The naked truth: Toronto trainer empowers online followers with raw photos
Jenna Doak used to look like a lot of the popular fitness trainers on Instagram. Slim, lean, and muscular with hip bones and ribs on full display. But trying to achieve the picture-perfect figure, she says, ultimately left her feeling hungry and sad.
Today, Doak feels healthy and strong. And she’s receiving high praise for the unedited, honest images of her body that she posts to digital platforms, where women are all too often inundated with unrealistic and photo-shopped depictions of the female form.
One of her recent Facebook posts shows two photos: An older image of Doak at the gym from a time when she said she was constantly training and starving herself. In the photo on the right, she stands triumphantly with her biceps flexed and a broad smile.
The caption reads: “Life’s a whole lot more enjoyable on the right!!”
Now, Doak, a full-time trainer, says she carries more weight but she’s happier. And happy to post undoctored photos.
“I have put all my efforts into being thin and having a very low body fat and dieting like crazy, Doak said in an interview with CTV News. “For me, it never brought that much joy.
“I don't think that very many people can live their life that way happily.”
Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have opened up a new front in the battle over body image, and research suggests affirmational and realistic posts like Doak’s are severely outnumbered online.
A recent study from Simon Fraser University found internet use is a risk factor for body dissatisfaction, which in turn is associated with a number of poor health outcomes including low self-esteem, depression, eating disorders and excessive exercise.
Canadian females between 12 to 29 years old were found to be more likely to experience body dissatisfaction if they spend more than 20 hours online per week.
“With social media, we are seeing so much of this crazy unrealistic type of beauty,” Dr. Valerie Taylor, psychiatrist-in-chief at Women’s College Hospital, told CTV News. “People really get caught up in wanting to achieve a certain aesthetic, a certain beauty standard.
“It starts younger and younger unfortunately these days.”
Doak says the number of women sharing undoctored body photos online is on the rise, but she understands the difficulty of combating long-engrained stereotypes and misinformation, as well as vicious online commenters.
“It’s really scary,” she said.
Dr. Taylor said she believes women are starting to push back at the notion of the perfect photograph, “where nobody actually looks real.”
She points to major corporate ad campaigns for brands such as Dove soap and Kellogg’s cereal, that aim to draw a line between health and physical perfection, and encourage consumers to embrace their natural body type.
For Doak, that shift begins in the gym with her clients. She says attempting to look like a professional fitness model is the number one reason people get frustrated and abandon their workout plans.
“I’m constantly trying to enforce (that) you’re healthy, you’re able, you’re so strong,” she said. “Even though you’re carrying a little bit of fat, you’re not unhealthy.”
Dr. Tayor warns that telling people to limit their expectations for physical perfection will undoubtedly attract critics who say such advocacy validates unhealthy lifestyles. Doak says the responses she receives make are more powerful than any negative comments.
“From complete strangers, I get messages like, ‘thank you so much, I needed this today,’ Doak said. “It’s overwhelming and it’s amazing. I feel really, really good about what I’m doing.”
With a report from CTV's medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip