highlight the ways in which social networking sites support online health and fitness communities by connecting individuals with shared health and fitness goals. By being active participants in these online communities, individuals are more likely to achieve their health and fitness goals when they receive support from other community members. As Shakya and colleagues (2015) argue, when individuals seeking weight loss “cluster” together they are more likely to ‘influence each other’s weight outcomes’. Furthermore, individuals that received social influence from community members achieved greater weight loss results than those who did not receive support (Shakya et al., 2015). While studies have highlighted that weight loss goals can be achieved by participants receiving support and motivation from their peers in health and fitness communities on social networking sites (Shakya et al., 2015), the social network community can only benefit the individual member when they actively partake in shaping their identity to one that reflects a profile of health and fitness.
Health and Fitness Identity Performance on Social Networking Sites
Performative identities on social networking sites, as is the case of individuals in online health and fitness communities, are constructed by each member so that they may be accepted and supported into the community they seek to belong to.
Kendall (2011) describes virtual communities as ‘existing through people’s imagined bonds’, meaning that for online communities to perform, each ‘participant’s identity plays an important part in the formation and continuation of the community’. Pearson (2009) expands further on this theory suggesting that individuals are aware of their ‘performance roles’ and that by being ‘actors’ we construct these identities to connect with an ‘audience of lurkers, virtual passers–by, and wider social networks’. Knowing that each individual is responsible for the identity they project can be a powerful tool for individuals seeking to meet with health and fitness goals as it allows them to project an identity that will attract support and motivation from community members. By posting regular progress pictures of one’s weight loss or sharing a post that discusses one’s improvement in fitness, community members receive back likes, follows and comments of support that further empower them to reach their goals. In a recent study of self‐comparisons as motivators for healthy behavior, individuals that were part of health and fitness communities that shared social norms of healthy lifestyles and that had individual members who portrayed identities of healthy behavior imitation, were more likely to aspire to their ‘healthy eating, physical activity, and weight loss intentions’ (Leahey et al., as cited by Shakya et al. 2015, p. 2477). In the example of the #bbgcommunity on instagram, individual members who constructed their online health and fitness identity with posted progress photos were portrayed as fit and healthy, and of always being on track with their fitness regime or diet (Instagram, 2020). In reality, these individuals were likely to have struggled with temptation or lack of motivation like everyone else. However, the act of a networked performance of identity allows an individual to portray an identity of a healthy and fit person on a selected platform rather than across all their social networking sites.
Choosing to engage in a performative identity with a community such as the #bbgcommunity, not only strengthens one’s own intention and motivation to workout but also demonstrates to other community members that if you too are an active participant in this community, you can look like this too (Leahey, 2012). As Centola and colleagues (2010) report individuals are more likely to adopt health and fitness behaviours when they have social reinforcement from other community members. Furthermore, their findings suggest that individuals ‘were significantly more likely to adopt’ a health or fitness behaviour after they receive more than one ‘signal’, such as a like or comment, from another community member (Centola, 2010). Further research also suggests that an individual who identifies as being less fit or overweight than others, ‘may be more motivated by social media content’ that reflects another individual for whom they can ‘recognize as being similar to themselves’ (Johnston, 2019). This notion suggests that while an individual’s identity may be performative and showcase only the health and fitness identity that they choose to portray, members in online health and fitness communities value authenticity. Additionally, Johnston (2019) states that individuals who are aspiring to reach their health and fitness goals are ‘less motivated by content featuring professional athletes and extremely fit individuals’. While individuals may seek to connect with others that portray an identity of peak health and fitness in online communities, this research shows that ‘relative similarity between users and people portrayed in the images’ can be a powerful motivator of individuals who are seeking to achieve their health and fitness goals (Johnston, 2019). These examples of identity as performance display how health and fitness communities can support individuals in meeting their health and fitness goals, by allowing them to project an identity of health and fitness that not only supports them in staying on track to achieve their own goals but by also inspiring competition through peer comparison to motivate members to achieve the shared common goals of the community.
