Beautiful Ageless Bodies of Fitness Professionals: Authentic or Artificial?

Fitness professionals are generally fit-looking, attractive, and wear revealing clothing, if under the guise of showing their movement for demonstration purposes.

Is it real or fake? Does it matter? 

Before you read further, you might want to pause. How does it make you feel, really make you feel when you see a perfectly-polished body with what might feel like air-brushed  abs, and plumped up breasts, wrinkle and blemish-free skin? Just for a moment would you pause and imagine scrolling through similar images on your social media timeline? 

And, hey, today, it doesn’t have to be air-brushed. It can be injected, extended, Cool-sculpted and spray-tanned. 

Debra Atkinson

How Do You Feel?

Are you more motivated or less? Are you more discouraged or less? It may depend on your thoughts. Are you an … if she can do it, so can I, (your self-efficacy), or in disbelief because it feels unrealistic for you.

I have a confession. I’m writing and processing at the same time. I hadn’t realized it until this moment: I’ve always felt incongruence about getting made up, dressed in my matchy-matchy tights, to do a workout. EVEN… for a social media image. Because that’s not normal. I throw a visor on my bed head, yes sometimes indoors to help keep my earbuds in, and I want my face clean of makeup because who needs acne and wrinkles in midlife???  

The way I make many videos would be sacrilegious to many of my peers. Only if makeup, hair, lashes, and lighting is right will they allow the camera to catch them. I decided? I can’t maintain that false perfection and that my message is much more important than ME. 

Though I make MANY of my pop in video conversations with just-out-of the pool goggle eyes, or morning bed-head, I have to confess. I have professional photos done with make up. I get them back and think, wow I look good, do I really look that good. You know air-brushing? Yeah, that’s not just for Kardashians. I don’t allow it on my photos.

My Feelings About Ageless and Perfectionism

[Admission] BUT… I do pose. Do you know about posing? There’s a wonderful model on Instagram. But, Check her out, here first. She explains… real life Danae and posed Danae. If for no other reason than to not cringe when you see your holiday photos, check it out. She shares just how the magic happens… on her perfectly normal 33-year old body that also has bloating, cellulite, and imperfect arms. 

I recently updated photos for my website. The photographer new every little trick about posing in the book. Even in 36 years, I’ve been a minimalist when it comes to photo shoots. Of the half dozen photographers I’ve hired, been asked to use for something else, I’ve realized that there is a big difference in real and embellished. Photos from one particular shoot were completely wasted because they were just too false. Once I was teased and lashed, and polished I wasn’t me. It was almost laughable. That is like looking at a woman who is notably donning lips over plumped by fillers wondering how she can even talk. (and or, in my case how much that hurt, and what it costs every time).

But for some women, this I liken to anorexia. They don’t even see the absurdity. They just go do it again. 

What You See Is Only Sometimes What You Get

This isn’t a new topic. But I think during this season of midlife change it’s a worthy one. You, dear reader, may not be fully in love with your body right now, or you’re forging a new relationship constantly reminding yourself of the strength and stamina you’ve got to have made it this far. I applaud you for that.

But when images of fitness professionals – instructors and trainers – display artificial perfection, what’s the result?

What you’re about to read might feel outdated, bear with me for just a line or two. And know that even in this time of immunity begin forefront on many of our minds, competitions are still going on for others. Albeit, they’re “natural,” though I wonder how natural is cutting out even egg whites, the staples of ‘builders and figure competitors because they’re too high in sodium, or having to nap in the afternoon because you’re eating so little that you could never sustain this lifestyle. Are these competitors actually super fit? How do we define fitness then? 

What’s Your Reaction to this?

“In her 1998 book Women of Steel, sociologist Maria R. Lowe estimated that 80 percent of female fitness and bodybuilding competitors have undergone breast augmentation. Many observers believe that number is now even higher. American culture already holds women to absurd physical standards, and in the competitive female fitness subculture, where judging criteria is focused not only on physique but also femininity, those standards are even more extreme. For competitors who want to win, the question is inevitable: Do I need to get breast implants to succeed in my sport?”

If sports don’t allow drug use to win, but yet a sport allows surgically enhancing the body in a sport that judges the body aesthetics, how does that even work?

Is the winner then the girl who can afford the surgery and most willing to alter her biology?

Win at What Cost?

Let’s talk about long-term health ramifications.

Isn’t there irony in the pursuit of health and fitness, fitness professionals would be willing to put their health at risk? 

