Originally published on Libero Network and cross-posted here with their permission.
There’s something new buzzing around Twitter, Pinterest, and other social sharing sites – and, no, I’m not talking about manicure art or Justin Bieber’s new hair – I’m talking about something far more harmful: Fitspiration.
What is Fitspiration?
Fitspiration is any message (usually in the form of an image with a quote included) that encourages one to “persevere,” “push,” or even “suffer” through exercise for the sake of achieving change in one’s physical appearance.
The images associated with fitspiration usually incorporate an athlete, focusing mainly on the person’s body (sometimes the face isn’t even included – objectification, anyone?), which is impossibly “perfect” – chiseled abs, perfectly toned arms (thanks, Photoshop), and, of course, prominent collar bones.
The bodies represented, though a seemingly nice “change” from the emaciated bodies we are used to seeing on magazine covers (thanks again, Photoshop), still do not show a realistic representation of the human body.
- The body types are somewhat “cookie cutter.” Tall, lean, and impeccably toned.
- Carrying weight (if any) in the “preferred” below-the-waistline region – no “muffin tops” here!
- And, of course, the perfect tan.
The quotes associated with Fitspiration include:
“Eat Clean. Train Mean. Get Lean.”
“It takes 4 weeks for you to notice your body changing, 8 weeks for your friends, and 12 weeks for the rest of the world. Give it 12 weeks. Don’t quit.”
And my personal favorite: “Strong is the new skinny.”
However, not all of the words used in fitspiration are so explicit. Some are far more subtle, and even inspiring.
But it’s when these words are attached to the fitspirational image that they become harmful.
For example, this quote: “The only thing that stands between you and what you want out of life is the will to try and faith to believe it’s possible.”
It’s harmless enough, and may even be screensaver-worthy.
However, when attached with the following image, it takes on a whole new meaning:
Oh, I get it, so what I want out of life isn’t to overcome great challenges, persevere through hardships, or change the world.
What I really want out of life (or at least, what I’m supposed to want) is to look like her. Good thing I have this image to clarify that and this quote to inspire me in the right direction.
So, How is this Different from Thinspo?
Fitspiration masquerades on many occasions as a “healthy” response or “challenge” to all of the images out there of size-zero models that promote unhealthy weight and potentially lead to disordered eating and eating disorders.
However, what the fitspo messages don’t want you to realize is that they are doing the same thing – only from a different angle.
Sure, the models may not be a size zero, but the images still promote a type of body that has been trained (or even over-trained) and then digitally altered in a way that makes it an impossible goal for anyone – even the most active of us.
While thinspirational messages focus on size alone (the smaller, the better), fitspirational messages focus on an “ideal” body with the “perfect” ratio of strength and body fat percentage.
Both messages promote unrealistic ideals. Both messages contribute to negative body image. Both are equally harmful.
I like what Charlotte from The Great Fitness Expert says: “Looking at rock-hard body after rock-hard body, it occurred to me that fitspo may be thinspo in a sports bra.”
But in a Society Where Obesity Reigns, Couldn’t We All Use Some Motivation to get off the Couch?
It is true, we are living in a society where, let’s face it: People need to exercise.
We all need to eat healthy (and by this I do not mean all broccoli and no brownies), and we all need to exercise (I would be a fool to suggest otherwise), but we need to do this in a healthy and balanced way.
We need to do it for the right reasons.
And an attempt to “perfect” our bodies is not the right reason.
Exercise for your health. Exercise so that when you’re older, you can still function. Exercise for the sake of your children, so that they don’t lose their parents far too soon. This is the purpose of exercise.
If your goal with exercise is to improve your body so that you will have a better self-image – don’t bother! It never works that way.
Just like Anne Lamott says: “If you don’t like yourself now, you won’t like yourself twenty pounds from now. It’s an inside job.”
And in the same way, if you don’t like yourself now, you won’t like yourself twenty bench-presses from now, either.
Exercise is about health, not aesthetics.
So please, stop the fitspiration.
Stop spreading the messages, and stop taking in the messages. And, most importantly, stop believing the messages.
As for me, I will continue to run, kickbox, and lift weights. Not for a six-pack or the body of a tennis player, but for me.
For my mental health, my physical health, and for fun.
And I hope you will do the same.
Lauren Bersaglio is the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of the Libero Network. She is in her final year of university, majoring in Communications with a focus on professional writing. In April 2010, Lauren entered into recovery for an eating disorder she had struggled with since she was seventeen. Now that she is fully recovered, she continues to write on these issues as well as abusive relationships and uses her writing as a way to encourage others that full recovery is possible. Contact her on her personal website or on Twitter @lauren_b_sag.