african american woman workout fatigue

There’s a video making the rounds on Facebook, detailing the myriad ways in which we are fooled by images of scantily clad women with seemingly perfect bodies.

Every second that passes by in this video, another pixel is manipulated – right down to the buildings in the background, the shadows she casts on the wall, and the lines in the tiling behind her – only proving an inescapable point: we can’t trust everything we see.

Weeks before, another video appeared on the web, showing the myriad ways a live video can be edited to change the entire appearance of the video’s subject. Dry, limp hair is transformed into shiny, flowy locks. Lipstick appears out of thin air, a full smoky eye materializes, and what was once a poorly-lit backdrop is now a highly-stylized high-flash photo set. Live video – motion picture – is not safe. We cannot trust everything we see.

Years prior, Furious Pete created a YouTube video showcasing the fraudulence of those standard before and after photos used to promote the weight loss drug du jour. Pete, a long-time bodybuilder and trainer with quite an exceptional physique, shares how the after photo is shot first – that is, after a quick lifting session and loads of baby oil are applies – and then followed by a binge session of sodapop and junk food. After letting the junk food work its magic, then the before photo it snapped. Proving that, once again, we cannot trust everything we see.

But, still, we do.  We feel pressured by tiny waists and gigantic butts, by perfect skin and luminous hair. We feel shamed by six pack stomachs and cut arms. We feel challenged by these traits because they tap into our desires for ourselves – these qualities are presented to us as being the best of the best, the most desirable, the qualities that get you on everyone’s “it” list.

This might otherwise be fine, if it weren’t for what these feelings evoke in us. Instead of training hard to be our best selves in as natural and sustainable a way as possible, we suffocate ourselves in corsets that make it hard to eat, hard to breathe, because we feel desperate to mimic these images in real life. We put ourselves through punishing two-a-days full of nothing but bicep curls so that our arms can look as good as his. We get back-alley injections, risking life and limb, so that we can do our own rendition of Nicki Minaj's Anaconda in the privacy of our own homes.

It’s one thing to look at these images in awe, and recognize them as art. It’s another thing to let them drive us to the brink of torturing ourselves, pushing ourselves into an unsustainable (and expensive) lifestyle bound to result in injury. You cannot live in a corset – nor can you live a life on shakes. You can’t live when you’re so sore that all you can do is take ice baths and pray.

I know the thought of “eating right and training hard” isn’t as sexy as looking like a booty mag model, but it’s for damn sure more sustainable. When we separate ourselves from the desire to look like a fake image or grossly edited and selectively lit photograph, we are more capable of realizing who we are and what kind of body we are capable of achieving. We think more critically about how unrealistic the images are – especially when it’s a 50” behind on 24” thighs. We think about the risks we’re taking when we wear corsets, the damage we do to our digestive tract. And, we think about the fact that whatever our goals are, we’re best served by achieving them in a sustainable way – not through desperation.

The next time you see these images, acknowledge them for being beautiful expressions of art – not realistic examples of your goals – and then go back to training hard and eating healthier. Trust me, your body will thank you for it!

Erika Nicole Kendall is the certified trainer and writer behind the award-winning blog, A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss. Ask her your health and fitness-related questions on twitter at @bgg2wl.