I’m just going to say it. Most ‘Fitspo’ is doing it wrong.
Now before I start this entry I want to point out that yes, I realize that this is an issue that affects boys and men as well. But I’m going to write this post from a woman’s perspective because SHOCKINGLY I am a woman. And I want to go ahead and put the trigger warning out here that I do talk about body image and eating disorders.
Fitspo? What’s that?
It’s no secret that I love Pinterest ; I even have a board called “Starfleet Officers in Training” which includes workout gear and exercise ideas. But a lot of the things I find in the fitness and motivation tags are kind of terrible. There are countless images of thin woman dressed in scarcely more than bikinis with phrases that imply that the biggest reason you can’t lose weight and get healthy is laziness. These women are usually in incredible shape, which isn’t problematic at all really, and most of them look like they’ve been training for years. They seem to have reached their goals, with their bright smiles and lean muscular bodies, and they mock those who haven’t. This is what’s called ‘fitspo’ or at least I call it that for reasons I’ll explain later.
Sure there are a lot of great things to be found; quotes about not giving up, reminders that in order to reach your goals you must take the first steps, and messages of hope. There are great workout ideas, links to videos made by trainers that you can use for free, and healthy recipes. And the occasional reminder that sometimes the only thing standing your way is you is great! But there are also dangerous ideas about pushing yourself to the breaking point, pressuring you to ignore signs that maybe you are pushing yourself too hard when you aren’t ready. And there are mocking images shaming ‘lazy fatties’ who just want to shove cake into their mouths and whine about their weight. Or memes that guilt you for being too busy to go workout because someone else is busier and still at the gym. As if someone who is already struggling doesn’t already feel like absolute garbage for missing a gym day for whatever reason. Fitspo is doing is wrong, seriously wrong, y’all.Fitspo is doing is wrong, seriously wrong, y'all. Click To Tweet
Fitspo vs. Thinspo: Is there a difference?
This isn’t a new issue. When I was in high school and college it wasn’t ‘Fitspo’ it was ‘Thinspo’ and it was even more problematic. Kate Moss had declared that ‘nothing tastes as good as thin feels’ and millions of girls and women believed her. There were pro-ana blogs, which, in case you aren’t aware, promoted eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, and basically lauded the idea of starving yourself until you were dangerously skinny. Horrifying entries explained the best way to hide the fact that you weren’t eating. Young women, and yes young men, desperately looking for something they could control in their lives began to latch onto the idea that they could control their food intake. Body image issues rose to the forefront of mental health conversations.
‘Thinspo’ was disturbing; these weren’t images of healthy women for the most part. Sure there were pictures of perfectly healthy models and actresses who just happened to be very thin, but there were also pictures of frighteningly thin teenage girls, ribs prominent, faces pale and drawn, and limbs so thin you could practically see through their skin. Protruding ribs and hip bones and gaunt bodies covered in voluminous shirts that hung from them in folds like shrouds were on full display like trophies, proudly posted by teenage and college girls, many of whom either didn’t understand or wouldn’t admit they were sick.
Fitspo images are less frightening. The women are healthy, in good physical shape, and many of them are very muscular. They laud hours at the gym, miles of running, and eating well. These are good things. But sometimes they are just ‘thinspo’ in another flavor, more dangerous because they look safe. What harm is there in a healthy woman able to proudly display her muscles, her shapely ass, and her flat stomach with faint abs? When it’s paired with quotes about how those who can’t seem to get into shape and are struggling are lazy and cheap and whiny it becomes problematic. Many girls and women are struggling with their weight, trying desperately to get into shape and get healthy. I’m one of them. Shaming someone based on their weight is counterproductive. Calling them weak because they aren’t in shape doesn’t exactly inspire strength.
Why does it fail?
Nothing has made me feel less capable of losing weight than being mocked and judged. Going to the gym was out of the question for years because I could just feel the people staring at me, wondering how I let myself become so disgusting and overweight. I felt too ashamed, especially as I struggled to get through my workout each day. Intimidation and shame are not exactly the healthiest motivators in the world.
Now I’m not saying that no one is motivated by these things, or that there is anything wrong with see other people’s fitness as motivation for your own. I’m not saying that there’s something inherently wrong with reminding yourself that you are stronger than you think and that giving up won’t do you any good. But for some women, especially those of us with body image issues and low self-esteem issues, it’s more intimidating and depressing than inspiring to see so many people who are already in great shape, reminding us that we could look like that too if we were lazy slobs full of excuses.
Call me a wimp and too sensitive if you like, but being made to feel bad about myself doesn’t exactly make me want to workout. Instead it makes me feel like working out is useless because I’ll never be good enough, thin enough, pretty enough, or in good enough shape.