Do fitness professionals, like professional athletes who have children looking up to them, have a responsibility to portray the real deal? Is it okay for them to “fake it”? Whether that’s with facelifts, boob jobs, tummy tucks? As long as they look the part and motivate customers who buy is it okay? (Got an opinion? Please leave yours in the comments. Let’s have a discussion.)

For fitness trainers and health coaches, I pose another question. Is it responsible to have fitness professionals who might be struggling with their own finances be sharing tips on growing a personal training business or department if they don’t earn, keep, and scale a business that way themselves? CLICK here if you’re a fitness professional for the “Dirty Little Secrets of Fitness Conferences” podcast. 

This image: I almost didn’t use as a podcast cover. Why? because even though taken by a professional photographer for much-needed updates, it was during Ironman training while I’d gained 10lbs and I don’t look (or feel) like myself here. In the end? I needed to get over myself and focus on the message.

It Starts to Show: Is Ageless Tempting You?

In midlife, fitness models, and older health icons really begin to show change. Because of changes that can happen to the body with age, it becomes pretty clear at some point in the 40s, 50s and 60s who has had enhancement that is not just due to fitness and nutrition but to a surgeon’s handywork.

But step back into the world of fitness professionals. Those that first got started in the beginning – early 80’s with those part time jobs unless they were owners, are now in their mid to late 50s and 60s.

It’s clear who’s having work done and who’s aging naturally. It just is. And a botched lip injection is no laughing matter. You can spot that Daffy Duck lip across the room. That goes away in a few months. Lesson learned. Unless, of course you think it looks good and repeat it. 

But what about those gals with still firm and plump breasts who’ve never put any weight on around their hips or belly. Or the ones who appear to have wash-board abs? They skipped menopause? Or they got/get a little “help?”

Hold the Phone. I’m Not Immune, Are You?

Before I go any further, I have to say this. At some point in my early 40s I was tempted. I wonder if all women go through this, some awareness of changes that happen that make her compare herself not to other women as much but comparison to her 5 or 10 years ago self. You know that moment. When, to quote my sister, your boobs are on a race to your socks, and you take both hands and squish your face together and project a few years with terror. 

But there I was. Sitting in a doctor’s office waiting for a consultation. And before they even called my name I had already made a decision. I felt sick to my stomach. In fact, I actually wanted to flee and pretend I’d never gotten that far.

I was like, WTH am I doing? I am never ever voluntarily going to undergo the knife in order to “fix” something for vanity sake. Not a new nose, or boobs, or better butt. Not even Cool Sculpting to remove fat. Honestly, I don’t think I could do a face lift. Maybe I’m just scared of it. Possibly that more than I am taking a stand. I’ll never know. I could probably benefit from bunion surgery but I’m avoiding that too.

I do get stuck with “ageless” and instead opt for embracing age. I don’t stand for anti-aging but pro-aging. I guess you might say I like to at least choose races I can win!

Reality Check!

[Notice the eyelashes (false), the teased hair (false) in the image below. You don’t see this image much if you in fact, have seen it ever before. Why? because except for the signature color nail polish, it doesn’t feel authentic to me even though the moment I challenged this interviewer to arm-wrestling was spontaneous.]


Everyone Has a Limit

Somewhere I draw the line between doing Fraxel for my face, which I have done twice, the first at the invitation of a dermatologist friend – it’s what we do on a big Friday night- (and hated the experience both times though I did enjoy the results) and undergoing a knife. I’ve not done a “vampire facial” but probably would if I could ever find the time to do it and recover when I didn’t have photos or videos to do.

So, I have standards of acceptable change. I suppose every woman has her own. I’ve heard Hollywood actresses have this discussion and it’s at least an annual discussion if only in the tabloids. If your job depends on your looks and if you’re surrounded by women doing it, the temptation would be stronger, I’m sure. But they’re not selling health.

For health and fitness professionals, should there be a sense of responsibility to authentically represent the transformation possible by anyone? Otherwise it’s not health and fitness, it’s just cute tights and make up while demonstrating exercise, performed by a body altered not by good habits but by potentially health-damaging actions.

…it’s just cute tights and make-up while demonstrating exercise, performed by a body altered not by good habits but by potentially health-damaging actions.

My Line

I guess the exceptions for me are procedures that support natural improvements in skin health and collagen production.

Though, wait for it… I’ve done Botox.

I hope you can’t tell. Not because I want it to be a secret. But because I’m not looking for a look-like-I-did-Botox look. I’m just looking for refreshed-and-not-frowning. Resting-bitch-face is not a good look for me. But I definitely don’t want plumped up Daffy Duck lips… or frozen forehead.

