When any of the people I follow on Instagram or Facebook share a "sweaty selfie" or "swealfie", aka, a post-workout pic of themselves drenched in sweat after a long run or Crossfit session, I’m quick to absentmindedly ‘like,’ just as I do any other selfie. But personally, the idea of taking, let alone sharing, a swealfie has always been mortifying to me. I look my worst during and after a tough workout, why would I want anyone to see me like that? Plus, it seems like more of a humble brag — or even outright brag — than anything else.
I’m no "Sports Illustrated" swimsuit model, but I’m naturally slender and lucky enough to work out at what many would call a fancy gym. The last thing I want to do is add to society’s toxic promotion of thinness and pricey fitness plans as a gold standard of health and self-care simply by posting a pic of myself in a sports bra outside my West Hollywood gym.
But I think I’ve been missing the point about swealfies. At their best, swealfies don’t have to hinge on superficial self- or lifestyle promotion (although there's plenty of that out there); instead they can embrace authenticity, build motivation and accountability and help grow your more health-focused community on social media.
Swealfies done right can help you announce (and reach) your goal
“Swealfies are becoming more common than not, and I think there’s great value in them when done the right way,” says Janine Delaney, a psychologist and fitness expert. “I think they serve a purpose in a few ways. First, when you’re setting any sort of fitness goal, it’s easy to fall off the wagon. I appreciate swealfies that announce a goal because it tells me that person is serious about getting in shape and in holding themselves accountable.”
This swealfie would typically come with a caption detailing your goal — the more narrative, the better, Delaney notes, because people want to hear your authentic story.
“If you say, my goal is that by this time next month I’ll have lost five pounds, it helps you stay accountable because now you’ve told the world about it,” Delaney says. “I’ve seen this done extremely tastefully and I respect people who do this.”
Track your fitness journey through swealfies
Another positive aspect of swealfies, is their ability to help you archive your progress so that you can create a timeline of your fitness journey.
Get the better newsletter.
“I have a 12-week training program on FitPlan and I met one woman in L.A with three kids who went through the plan and completely changed her body,” says Delaney. “She documented her journey and posted swealfies all the time. If you're doing that and saying, ‘today I did this workout and I feel it in my abs’, or ‘Look at this improvement in my shoulders’ you can keep referring back to that content to keep progressing and push yourself to the next level.”
Of course, you don't have to post these kinds of selfies to reap the benefits. If you're uncomfortable sharing your photos on social media, keep them on your phone's camera roll as a visual reminder of how far you've come.
This is for all body types, all ages: Empower yourself
Connie Omari, a licensed professional counselor, clinician and owner of Tech Talk Therapy, often recommends swealfies for her clients dealing with trauma, depression and/or anxiety.
“Exercise helps us release endorphins and feel better about ourselves,” Omari says. “Swealfies are helpful because they allow you to document the evidence. There’s nothing quite like being able to push your body beyond what it would normally do. Commemorate that moment, and preserve it.”
Additionally, Omari notes, a chief hallmark of self-efficacy is picturing yourself doing the thing you want to do, so why not take it to the next step and literally take a picture of yourself doing it?
“Swealfies should have nothing to do with body shaming or suggesting that others should be doing what you’re doing to be healthy,” Omari adds. “It’s actually a way of empowering people by letting them know that you’re working hard, and a way of having a positive influence.”
Working out isn’t always pretty — and if I can do it, you can too
Christine Parizo, a fitness blogger who is devoted to running and CrossFit finds that her swealfies are some of her most-liked photos across her some 1400 Instagram followers. But that’s not why she posts them.
“I do it for one reason: because working out isn't always pretty,” Parizo says. “Sometimes you're drenched in sweat. You've put in the work, especially after a run, and you want to show it off. Hard work means you sweat, and I like to show that I worked hard."
Parizo’s swealfies also help promote the idea that if “I can do CrossFit, anyone can,” she says. “I’m a 40-year-old mom with stretch marks and loose skin who is 5’1 and doesn’t weigh much. I didn’t come into this super strong. I like to contribute the motivational message that your age and size don’t matter. I also want to inspire other mothers to be proud of who they are and what they’re doing.”
Share when you fall off the wagon, too
If you do fall off the fitness wagon, feel free to share about it with a selfie. More often than not you’ll find your friends cheering you on.
“When you post a selfie, don't feel like it has to be centered on something you've succeeded at,” Delaney adds. “Say ‘I fell off the wagon today on my diet.’ That shows people that you're real, and you’ll be amazed at how many good people will lift you up. It really helps motivate you and even if you don't meet these people, you develop strong supportive relationships. So many people [I interact with on social media] I have never actually met, but we message each other and comment on one another’s progress. It just makes you feel better and it is teamwork. Selfies should be about supporting one another instead of just trying to gain popularity.”
TRY THESE FITNESS ROUTINES
Want more tips like these? NBC News BETTER is obsessed with finding easier, healthier and smarter ways to live. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.