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Since my first article on Fitspiration back in 2012 a lot has changed about the “Fitspiration” world. Some of these changes have been for the better. For example, back in 2012, nobody was talking about the potential dangers of “Fitspiration” or “Fitspo” and now a simple Google search will show extensive conversation surrounding the topic. But some have been for the worse, such as the infiltration of these messages into mainstream fitness.
When you sign into Pinterest (or your social media platform of choice) there are a lot of messages floating around under the general #fitness hashtag.
#Fitspo and #Fitspiration tend to be fairly narrow in their approaches, leaning more towards the traditional approach of Fitspiration. The generic “fitness/exercise/health” tags, however, will lead you into a forest of confusion.
Some things will tell you to love your body and others will tell you to fight it. Some will tell you your body is your ally, and others will convince you it’s your enemy. Some posts will share useful information, and others will be misinformed and/or have dangerous implications.
Fitness is one of those things (just like food) where we can’t avoid it because we need it, but also where the way we approach it can have tremendous negative effects on both our physical and mental health.
Very few would deny that maintaining some form of consistent physical activity based on your health, circumstances, and ability is the right thing to do. Exercise has many purposes, not only related to our physical wellbeing (balance, flexibility, heart health, lung health) but also our mental wellbeing (stress relief, anxiety relief, emotional outlet).
However, with the fitness industry becoming so mixed in and convoluted with the Fitspo world it can be difficult to know how best to approach fitness and exercise so as to maintain your need for physical activity without overdoing it and compromising your health.
Sadly, gone are the days when you can even depend on professionals as many have turned to the likes of Fitspo-based training styles or dangerous activities such as Crossfit.
So who can you trust?
Well, the answer is YOU. It’s always you. Just as with the media where media literacy is the only way to ensure the content you consume will not lead you astray, the same goes for fitness.
All it takes is some basic fitness literacy and you’ll be well equipped to absorb the good and reject the bad without needing to rely on others to determine what is or is not healthy for you.
First of all, you have to be sure you can tell the difference between “fitness” and “fitspo”.
Here is where I must place a disclaimer. I realise some will argue that not all fitspo is focused on body shaming or working against your body. However, for the purposes of this article, I am not attempting to define Fitspiration as an industry, but rather to address how individuals define it for themselves. When it comes to developing fitness literacy, I find the easiest way to do this is to have two boxes: Fitness and Fitspo. This does not mean some of the content you would personally put in your “fitness” box may not be found under a #fitspo hashtag. It simply means you have developed a system that works for and makes sense to you so you can better navigate through the murky waters.
Fitness vs Fitspo
Here are some examples to contrast the basic differences between fitness and “fitspo”:
(all found on Pinterest under #fitspo or #fitness)
- “This month’s choices are next month’s body [insert image zoomed in on heavily tanned, sunken in stomach]”
- “Cravings will pass; dreams won’t [insert image of heavily photoshopped body]”
- “Daily Workouts to Burn Your Abs”
- “Exercises to burn 1,000 Calories”
- “Rockstar Arm Workout”
- “Blah blah blah. Go Workout.”
- “Squat until you walk funny” (no, I am not joking.)
- You may be doing squats wrong, here is how to avoid injury
- Don’t like the gym? Here are outside-the-box ways of staying active
- How to fuel your body pre- and post- workout (surprise, your body needs food)
- Dumbell Workouts image chart
- “Don’t be afraid of being a beginner”
- “After this, we’re getting pizza” (because pizza)
Are you able to see the difference?
The examples falling under “Fitspo” are all focused on the body, and not in a good way. Instead, they are focused on conquering or changing your body. Examples also focus on calorie burning, activity-shaming (not taking into account individual ability etc), and go as far as to promote ignoring injuries or pain for the sake of “working harder” and not being “weak.”
The examples under “Fitness” are focused more on working with your body and taking care of it. They are educational, focusing not on learning ways to “conquer your butt” but rather on learning how to workout safely and effectively. As for the quotes, they tend to be more tongue-in-cheek and humour focused or aim to cheer on body acceptance.
Here’s a body positive fitness literacy checklist
The next time you are scrolling through search results in search of information or inspiration, ask yourself these questions so you can better choose which “box” the messages should fit into:
- Does this content teach me how to safely engage in specific exercise activities?
- Does this content promote a variety of fitness activities?
- Does this content promote a variety of ability levels?
- Does this content embrace all body types (rather than being narrowly focused on a single “ideal”)?
- Does this content make me feel empowered and excited to workout?
- Lastly, does this content encourage me to treat my body–as it is TODAY–as an ally rather than an enemy?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you should be on the right track to finding some positive exercise inspiration!
On the other hand, if you answer yes to any of these questions:
- Does this content make me think of all the things I wish I was (rather than reminding me to embrace who I am)?
- Does this content focus solely on physical appearance (i.e. adapting or “fixing” a physical aspect of me)?
- Does this content make me feel guilt or shame?
- Does this content encourage me to ignore pain or injury?
- Does this content seem to promote only one health or fitness “ideal”?
- Lastly, does this content make me feel as though my body is something that needs to be fought against or conquered?
Then the content should be locked away in the “Fitspo” box because it will cause you nothing but harm physically and mentally.
I hope this article has encouraged you to work on your fitness literacy and has equipped you to better balance body positivity with fitness inspiration!
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