Active members of online health and fitness communities are more likely to be motivated and are more likely to achieve their health and fitness goals when they engage in a performative identity on social networking sites that support the communities social interaction. Social networking sites support health and fitness communities to connect members by allowing them to communicate by photos exchange, comments of support and messages of motivation. Peer comparison provides not only support but competition which plays a role in motivating individuals in achieving their health and fitness goals. By engaging with other community members, individuals can support one another in their health and fitness journey’s. Health and fitness communities can further benefit an individual member to achieve their goals when they actively partake in shaping an identity of health and fitness on social networking sites. Having a performative identity in these communities supports individuals in meeting their health and fitness goals, by projecting an aspired or constructed identity of health and fitness, individual members are accountable for the identity that display which ultimately keeps them on track to achieve their own goals but inspires the community through peer comparison to motivate all members to achieve their shared purpose.
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21 replies on “Performative identities in online health and fitness communities are key to meeting fitness goals”
As soon as I saw the title of your paper I just had to read it straight away. I found it very interesting particularly in relation to those people who are overweight and find these platforms and apps beneficial. I hadn’t considered before how difficult some people may have in finding support for their desire to improve their health in offline environments.
I remember reading recently a study that found that if your friends and family are predominately overweight the chances of you also being overweight were exponentially higher than if you had always associated with leaner people. This must make it challenging to find support for a weight loss goal among your social groups. .
However with SNS you have the great benefit of being able to “reinvent” yourself online and find other avenues of support. I thought Pfortmuller explained it well “even though I don’t know you…I trust you more than the average person…” because of shared health goals.
However do you think online motivation is as sustainable as offline motivation? I know that I went to my fitness sessions on days I really didn’t feel like it because I didn’t want to let my gym partners and trainer down who also had made the effort to be physically present. Now that we have to exercise remotely and communicate by facebook I find I am struggling to remain as motivated.
Thanks for your comments. Isn’t it interesting how as a society we have embraced technology in all facets of our lives! From finding love online, to work, or even to find friends or to find connection in a community that we want to be apart of and belong to. For so many of us our real-life selves may feel that we don’t belong to or would not fit in to, in an offline environment.
I think that this is highlighted in the example you mention about the recent study you read regarding weight loss, in that the environments or communities we belong to impact our choices. I had also come across similar examples regarding environment and motivations for weight loss in my research and would recommend that you explore Leahey and colleagues work if you are interested in these studies (2011 and 2012).
I think you have put it well when you acknowledge the benefit of SNSs in supporting an individual in being able to ‘reinvent’ themselves online. I think that the way we choose to portray ourselves online, such as by posting progress photos, posting images of healthy meals, sharing information about ones workout routine, wearing workout gear in photos, all plays a part in reflecting the version of ourselves that we want to be. And as you mention, the concept that Pfortmuller explains “even though I don’t know you…I trust you…”, I think can even be extended further. I believe that a collective of Individuals can motivate another individual, just as much as an influencer could. For every individual that is a participant in projecting a performative identity in these online communities, their performative profiles goes on to motivate or challenge another user to join in. I think this is important because as you mentioned, ‘even though I don’t know you, I can relate to you and I trust you as we are both sharing a common goal’. I would even argue that as individuals we have more power collectively to impact someone else’s choices rather than a single influencer. But perhaps that just speaks to my lack of exposure or embrace of influencer or celebrity culture!
In answer to your question, ‘Do you think online motivation is as sustainable as offline motivation?’, I can understand your comments and the example provided about your own fitness journey, and that in having a set time, location and group of people to meet provides you with motivation and holds you accountable in reaching your own fitness goals. However, I would argue that motivational and accountability factors that are relied upon from others are not required for individuals to achieve their weight loss or fitness goals. In my opinion it is the act of performing in or being an active participant of these communities is the real driver to achieving one’s goals. By being an active community member, individuals receive nice comments, likes, or feedback about their appearance, and are able to actively compare and compete against other community members, which has been found to be a key motivator in achieving ones goals.
I fully believe that within ourselves we have everything we need to fulfill our weight loss or fitness goals, and that it is the ability to be able to measure ourselves against others in online and offline communities that are key to helping us to achieve them. Albeit, knowing I hold all the knowledge and ability inside me to meet my own fitness goals certainly doesn’t get me moving as often a I would like to be!
