Exercise-tracking smartwatches are detrimental to a healthy body image

Constantly monitoring health isn’t worth the convenience

Tracking health progress isn’t always a good thing.

This article discusses eating disorders and may be triggering for some readers. The Canadian Mental Health Association Crisis Line can be reached at 1-800-875-6213.

In the summer of eighth grade, I learned what it meant to be obsessive over my health and body weight. It started with a flimsy purple Fitbit knockoff. The simple reminder of how many steps I had taken launched me into a body image catastrophe.

Fitbits and Apple Watches glamorize exercise and fitness with reminders that you haven’t stood in 30 minutes or that you haven’t achieved your calorie benchmark. Apple, I’m in Stauff studying—I simply cannot drop into a plank at the moment.

Smartwatches are almost as ubiquitous around Queen’s campus as iPhones—they’re fashionable and convenient for busy students. As students, we also tend to prioritize our schoolwork and social lives over-exercising, so the notifications can be helpful to ensure we’re considering movement.

With the Apple Watch and Fitbits, it’s never been easier to track our health progress, but this isn’t necessarily always a good thing.

On Apple Watches, once you’ve reached a fitness goal on the Activity App, you get to see a colourful ‘ring’ fulfilled and receive a little note of encouragement from the watch. This aesthetic of immediate gratification encourages us to stay diligent with our goals but also facilitates and rewards an obsessive attitude towards our health.

When I owned a Fitbit and didn’t achieve my step goal by the end of the night, I would run up and down my stairs until I felt like I could go to sleep. A day without walking or running 12,000 steps was a failure.

This obsessive mentality manifested itself in other ways—I started recording when and what I ate, creating Pinterest boards of women I wanted to look like. I scoured magazines like People and Star for headlines like “10 ways to lose Weight Fast” and “Belly-Fat Blasters” at fourteen years old. 

Once I began to count the number of calories in a handful of goldfish, my friends and siblings all recommended I put the Fitbit in the Goodwill pile.

I would be lying if I said my struggle with body image came to a screeching halt once I stopped tracking my steps. The negative self-talk everyone experiences is a symptom of deeply rooted, toxic, and inaccurate notions of what it means to be ‘healthy.’

I find it disturbing that four years before I was able to vote, I was crying over my thighs touching. While I can now recognize my behaviour seems toxic, unhealthy, and concerning, in the moment I truly thought I was doing the best thing for my body.

Although I’ve never owned an Apple Watch, I can’t help but think these reminders and rewards are just another way of encouraging us to be constantly disappointed in how our bodies look. In my opinion, these cute notifications are the same ‘health tips’ that told me to do 50 sit-ups a day, so my that belly was flat before bikini season.

As impossible as it is to be satisfied with and appreciative of your body, I’ve found there are things we can do to help ourselves. Ditching my smart watch made a difference for me.

While I still find my eye drawn to those flashy ‘health’ reminders and tips on how to lose weight, I’ve decided the less I expose myself to them, the better. If this means saving $500 on an Apple Watch, I’m okay with that.

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