Ironically, I have been accused by a stranger with too much time on her/his hands in a YouTube video comment of having (Botox) injections in my forehead. While that’s funny to me that someone is so distracted by critiquing my fine lines, they miss the content… I don’t even have injections there! Now if you want to talk crow’s feet… guilty. I do that from time to time.

It’s Everywhere

Do we go into make up? False lashes? I did a video and photo shoot once with bright lights and the whole nine yards. They teased my hair, slapped on false eyelashes (first time ever… and I swear my eyelids felt like they were lifting weights until I could take them off the next day. There’s Spanx, for goodness sakes. Where does it end?

Here’s where I think it gets damaging. 

There’s the fitness instructors who cue things like, “thin those thighs” and “burn your belly fat” with the spin towards you looking a certain way that you look now is  falling short somehow.

I don’t have an answer here. I have concerns. I have incongruent feelings about the message we’re sending when we in the fitness industry pair words like “ageless” and “anti-aging” with what to me feels like false claims.. because what we might be suggesting is due to exercise, good nutrition, and sleep… is because of a scalpel at worst.

So, we’re all going to do things that enhance how we look more than we’re going to try to look bad. How could we not? You’ve never once been praised for looking bad or fat or sloppy.

A real moment. An appropriate moment. So, yes, this is a made-up, dressed up, pre-gala for health influencers moment. But we’re each ourselves. Not over-the-top fake.. just our own in-the-moment real.

My Wish

What I’d love is for every one of us to be as comfortable in pajamas and naked faced in the morning on camera as we are pulling off runway-worthy false eyelashes if we want to knowing we can be a dozen things at any one moment and be ultimately comfortable in our own skin. 

I wish for fitness professionals to be real – in all shapes and sizes, doing the right things to be the best image of themselves but not feeling they have to maintain some perfectionist and unattainable beauty. 

It’s that you, reader, are truly motivated and told the truth. 

Even down to… what those fitness professionals do daily to look so good if they do. Is all they do, their own workouts? Or do they do more? Harder, different? Leaving you to follow their plan and never get the results they get. 

My Fitness Professionals True Story Moment

Here’s a memorable real moment of mine.

Two years ago I was boarding a plan to the World Senior Games in St. George Utah. Someone a couple spots in front of me in line recognized me. Recognized me. I was simultaneously flattered and mortified. I’d been knee-deep in business things that morning and I had not showered. I had not washed my hair… for two days. Okay, you gals who believes dirty hair styles better? Never been true for me. I wash and style daily … when I’m not buried in work to get away. She insisted on a selfie later… came up to my seat from the back of the plane. There I was, damn authentic, no make up: nope not even mascara, for the world to see. Kinda proud and also puzzled by my own reaction to being caught, less than my best, on that day.

Like you and I don’t want to carry around that 10 lbs. from menopause, I don’t want the weight of having to “look acceptable” stepping out of my house. I’m thrilled I look in person the same as I do on camera and I can pull that look off without a shower? Bonus!

What Do You Believe vs What Gets You Off the Hook?

Sometimes, definitely with Flipping 50 programs, I’ve had skeptics suggest that my triathlon training is why  I can stay fit or look good at nearly 57. It’s so contrary to truth it’s not funny. (I have to offset that endurance passion of mine!) Endurance training to the extreme of Ironman training is a perfect recipe for hormone imbalance that will accelerate aging, add weight, waste muscle, and age your skin.

What’s really behind those comments? I’ve studied behavior change since 1989. Often (said gently with respect) we look for reasons “that works for her but not for me, so I don’t have to try that.” It’s intension is rooted in self-preservation. It is of course a form of self-sabotage. If you don’t try you can’t win. 

What I don’t do is sugar and treats, and stay up late or drink much at all. I lift weights with the After 50 Fitness Formula, I make what some might think are sacrifices, while I call them my lifestyle habits. I’m not much into deprivation.

Don’t let yourself talk you out of something because of what you either have been led to “see” or believe, or simply falsely want to believe because on some level it protects you from ever having to try and risking failure. 

I guarantee you that real fitness, has rewards and authentic positive emotions behind it that even those fitness icons may not have. What they portray may be wrapped in pressure and imposture syndrome. 

It feels good to feel good. Ultimately, that looks pretty good too. Without superficial support. 

Your Turn

I’d love your thoughts. With so many more fitness professionals online this year, the “image” you see is forever altered. Is it for better or worse?

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