Do you think that this kind of comparison and competition between weight loss or fitness communities exists in your own like community?
I LOVE YOGA WITH ADRIENNE. She’s actually the reason I started exercising. They showed her videos in Year 12 PE for the girls and I loved them… Then I started going to the gym to do yoga… and then I started actually working out. She’s great! It was so interesting to read about her comment section. I also really agree with what you say about modelling your performance against the role model’s identity and performance. I’ve been doing Pamela Reif workout videos, and I find that when I’m watching her and working out at the same time, I feel more accomplished if I’m in time with her. It was great reading your essay and being able to identify these behaviours in myself. Your case studies were perfect for your paper!
I was confused about what bbgcommunity meant, so a definition for it would have been great. I still enjoyed the amount of real life examples you put behind it though! I liked the way you connected community with a hashtag in your argument.
I enjoyed the point about fitness communities being incredibly supportive. It was great to read about their positive effects!
You mentioned a figure 2, but I wasn’t able to see any images. Would you be able to describe them/post links to them?
After all of your research, were there any downsides in particular among these fitness communities?
Thanks for taking the time to read my paper and for your comments. I think a lot of people have been inspired to embrace yoga after watching Adriene’s videos. She is fantastic at making even beginners feel at ease in the practice!
There is something very motivating about being able to compare ourselves to others who are sharing in the same experience as us. Like you said, being able to see that we are in time with the instructor and being able to complete the workout correctly.
Does Pamela Reif’s workout videos have a community of members? Are you a part of this community? I wonder if having this comparison for you to compare yourself against, in this case Pamela Reif, motivates you to exercise? Or is it more than just Pamela Reif? Is there a supportive community behind the workouts?
I appreciate your feedback too. I had initially included screenshots of the comments section on YouTube, along with Instagram and Reddit posts from users in the aforementioned communities but after feedback from our lecturers and in considering privacy and copyright issues by publicly publishing these with my work online, I decided to omit figures from my paper. Though, as you rightly mentioned, I had still made reference to this in my paper. So thank you for bringing this to my attention. I’ve since edited my paper and the downloadable attachment accordingly.
In particular the figures I chose to omit were posts that featured progress photos from users of their weight loss or fitness gains, commentary of support from one community member to another on their posts, as well has posts with the hashtag #bbgcommunity, which stands for the Bikini Body Guide community as initiated through the Kayla Itsines’ fitness community.
For more examples, I would recommend checking out the subreddit intermittent fasting as I think as an example of an online community supporting its members in achieving their goals, it really resonates with it’s members. You will see lots of ‘I couldn’t have done this without this community’ sort of posts throughout (https://www.reddit.com/r/intermittentfasting/).
As for your question about the downsides to these online fitness communities, while I had not uncovered any in my immediate research, I would be interested in exploring what negatives their would be for individuals who are part of these online groups. What comes to my mind initially would be the impact that internet trolls may have on individual users such as bullying or unsolicited remarks, especially when it comes to a person that may be beginning their weight loss or fitness journey that may suffer from being obese or overweight.
I would hope that this isn’t the norm, and that for many of us, including yourself, we have found that these online health and fitness communities can be key to us meeting our goals when we embrace these groups and are active participants of the community.
Have you experienced any downsides in the fitness communities you have been a part of?
Hey again Kate!
Yes, I strongly agree, she is so great! I’ve gone to other yoga teachers but they’re not nearly as good as her.
Pamela Reif definitely promotes a community and engagement. She always tells her followers her plans for the day and life tips – makes me wonder if she has a day off, ever! Reif also shows us screenshots of messages from fans and answers them on her stories. She also does giveaways where you post a pic of yourself in workout gear after one of her workouts and you can win workout gear!
I wouldn’t say I’m part of the community. Although I do follow her, I am conscious of how being extremely into fitness can be really harmful for your physical and mental health, so I distance myself. I would say there’s a community in the YouTube comments but I’m not sure if it’s supportive. Usually if I read them they just talk about how much they work out.
You’re welcome! I would have loved to see the figures but that makes sense. Thank you for the link! Do you think people post on fitness communities with the “I couldn’t have done this without this community” for the attention and validation they gain from it?
