The Selfie Diet
Unathi throws weight behind social-media craze
The sharing of intimate info about weight-loss goals helps people reach their goals Dr Sonya Grier American University researcher
Idols South Africa judge Unathi Msengana has no idea what she weighs because she’s not stepped on a scale in two years.
But the incredible transformation of her body from fuller figure to enviable six-pack — which she has documented on social media — has been an inspiration for and sometimes the envy of thousands of her online cheerleaders, many of whom are waging their own battles against the bulge.
The one thing that connects svelte Msengana, first lady Tobeka Madiba-Zuma, celebrity chef Siba Mtongana, Nelson Mandela’s granddaughter Zoleka Mandela and US reality star Khloé Kardashian — apart from being high-profile women — is that they’re all documenting their body transformations and fitness goals in the virtual world.
While some dismiss it as narcissism, US academics and local social media and fitness experts are lauding it.
A study by the American University, published recently in the Journal of Interactive Marketing, said before and after selfies and public declarations in virtual communities could be a key component to weight loss in a technologically driven world.
“The study tracked two communities — surgical and non-surgical — over a four-year period. The sharing of intimate information and photos about weight-loss goals in a virtual space is a key factor in motivating behaviours that fulfil that new thinner identity and thus helps people reach their goals,” researcher Dr Sonya Grier said in the report.
Msengana — who has an Instagram following of over half a million — says she shares pictures about her weight-loss journey to encourage black women in particular to engage in conversations about being healthy.
“I don’t live my life for other people. I do it because it’s a conversation we’ve never had as black women. I don’t live under the pressure of inspiring other people. I’m very imperfect and I love the fact I’m imperfect publicly as well.
“It’s definitely a positive revolution I can feel happening . . . one that I am grateful to be part of,” said Msengana.
“For us black people, to be specific, we’ve never had conversations around health in such a high concentration. Generations before us were busy with more important things like freedom.”
She believes social media platforms such as Instagram are allowing women to have immediate, raw and intimate conversations related to their body image.
First lady KaMadiba is another celebrity instagrammer who is using the platform to record her weight-loss goals and encourage others to follow suit.
Apart from her short workout videos and before and after pictures, KaMadiba, who has lost 30kg, is confident enough to post pictures of her fluctuating weight, reflected on her electronic scale.
She posted on Instagram: “Getting motivated to start a diet and exercising can often be the hardest part. But fear not because help is at hand, it’s easy. Decide why, if it’s for your health, set goals, create visual goals, kick the bad habits of chocolates, sugar and replace with healthy snacks . . . #fitnessmotivation #fitnesslife.”
In response to praise about her post from a follower, the first lady said: “Heading back to 80kg and a perfect size 36/M. You should see the look Commander in Chief Bae gives me.”
Rapper Kabelo Mabalane is another fitness fanatic whose posts on running inspire his 85 000 followers on Instagram.
Mabalane, who ran his 10th Comrades marathon this year and regularly posts pictures of his workouts, running gear, routes and supplements, used his addiction to road running to kick his drug habit.
He often responds to his followers with advice on training and nutrition.
Social media expert Yavi Madurai said it was not just the celebrity set who were making their weight-loss goals public — millions of ordinary people around the world were doing the same thing using Instagram as their platform.
“With something like weight loss, where it’s an affirmation of ourselves on a deeply psychological level, it allows us to have that virtual cheerleading on a 24/7, always-on kind of environment. It allows us to push forward. Ordinary women living normal lives who go on extreme weight-loss drives are becoming inspirational for others like themselves,” said Madurai.
Wellness and fitness expert Lisa Raleigh said social media had boomed as a platform to share “just about every aspect of our lives — health and fitness included”.
She added: “The gains from including a social element in your fitness journey are rooted in accountability and praise.
“Putting your goals and progress out there keeps you striving to maintain appearances and follow through on what you’ve said.”
Celebrity chef Siba Mtongana is one of a pack of celebrities dieting online.
Unathi Msengana shares her weight-loss journey with hundreds of thousands on Instagram because, she says, ‘it’s a conversation we’ve never had as black women’.
Kabelo Mabalane in his heyday, left, before taking up road running.
Tobeka Madiba-Zuma, above, weighs 30kg less in her ’after’ picture than she does in the ’before’ snap, top.