It’s the limbo period between Christmas and New Year where no one knows what day it is. Netflix is blaring in the background, the crusty remnants of your leftover turkey sandwich lie on your plate, your hand is dipping into the Quality Street box for the umpteenth time, and you check into social media for a quick scroll.
And there you find a tweet from Women’s Fitness magazine, which has ruffled the feathers of prominent sportswomen and fitness influencers.
“Are you getting out for a run, walk or cycle today? It’s a great day to burn off those Christmas calories… post your pics here!” read the message.
To some it may seem a harmless tweet, even a helpful reminder about all the free time the holidays offer to get back to our fitness goals. That is what the magazine’s apology claimed a few hours after initially posting anyway.
But as women who have battled with the unrealistic body image expectations thrust upon us at every turn and a pervasive diet culture which teaches that you must ‘earn’ every crumb or drop of indulgence, we let out a collective groan. Others then stuck two fingers up to the harmful messaging for good measure.
British high jumper Morgan Lake was one, the 23-year-old responding with her own message: “Exercise shouldn’t be to “burn off Christmas calories”. It should be fun and enjoyable, not something to alleviate guilt…”
Paralympic canoeist Charlotte Henshaw replied in agreement: “The amount of times I’ve seen this posted over the last few days. Dangerous narrative, in my opinion.” Her former para swimming team-mate, now a triathlete Claire Cashmore MBE added: “Delete ’Burn off Christmas calories’, CHANGE to ‘breathe in the fresh air, get active, have fun and release some feel good endorphins.’”
Alice Liveing, a personal trainer and influencer with over 650,000 Instagram followers, gave it the thumbs down too, saying she was “hugely disappointed by this.”
What followed was lively debate. Some women shared ironic photos of their snack choices of crisps and chocolate for the day instead of their exercise choices. Others asked what was wrong with a fitness magazine encouraging their followers to keep fit in the first place.
The problem lies in the suggestion that excess Christmas eating and exercise need fall into the same sentence at all. As these sportswomen rightly put it, sport and exercise is about the benefits it can bring to both your health and wellbeing. Guilt-tripping women into believing that it is about making up for your supposed shortcomings is what leads to the kind of disordered relationships with food and exercise that remain rife, and keep women tied up in a seemingly endless cycle of self-hate.
A post such as the one put out by Women’s Fitness does not exist in a vacuum. It is one of dozens that crop up at this time of year — reputable media sources as well as fitness professionals with large followings have all been guilty of it — at a time when women are feeling the temporary bloat of a few days enjoying their Christmas meals and may be moving less than they usually would.
It clearly struck a chord for athletes too, because there is evidence to show diet and body image issues permeate professional women’s sport. In just the past year, Telegraph Sport‘s reporting uncovered “fat clubs” at Women’s Super League teams, claims of weight-shaming and bullying in British athletics as well as gymnastics.
The magazine’s post is one of many triggers that those who struggle with low self-esteem related to fitness and body image will be batting away or trying to avoid heading into the new year. It is tiresome and infuriating.
But sportswomen making collective noise against the messaging will hopefully serve as a reminder to get on your bike or lace up your trainers only if that is what makes you feel good. Unwrapping another Celebration or eating your fifth roast dinner in as many days has nothing to do with it.