I haven’t personally been a part of a fitness community, but I have been a part of many, many fandom communities. I would say some downsides of those communities would be idealisation of certain people in the group, or people not being noticed unless they perform certain behaviours, feeling less valued.
Are you also an active participant of online fitness communities?
Good choice of topic as it is a great example of how social media can shape society to the point of being decisive in personal activities. In the case of health and fitness, I agree that individuals tend to be more eager to fulfil their plans for the sake of gaining acknowledgement or recognition. That is because the affordances of Instagram, Reddit and YouTube offer a credible portrayal of the individual in the form of photos and/or videos. Therefore, the more fit the individual is perceived, the more public recognition and admiration. However, I believe that not only the fitness levels but other factors such as portraying a high socio-economic background could also be decisive for the followers, but that may go beyond the scope of your paper.
The examples that you provide in your paper are also on the spot to illustrate your point. I found it particularly interesting that you mentioned the hashtag #bbgcommunity which demonstrates what is for me, the main role of social media: providing a sense of belonging. In addition, your citation of Etzioni (2004) regarding the intrinsic adoption of shared values within a community is what social media means for the health and fitness community. I enjoyed reading you.
All the best
Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my paper. I really appreciate your comments and you have put so well into words how Web 2.0 platforms support an individuals portrayal of themselves online.
Etzioni’s discussion (2004) of shared values being a key make up of a community resonated with me. In addition, the comparisons I identified in having shared history and identity in fitness groups I think is a key driver for uniting members in their fitness journey’s. For example, if one member is overweight and they interact with another member who used to be overweight, they will feel more connected to each other having shared the same history. Do you think having shared values is enough to foster community? Or must we have some other kind of connection with members too?
It is interesting that you mention the socio-economic factors too. What do you mean when you say that portraying a high socio-economic background could also be decisive for the followers?
I do agree that there is only so much that an individual can get out of the community they are in should they choose to be just an observer or lurker in the background. It is the act of performing, of projecting a desired identity of being fit and healthy, of posting to the community to receive acknowledgement and recognition from others, that is key to individuals feeling motivated and accountable as they themselves have defined the goal or outcome they are aiming to achieve to the public or ‘out-loud’ as it were. I think that this act of publicly acknowledging our intentions is key to holding ourselves accountable for our actions.
I enjoyed your essay. I think it demonstrates two things that have come up in my own research into digital community. Firstly, that the popular assumption that the online world is dragging us into more isolated lives doesn’t appear to be borne out by the facts. Channeling a particular interest through social media seems to be a sure-fire way of expanding connections and relationships between human beings. Secondly, there seems to be something innate in human beings in our desire to share and celebrate with others personal goals and achievements. Perhaps we once restricted these things to close friends and family, but now we want and seek out recognition from a broader pool of humanity via digital community.
Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my paper. I could not agree with you more! SNSs is an ideal place for individuals to find others with shared interests and to establish community.
I too would argue that the introduction of Web 2.0 technologies is not dragging us into isolation from one another. I would agree with you that as human beings we have a desire to share and connect with each other. Humans are resilient and adaptive, and I believe that technology has helped us to adapt to the changing world we live in.
Duncan, are you a part of any online communities? Or are there any digital communities on social media that share your interests?
I’m from the Curtin, Bentley unit however I couldn’t help myself from not reading your paper, as it is opposite to what I am discussing in my own paper. I’m discussing the role of social media and fitness influencers impact on the construction of identity within adolescent males.
I think you raised a really good point about the importance of building a strong connection to a group who are going through a similar journey as yourself, which can assist in reaching goals and ignoring potentially damaging noise on these social media platforms, which I hadn’t considered before.
I also find it very interesting the difference in motivation between social comparisons and a support based environment and how these can significantly change ones motivation to engage in these communities.
Have you considered the impact of these social media influencers like Kayla Itsines as you mention on ones expectations of the ideal physique particularly the female body, and how having these role models may set an unrealistic expectation for many people?
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this.
I really enjoyed reading this from an alternate perspective to my own.
