Fitness Photos, Body Image & Is Ignorance Bliss?

Hey guys! I hope you’ve had a great few days since I last checked in. I’ve been busy finishing up my push and pull up program, training clients, and enjoying an absolutely gorgeous fall here in Calgary; we haven’t even had our first freeze yet! Loving it.

You guys know the saying that ignorance is bliss, right? Well here’s an example of what I mean: When you’re camping and see the evidence of little creatures living around you from the night before when you were sleeping, ignorance is totally bliss. Hey – I’d way rather find out they live in that spot in the morning and have a good night’s sleep, not knowing they were there as I slept. Oh yes, ignorance is bliss when I find the mouse in the water bucket in the morning but didn’t hear it scampering near my head at night!

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Example two: A person hasn’t caught up on the news lately and doesn’t know that someone’s house just down the street was robbed, so they aren’t living in fear when they leave their home.

You get the idea. So while ignorance might be bliss sometimes, being knowledgable about life and our reality is important too. It’s valuable to understand what’s happening in our world and in our bodies and interact on a real level. Yes, it sometimes forces tough-to-answer (and even ask!) questions, but I think more often than not, being informed is better.

Despite this truth, I recently had the thought that maybe, when it comes to health, not knowingsome insights about the fitness and nutrition world could be better than knowing it all. Hear me out on this for a moment.

Yesterday Mikey and I were going through our photos. All of our pictures are digital now, and while we have some great ones from our summer trips and life together, we have a lot of iPhone pictures that we aren’t really ever going to use. In other words, I have a lot of selfies. Like…a lot. ? I put them on my computer and then use them for blog posts, but I certainly don’t need to keep them. I shocked myself a bit by going through pictures from the past two years and finding not just selfies, but lots and lots of progress pictures. Why was I taking these pictures? Sometimes it would be front and profile angled shots for a two week, 21 day or 30 day challenge I was doing at the time, and then the subsequent photos of me after the challenge. Fair enough, but I think you guys know I’m done with those challenges for good!

But the few challenges I completed didn’t warrant the numerous front and side shots I’d taken, and I realized I started taking these progress photos in the morning because I threw my scale out and had discovered another way for me to stay on track. While this strategy has a place for people trying to track their progress or lose body fat (just like the scale does), I realized that I was putting a lot of stock into these pictures when I didn’t need to take them daily. I just replaced one form of tracking for another, but I didn’t realize this until last night.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

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This was at CityFit on September 25th – I know because of the date on the picture – but most of the pictures I’m referencing were of the self-timer variety where I prop the camera up, have my sports bra on, and pose to the front and side. I consciously always sure to smile because I want to reinforce that my body is good and strong as is, but the truth is that I would look at back on pictures from months ago when my diet was stricter or I was moving more effectively for fat loss OR I just happened to have a “good” day and then feel inadequate with my current state.

And you know what? When I looked back over the pictures and started deleting them, I was embarrassed. Embarrassed because of the quantity of these photos over the past 2 years and because I didn’t realize what was happening mentally every time I snapped a picture. I was comparing myself to my old self in an unhealthy way. Furthermore, I realized it meant that I wasn’t accepting my body as is, appreciating it for what it was, but instead had been picking apart my body in the pictures.

We all know comparing yourself to others is not healthy; we’re here to support one another!

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And while the idea of competing with yourself is sometimes healthier than competing (I could also use the word comparing here) with others, it hasn’t always sat well with me…

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Sometimes we are GREAT at not comparing ourselves to others, but when it comes to ourself we are totally our worst critics – you know that, because you likely are too! A client of mine confessed, with tears in her eyes, that she’d never tell her kids the negative things about their bodies or the way they move or their weight that she speaks to herself, berating herself for where she’s “allowed herself to get to” and not letting it go. But does that really work to help motivate us to put the cookie down and pick up the broccoli? Comparing yourself to when you were younger or the ideal of who or what you should be or look like typically just leaves us feeling bad about ourselves, and often we pick that cookie right back up.

So how is ignorance bliss here? Well, had I not known about where I could be, or about the concept of abs = fit (which we know is not true and which I happily no longer subscribe to), or about how progress pics are a “thing…” You can see where I’m going with this. And while there’s of course value in knowing about health and staying fit, there’s also value in simply living your life, eating when you’re hungry, moving normally but not worrying about getting all your workouts in, etc!

I read two posts this week that highlighted this idea, and I’d love for you to read them and comment with your thoughts. The first is Whitney’s post about “How Fitness Gave Me a Negative Body Image” and the second is Pam’s courageous account of her struggle with thinking she’s fat in photos called “Hocus Pocus.” Very insightful and I really understood where they were coming from.

Some of this post comes from where I’ve been in the past as I’ve really worked on my self-talk and body image over this past year and really came to some healthy recognitions about my body this summer (you can read about those in my results recap of my #SummerOfSweat here!). But seeing these pictures I’d taken showed me where my mind was at the last little while as I haven’t taken a just-woke-up-when=I’m-leanest photo in quite some time now. But it hit me that we need to be careful about the “healthy habits” we’re indulging in our lives that can serve us well but can also be a detriment to our progress both mentally and even physically.

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This picture makes me think of health – of vibrancy and joy, or full life and not worrying about fitness or nutrition and just living. But you know what? I remember the other outtakes from this shot where the lighting was brighter where I noticed the skin on my stomach and asked Mikey to take another picture.  Crazy! I don’t want pictures to bring you back to a negative place in your life or your thinking, and while they inevitably will to some extent (a photo that might remind you of when your last meal with a family member who died, a picture of you right after that Disneyland trip when you were sugar-ed out and stressed out with your family, etc), let’s start working on our mindset and our idea of health and fitness and photos NOW!

Do you or have you ever taken progress photos of your body? Has it affected you positively or negatively in your self-image?

What do you think when you see pictures of yourself? Do you cringe, hide away, critique or do they not matter much to you?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Thanks for weighing in, and until next time, snap a proud selfie, jump in that picture with your kids, or better yet, leave the phone or camera and go live life! ? Off for a walk in the sunshine before my last 3 wonderful clients of the day,

Bonnie