Quarantine glow-up? Abs in two weeks?

Chloe Ting’s online workouts have become a bit of a phenomenon since the coronavirus pandemic – her most popular YouTube video titled “Get Abs in 2 WEEKS” has over 200 million views and she has amassed over a billion views. Numerous TikToks and YouTube videos have also been made documenting the process and progress of mainly young women attempting Ting’s programme: I counted 30 YouTube videos with at least a million views each. 

To be honest, getting abs (or at least becoming somewhat closer to getting abs) in two weeks sounded pretty appealing. Thus, I decided to embark on her infamous “2 Weeks Shred Challenge”. 

The daily schedule for the programme included a full body HIIT (titled “Do This Everyday To Lose Weight”), the “Get Abs in 2 WEEKS” workout, occasionally an arms or a lower body workout, and two rest days. I was surprised and empowered to be able to go from doing mild exercise thrice a week to doing intense cardio almost every day. I felt lighter, healthier, and more confident in both my fitness and body as I worked out with increasing ease. This sentiment was echoed by many others in the YouTube videos I surveyed, and their documentation of the physical challenges they overcame rang in my ears, reassuring me to keep going. 

On the other hand, even though I had gone into it with scepticism, I found myself looking in the mirror after every workout hoping to see progress, and the videos I had watched triggered lots of comparisons. Unlike my previous experiences exercising, I became much more fixated on and conscious of what my body looked like. The title of her video, “Get Abs in 2 WEEKS” (and others such as “Flat Belly in 30 Days”) is a double-edged sword: this promise of quick gratification is what fuels the motivation to follow through; simultaneously, this focus on results shifts the purpose of exercise from health to appearance, promotes the myth of short-term gain, and misleadingly creates unrealistic expectations. In reality, the results all depend on starting points, general genetic differences and diet. The title of the video was obviously clickbait and misleading. 

However, most people seemed to understand the nature of clickbait and approached the workout with managed expectations. After surveying a few videos about the viewers’ journey and their results from Ting’s programme, I found a generally healthy and supportive environment. None revealed their initial weights or measurements with shame or deprecation, and many emphasised their pride in improving not just their physical appearance, but first and foremost their form, physical strength and confidence. The videos were made by people with a huge range of body types, and with a range of results, creating an inclusive environment without a prescribed numeral measurement of success. Here are some most-liked comments on results videos I watched:

One results video came with a PSA: “Every body type is different and beautiful and unique in its own way, and you shouldn’t feel bad for how your body looks now, [or feel bad] for wanting to improve it.” Although Chloe Ting’s programme ostensibly promotes and has potential to foster a toxic mindset, in reality my more holistic investigation into her community revealed one advocating for strengthening your body and having confidence in it. There is nothing wrong with wanting to change your physical appearance, nor is it to use physical appearance as motivation for exercise. What is important is that it is approached with a positive mindset and through healthy practices. 

Ting’s workouts are free, accessible, easy to follow through with, and the designated programme provides a guideline for those unsure of how exactly to go about fitness. They promote exercise and building strength, motivate literally millions of people to exercise, and provide a safe community that challenges you to feel and look better. A friend who also attempted Ting’s programme said the following: “Chloe Ting gave me increased confidence in myself but also made me more conscious of what society and others thought about body types”. 

The sad truth is that the unhealthy misconceptions about fitness are fed into by Ting as arguably a financial necessity to market her videos. Ting herself stated that she titles her videos based on what people most popularly search for, so she clearly is only a part of a much larger problem. Despite not actually advocating for these results-driven values (Ting writes as a disclaimer that the titles should not be taken as absolute truths, and that health and safety take precedence), and neither do her ardent followers, Ting does make use of them to her advantage, and her message could easily be misconstrued by those unfamiliar or less informed. The same can be said for those making results videos: most used a combination of the phrases “abs in two weeks”, “I’m shook” and “results” in their titles, and some put dramatic ‘Before and After’ shots in the thumbnails, all to sensationalise for views. Click into them, however, and they emphasise not comparing body types, building fitness, and gaining confidence. I am ambivalent about this – I understand the use of clickbait to optimise views, and if the clickbait is successful the videos themselves convey positive messages about fitness; however, they ultimately perpetuate toxic messages about weight loss. 

If you take on Ting’s workout challenges, or just any workout, remember: 

  1. It’s ultimately about being healthy (both mentally and physically) and confident
  2. Don’t expect anything to be a quick fix to having the ‘perfect body’, whatever that even is 
  3. Do what works for you and make sure you enjoy it 
  4. All bodies are beautiful! 

Editor’s note: Check out this resource on eating and body image disorder. Please do not hesitate to seek help when these thoughts are gradually becoming unhealthy thoughts.