Why Is Everyone On Instagram Doing Push-ups Without Me?

With my phone as my main form of entertainment while I’m practicing social distancing at home, I’ve started to see the people I follow — mostly acquaintances, some tier three friends — participating in viral Instagram challenges. I feel like I scroll past hundreds of hastily drawn oranges a day, seen a zillion calls to tag “inspiring women” to share “positive vibes,” or whatever. But the one that really gets me is that “see 10, do 10 challenge.”

It goes like this: If you get tagged in a video of your friend doing 10 push-ups, you’re supposed to drop everything and do 10 push-ups, post it to Instagram Stories, and tag another round of friends to do 10, too. Sometimes, people swap in running a mile, or doing 10 burpees. Now, nearly every other Instagram Story I see is someone doing push-ups. Push-ups with your roommates. Push-ups with your foster dog. Modified push-ups. Shirtless celeb push-ups. Push-ups as far as the eye can see!

The reason why this challenge has taken off is intuitive; exercise is a pretty definitive mood boost, and for people confined to their homes in hopes of flattening the curve, it’s nice to get a notification reminding you not just that someone is thinking about you, but also to move off your couch and get your blood flowing a little. We’re all in this together, right?

“I think the see/do challenges are sweet and meant to help us take our mind off the news,” Helen Phelan, a Brooklyn-based pilates instructor, integrative health coach, and reiki practitioner who offers virtual coaching and fitness classes, tells me. “It made me stand up, move my body, and have some virtual social interaction, all of which are positives to me.”

These benefits make perfect sense. Still, as I tap through push-up challenge after push-up challenge, I found myself getting saltier than a can of soup. With lots of spare time to let my thoughts wander, I spiraled: Why would someone want to show off how good they are at push-ups to their entire virtual network? Isn’t that the worst kind of performative social media behavior? If someone, you know, hypothetically were to tag me, would I do it? But why hasn’t anyone tagged me — a basically fit health editor, for Pete’s sake! — to do push-ups with them?

My friend Tamara simply responded with an expletive when I texted her to see if she would do it if tagged (she would not). She’s much more popular than me and therefore more likely to be tagged, but still.

"I’d participate in the push-up challenge for clout, but I’d opt for modified push-ups and I’d only post if my form was up to par,” Iman Hariri-Kia, Bustle’s sex and relationships editor, tells me over Slack DM. “Not that it matters — no one has tagged me in any IG challenges :(" (Iman, too, has lots of friends who will probably tag her eventually.)

My boyfriend/roommate just laughed when his childhood best friend tagged him in the challenge last night. (Jealous!) I asked him to elaborate on his stance this morning. “Uh, I think it’s performative and unnecessary because I’m already exercising.” It’s true — he bought a stationary bike for the house a few months ago, which in retrospect was very smart. He continued, “I’m a grown man and in fairly good shape, so I can do 10 push-ups.” Humblebrag much! He then declined to do 10 push-ups for me because he “had to go teach.”

For the record, I can do 10 push-ups, too. I can hold a plank for like, two whole minutes! In fact, I’ve been exercising more or less every day of social distancing because I need the sweet crush of endorphins to stave off the big sad.

On the one hand, I don’t want to show off that I can do these things — that I’ve been doing these things — because I’m afraid of being judged the same way I’m judging others. But it’s also that seeing these challenges triggers the same kind of FOMO I’d get seeing Instagram story after Instagram story of people at brunch on a Saturday, pre-social distancing, while I fixed myself a kale hash at home. It pulls at the thread of my constant, underlying social anxiety — that even as we’re all in this together, maybe some people are more together than others.

Anyway, if you want to tag me in some kind of challenge, here’s my Instagram handle — I’ll be around!!

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