Marie Claire Controversy: Fitness Bloggers and Body Image

Wow, this is a big one for me.  An article called “The Hunger Diaries” in this month’s Marie Claire discusses “six popular bloggers [who] advocate healthier living” but asks if what they write and how they come across could have a negative, even dangerous, impact on their readers.

I see what Marie Claire and the author are trying to say in the article.  I also regularly read almost all the bloggers mentioned in the piece so I am familiar with their content.  Overall, this article brings up a lot of issues for me.

Here’s the thing: I had an eating disorder; started out anorexic, switched over to bulimia, and wound up hospitalized for it when I was 22.  It was a six week in-treatment program and they saved my life; this I know.  That was a long time ago for me. I’ve completely recovered and moved on with my life, but I had to go through it.  I’m sensitive to it, and I think about it when I write, a lot.

I’m also a fitness professional; I have a bachelor’s of science with a lot of biology related classes.  I have a 500-hour certification through an incredibly reputable organization for Pilates and I have been working with clients in gyms and studios since 1997.  I know what I’m doing, I keep people safe, dole out reasonable advice, and err on the side of caution.

I am very aware that I am working with a person’s most precious and delicate possession: their body.  I treat it with the respect and reverence that it deserves.  These people trust me, they listen to me, they take my advice.  I keep this at the front of my mind when I blog too.  I look at my readers as I do my clients.  I am respectfully trying to keep your bodies happy and healthy.

So I talk about all things in moderation, and I talk about balance.  I write posts on training for a 5K by alternating walking and running, gradually building over time to a full run.  In some ways the advice is boring; it’s not sexy to walk for two minutes and then run for 90 seconds, but that’s what I say.   I try to make it fun and upbeat and “atta girl,” but it’s really just boring, safe advice.  I know it’ll get you there, though, and I know that you’ll be happy when you do.

Then I see the extremes in the fitness industry.  The TV fitness personalities with online certifications, never even having to step foot in a gym to become “certified.”  The celebrities pushing some fitness contraption or other, usually a B-lister trying to add a few more dollars to their retirement fund.  Or the marketing companies pushing useless or dangerous supplements and cashing in on the desperate hope that there really is a magic bullet that exists and this “thing” might actually be the one.

The six fitness bloggers discussed in the article for the most part do their own thing.  They are fitness bloggers, not fitness experts, and that’s a big distinction for me.  They are quirky, funny, dedicated, and I’m a little envious of their ability to keep their figures.  Most of them don’t have kids; I wonder how they’ll do if and when that happens.   I’m generally happy with where I am, but I feel pressure being in the fitness industry to look a certain way.  I have seen the glances of judgement, good or bad, when I meet people face to face.  But that’s okay; I know this is part of what I signed up for.

Marie Claire‘s point is that people who are prone to eating disorders can become hooked on these blogs.  The bloggers are beautiful, young, vivacious, and thin.  I can see where a reader could get caught up in the cyber-documented lives of the bloggers and try to emulate them to negative effect.  I’m not saying these bloggers have eating disorders, but they do provide a framework that someone with an eating disorder could take too far, and that makes me uncomfortable.

Personally, I have an obligation to convey healthy information to my readers because I consider myself a fitness “expert.”  I feel like the bar is higher for me than it is for these women.  But I feel all fitness bloggers should keep in mind what is best for their readers, at least some of the time.  (A big exception from the article is the nutritionist who is a registered dietician; I would put her level of responsibility as high as mine.)

How do you feel about this?  Is it the responsibility of a blogger with no real training in fitness to censor herself just in case someone with an eating disorder is reading?  What does it say about the blogger if she is attracting an audience of people with eating disorders?

Me? I still don’t know; I really have to think about this some more.  One of my main reasons for becoming a fitness blogger was to dispel the misinformation that is out there.  I am ridiculously passionate about it.  I just want everyone to be happy and healthy.

BTW, I’ve talked about this before.  Here’s 5 goals for Fitness Bloggers.

What do you think?