These Celebrity Trainers Are Fighting the Illusion of Perfect Instagram Abs
Jen Widerstrom is the latest trainer who isn't afraid to show what women's stomachs *actually* look like—rolls, bloating, and all.
While Instagram may be the place you go to stalk friends, exes, and acquaintances, it's largely an aspirational platform. Our feeds are filled with celebs taking exotic vacations we can only dream of, bloggers in perfectly styled outfits, and chefs whipping up drool-worthy meals we know we won't be making for dinner tonight. (The list goes on, but that's another story.) And of course, there are the fitstagramers flaunting insanely sculpted six-packs, capable of stopping even the most body-confident amongst us in our tracks.
Jen Widerstrom has one of those aspirational bodies. The fitness model and celebrity trainer (who replaced Jillian Michaels as a trainer on The Biggest Loser), regularly posts photos of her strong physique that inspire us to get to our morning workouts. And that's a great thing. But in her latest post, Widerstrom strayed from her bread and butter of magazine-worthy photos to share a photo of her stomach while sitting. It got way more likes than any photo of her six-pack she's ever posted.
In our Facebook live with Widerstrom where we discussed the post, she admits that the photo wasn't actually intentional. "I was doing a photoshoot last week and I had an amazing hair team and makeup and all these people finding outfits for me. I was sitting there with my cell phone in my hand...and as I opened my phone, it caught the shape of my belly hanging out of in front of my spandex. I took the picture and I was like, That's what I look like? I can't do this photoshoot. I look terrible. I'm fat! I knew I shouldn't have had breakfast today...I started thinking all these really unkind thoughts and down the rabbit hole I went. I had to stop and say, You're just sitting down!"
Still, as someone who makes her living off of being incredibly fit, Widerstrom says she found herself nervous to post it. "I thought, do I lose credit as a trainer? And I thought no, I ask you guys to be vulnerable so you deserve my vulnerability back," she says. "I wanted to share it because we all have these weird moments where we shame, label, or are hard on ourselves for no good reason. I wanted people to know it's normal... it just makes us all human."
Widerstrom says that posting the photo was her "opportunity to try and fight back" against the current social media landscape of perfection. While it's awesome that we celebrate strong, badass women, we need to be better about turning that admiration inward, she says. "What we're not doing is embracing our own bodies. You need to embrace your shape and be the boss of our own body—they are hashtags for a reason," she says. "I don't know how exactly we got here, but dammit, I'm going to turn it around."
In her caption on the post, Widerstrom credits Australian trainer and Instagram sensation Emily Skye for inspiring her to post the so-called "two-minute transformation." Skye (whose kettlebell workout for a sculpted booty you can nab here) has posted videos of her stomach bloat, explaining that she doesn't in fact walk around with a six-pack at all times.
"It's totally ok that I'm not ripped all the time. I bloat, I get inflammation, I lose my abs really quickly when I eat 'not so healthy meals' but it doesn't worry me! I live a realistic and maintainable lifestyle that I enjoy," Skye writes in the below post.
Yes, it's ridiculous this confession even needs to be made—of course we all bloat—but in a world where airbrushed abs have become so normalized, these posts can have a huge effect on the body confidence of so many women. Proof of that is Anna Victoria, who seemingly started the trend of sharing "unflattering" photos nearly a year ago after she decided she "no longer wanted to post only perfectly posed and flexed selfies," and began sharing candid videos like this one of her showing that it's OK to have skin. What a concept. She's since started a movement of real women posting photos of their own "imperfect" stomachs.
"I didn't know how the photos would be received since posting unflattering pictures hadn't been the norm, but I saw so many girls comment on my posts things like "goals" and how they wish they had a flat stomach, and received questions about how to get rid of their belly rolls specifically," she says. "I thought to myself, I have belly rolls, it’s normal, why do they think belly rolls are bad? Every one has rolls when they sit, no matter how big or small you are! But some younger girls, or even women who have grown up with body dysmorphia truly don’t understand that, and that's why I wanted to do this."
Ironically, the Fit Body Guide trainer who became famous for sharing inspiring transformation photos of her followers is now perhaps just as well-known for her own "transformation" photos that show her stomach when she goes from standing to sitting, or before and after dinner.
While Anna says she sees it as her responsibility to motivate her followers, she wants to show that you can't compare yourself to the perfect pictures you see on Instagram. "There’s nothing wrong with posing and loving your body at its best angle, but I absolutely feel a social responsibility to keep it real. When you’re being watched by millions I believe it’s important to be transparent and show your more natural side, too," she says. "I've received messages from girls with bulemia or anorexia who tell me that photo helped save them from their disorder. I really can’t comprehend that level of impact, it’s something I’m incredibly humbled by. If I can help even one girl—even slightly change her perception of herself for the better—then it’s worth it."
While we don't expect to see washboard abs go away anytime soon—after all, they're what sells—with photos like these constantly going "viral," it's comforting to know that change is happening. Widerstrom, for one, says she'll be continuing to post more vulnerable photos, which will hopefully inspire more trainers to show what they *actually* look like, too.
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