Here is a link to my paper if you want to check it out! https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2020Curtin/2020/05/10/the-impact-of-social-media-and-social-media-influencers-on-the-construction-of-identity-and-self-esteem-for-adolescent-males/
Thank you very much for taking the time to read and comment on my paper. I’m really glad that it provided an alternative perspective to be considered.
While we are discussing a similar topic within the context of SNS supporting online health and fitness networks, I had focussed my paper not on the fitness influencer and their impact but rather how an individual’s participation in these online health and fitness communities is key to achieving their fitness goals.
I think you addressed an important aspect in your comments that I had not considered in my paper where you mentioned that ignoring the potentially damaging noise on these social media platforms would be required to meet one’s goals. Anne-Marie asked a question of me in an early comment on this thread regarding the downsides of being a part of these online communities. It was not something I approached in my paper but it had me considering the negatives and in particular the impact that internet trolls may have on individual users such as bullying or unsolicited remarks, especially when it comes to a person that may be beginning their weight loss or fitness journey that may suffer from being obese or overweight. Or, perhaps as you suggest in your paper, it could be that the negatives associated with being a part of a community that compares body type and measures one’s fitness gains against each other is unhealthy.
Given that these social comparisons for the ideal body type have existed for generations, can we say that Web 2.0, social media and its fitness influencers are the cause for low self esteem in some Instagram users? I would argue that an individual’s circumstance, background and mental health play a bigger part in our construction of our online identities and the self esteem we hold for ourselves. While I cannot deny the research surrounding body image and an influencer’s impact on self esteem, as you have discussed in the example of Instagram influencer Elliot Burton in your paper, I would argue that for an individual who is an active, image posting participant of these online fitness communities, there is a developed sense of belonging to a group when an individual portrays themselves as the fit and healthy person they aspire to be.
In answer to your question about whether or not I had considered the impact of an influencer like Kayla Itsines and of being a role model for the ideal female physique, it is not something I chose to look at in my paper. However, the identity that Kayla Itsines portrays on social media is much more complex than one might assume at first glance. There is no denying she is fit, strong and lives a healthy lifestyle. But as a member of the Bikini Body Guide community that developed out of her fitness program, Kayla is a passionate commentator about body image. Her social media posts and back story that is widely available talk about her own battles with low self esteem, poor self body image and her experience of being bullied and perceived as skinny, weak or of having an eating disorder. Since starting her program, she has also gone on to become a mother and is passionate about individuals being able to meet their fitness goals no matter their age, sex or size. What Kayla Itsines represents is not an ideal image but a lifestyle and a community that empowers women and men using her program to be their own influencer and to influence one another. The program encourages users to compare themselves against themselves with progress photos, and by doing this online, they further motivate and encourage each other on their journey.
I can appreciate your position that having people that look like Kayla Itsines as a role model for body image may be an unrealistic expectation for some, but do you think that these online health and fitness communities would be popular without a ‘desired’ image as the face of the fitness program? For me, and many other members of these communities, seeing what someone can achieve and comparing their fitness or results to my own is a positive motivator to get me moving too.
I’m looking forward to discussing your paper with you too! I’ll comment on your thread regarding your argument about the role of fitness influencers on social media and their impact on the construction of identity and self esteem in adolescent males.
Thanks for getting back to me with such a great response.
I do agree that these online influencers would not be who they are or an influencer without having a physique that is desirable within the health and fitness community. As you mentioned seeing someone like Kayla and comparing yourself to that influencer as motivation for you to achieve your own goals is something extremely beneficial.
I feel like once apart of this community it may be easier to find inspiration from these figures compared to myself only looking into this community from an outsiders perspective, and only seeing this influencer for setting unrealistic expectations rather than what these community members are actually seeing.
That is an interesting point you make about being an outsider looking into this community. As an individual starting out on their health and fitness journey, perhaps not in ideal physical shape, if they were to see an incredibly fit person like Kayla, it may be very daunting to get involved in a community, should they perceive such unrealistic expectations in the influencer of said community.
Thanks Sam for providing me with an alternative view of influencers and the communities they impact.
