Progress Over Perfection: Are Indian Fitness Trends Finally Emphasising Wellness?

Progress Over Perfection: Are Indian Fitness Trends Finally Emphasising Wellness?

There was a time when one could type in fitness inspiration (or fitspo) into google and all you’d be presented with were images of super-thin bodies and extreme diet plans. For older millennials in bigger bodies, the popularity (and the struggles) of extreme diets like the GM diet and Keto is still not a distant memory. While the conversations around ‘almond moms’ who body shamed and controlled growing bodies in western countries are increasingly being talked about, things were a little different in India. 

With copious amounts of rice and butter being a part of the everyday meals in most Indian households, the struggle to be thin was especially harder. While there was increasing pressure to look waifishly thin, as was the popular body type since the 80s, there was very little inspiration on how to achieve this body. But as the popularity of media grew, there was more information on how to achieve this exalted ideal body easily.  Magazines in English and local languages that catered to women offered dietary advice and exercise guidance - those that claimed to be Shilpa Shetty’s secret diet and Karishma Kapoor’s extreme workout plans. From those magazine articles to television programmes and then to blogs - the quick fix to thinness was ever-present. 

But in recent times, perhaps within the last ten years, there has been a shift in the conversations surrounding fitness and wellness. With those who grew up witnessing the toxicity and the impact of body shaming attempting to change the norm, there is an alternative movement. The democratisation of the online space, through Instagram especially, has led to more body-positive content that addresses the need for kinder ways to approach fitness. Creators like Gayathri Sitaraman (@liftlikegaya3), talk about the reality of the slow and steady work of fitness. While she has lost weight through the years, she talks about how fitness isn’t just about fitting into the ideal mould of socially accepted body type. She shares the struggles of the mental struggle that affects those in bigger bodies - the doubts, the lack of representation and about trying to be healthy on her own terms, instead of the larger society’s expectation. With over 47k followers who are highly engaged, she has a dedicated community who relate to her content and frequently share their real-life struggles every time she posts something relatable.

Diksha Singhi (@alwaysalittleextra) is another creator who shares body confidence content and talks about working out with the aim of progress and well-being, rather than thinness. She started the #apneliyekarnahai, under which she shares how her motivations and markers of wellness differ from those that are socially associated with working out. She talks about the importance of pursuing fitness and wellness for making daily life easier - whether that is in lifting her suitcase without struggle or dancing the night away without panting and pausing. She also talks about the importance of not depriving oneself of sustenance in the name of losing weight or being healthy. Diksha also delves into the ideas of what relationships are expected to look like for those who live in bigger bodies. Being married to someone leaner, she talks about letting go of the established notions of body compatibility and rather embracing personality compatibility. 

Harnidh Kaur (@harnidhk), is a writer and product manager is someone who has been writing evocative prose through her profile and has published a book as well. Most recently, she has been sharing more of her experiments with attempting to eat better. From easy-to-make recipes that are healthy and filling, Harnidh is sharing her journey towards wellness - one recipe at a time. More than working out and losing weight, Harnidh shares content that talks about healing her relationship with food, which is something that a lot of people who grew up in the era of diet culture and thin idealisation struggle with. She talks about the struggles of worrying about judgement for eating as a bigger person and succumbing to dieting to compensate when she does indulge. 

In addition to creators, there are also brands such as Spirit Animal that represent bigger bodies in movement. Co-founded by Kriteesha Jain, who is someone with a bigger body and struggled with finding activewear in her size. The bias of wanting those with bigger bodies to work out to lose weight, and there being no clothes that fit them is something that prompted her to start the brand. Even today, Spirit Animal creates products that range in size and their content features people in bigger bodies who are active and thriving. This is presented without the idea of an end goal to be thinner, but rather about embracing the joy of movement, no matter what size one is. 

While these are some specific profiles of those who are actively attempting to promote fitness that is inclusive and kind, there is a bigger movement at play; From trends like Project 50 that promote wellness with less restrictive terms, to accounts that talk about wellness that is personal and intuitive. These profiles talk about nourishing meals, building routines and everyday movement, all without an end goal of losing weight, but rather about feeling better in one’s own body. They promote the idea of focusing on slow progress and feeling better rather than quick results and stringent discipline. These creators are part of the bigger movement that is ushering in an idea that fitness goes beyond a particular body type and that fitness as a concept shouldn’t simply mean restrictions for weight loss and that it also shouldn’t come solely from those who have grown up in thin bodies or have always been athletically inclined. For those who are in bigger bodies, witnessing the lived experience of those who share their struggles and can relate is often a better motivator than the idea of a perfect body. 

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