Hi Sam and Kate,
I think it would be interesting to compare presentations of self within the #bbgcommunity community with others on the same platform, such as groups cohering around body positivity, as well as plus size hashtags and influencers. More research into this could deepen understanding into how offline norms influence online identity performance and culture—and vice versa.
Well done Kate on such an informative and thoroughly researched article! I really enjoyed reading this as I could relate everything you said to things I have seen myself on social media. I think a lot of people always discuss the negative impacts of social media; but hardly ever recognise the positive impacts social media can have on the community.
I think a big thing with fitness is definitely being motivated, and feeling like you have a community of people in the same boat as you, can help you feel supported and encouraged enough to stay on track with your health and fitness goals.
I agree completely with your article and I really enjoyed reading it!
Thank you for your feedback. I’m so pleased you found some similarities in my research and your own behaviour online.
Finding motivation as you say in the health and fitness community you are apart of is such a driver to keep on track to achieving your goals, but the motivation that you or I can provide other members of a community is as equally as beneficial. That mutual support in shared values and goals goes a long way to strengthen a community.
Thank you for sharing your insightful research work and your thoughts on identity in communities and networks which help expand the overall debate.
You have explored a very interesting topic of how shared health and fitness goals can bring together like-minded individuals to form a community through their “weak ties”. While they share some of their weight-loss (hi)stories, did you find that some members may be tempted to embellish their stories for acceptance or support?
As I was reading your paper, I was particularly intrigued by the notion that platform users are encouraged by the affordance of to share a ‘partial identity of oneself’ to a virtual audience or virtual community membership. This act of sharing brings about the sense of community and togetherness. In other words, pseudonymity / anonymity plays a role in liberating vulnerable sections of society in real life as in virtual communities – it gives them freedom to express themselves as they wish.
I think you have done an excellent job and your conclusion is on point with your topic. Well done!
I have done a bit of research on pseudonymity in online communities and social networks and you can visit my paper and see what my take is on the topic. My paper is found here: https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2020OUA/2020/04/27/how-pseudonymity-in-online-communities-has-the-effect-of-being-a-double-edged-sword/
Thank you again.
Thank you very much for taking the time to read my paper and provide feedback.
I had not explored the concept of individuals posting embellished stories about themselves. This has raised so many more avenues to be explored! I was considering the idea that the information community members were sharing about themselves and their weight loss journey for example, were factual. But in the case that the content has been altered from the real life truth could certainly be used by an individual to perhaps gain more likes or comments or attention. A very interesting point you have made!
Perhaps this does lead into the context of anonymity online. That if one were self-consicous of the social judgement of others they may choose to hide or alter their online identity. That being said, I am now interested in the concept of one perhaps being dishonest to gain the social attention they crave.
Like you, I do agree though that pseudonymity / anonymity plays a role in liberating vulnerable persons from being able to express the whole or partial selves online and that can be a very positive experience for many when wanting to find community and belonging.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Kate and Bayayi. Jumping in as I think this particular thread is interesting. I also wonder whether there is an element of virtue signaling driving participation in the #BBGcommunity groups. It’s also interesting how this group convenes around a central figure (Kayla) as well as the hashtag—making this style of collaboration quite unique to social network sites.
A great paper very engaging a well thought about topic to discuss. The sub headings explained your main points with good examples to backup your position on the topic. Well researched topic I enjoyed finding out more about health and fitness communities. Social network sites do play an important role in individuals choices online. Absolutely it does kind of form our identity and who we are in society.
Kate, this makes a really interesting link between performed identity online and the offline self. Internet and media scholars have spent much time underscoring the disinhibiting effects of anonymous online environments like Reddit. For that reason, I agree with your interpretation that performing a fit and healthy identity online within the #bbgcommunity doesn’t necessarily translate into actual motivation offline.
However, it’s really the #bbgcommunity on Instagram that interests me, academically. Facebook (Instagram’s parent company) is striving to create a real name Internet (Zhao et al., 2012) and this new, nonymous environment embraces real world names and offline markers. Under these conditions scholars have found that users express their identities implicitly rather than explicitly; rather than explicitly posting workout selfies and tagging #bbgcommunity, it might be interesting to see how members of this community show who they are through interactions rather than explicit narrations of self (Zhao et al., 2012).