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Content Warning: this article deals with body image, body dysmorphia, eating disorders, and exercise addiction. It also contains an example of a fitspiration image for educational purposes.
Fitspiration: Images or messages similar to ‘Thinspiration’ but focused on exercise. Rather than promoting a commitment to exercise for the sake of one’s health, Fitspirational messages equate exercise with ‘perfecting’ one’s body – contributing to negative body image and compulsive exercising behaviors.-Lauren Bersaglio (Founder: Libero Magazine, Creator: #StopFitspiration)
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 a female (or sometimes male) athlete, focusing mainly on the person’s body (sometimes the face is not 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 (but not ‘supermodel’ lean), and impeccably toned
- Carrying weight (if any) in the ‘preferred’ below-the-waistline region – no ‘muffin tops’ here! (should I stop thanking PhotoShop, yet?)
- And, of course, the perfect tan – somewhere between a ‘California Girl’ and Jerseylicious
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 favourite: “Strong is the new Skinny.” (don’t even get me started on this one…)
However, not all of the ‘words’ used in Fitspiration are so explicit – some are far more subtle, and even inspiring – but it is when these words are attached to the Fitspirational image that they become harmful.
For example, the 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” is 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. I get it now! 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 0 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 ‘0’, 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 ‘normal’ people.
So where 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 % (which can be just as low in a compulsive exerciser as it can be with someone who engages in Eating Disorder behaviours). Both messages promote unrealistic ‘ideals’, both messages contribute to negative body image, and 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. Obesity kills. And it is killing a whole lot of people. But so does Anorexia (along with other Eating Disorders). And just like dieting is not the answer to obesity, obsessive exercising isn’t either. 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 and (most importantly) for the right reasons. And ‘perfecting’ our bodies, is not the right reason.
Exercise for your health, exercise so that when you are old 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 both! It never works that way. Just like Anne Lamott says: “If you don’t like yourself now, you won’t like yourself 20lbs from now – it’s an inside job.” And in the same way, if you don’t like yourself now, you won’t like yourself 20 bench-presses from now, either.
Exercise is about health, NOT aesthetics.
So please, STOP the fitspiration. Stop spreading the messages, 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 Russian tennis player, but for me.For my mental health, my physical health, and for fun. And I hope you will do the same.
Some interesting articles on fitspiration:
- “Fitspiration: Why it’s not so inspirational” by Lexie Kite of Rewrite Beautiful
- “Is Fitspiration Really Any Better than Thinspiration?” by Charlotte of The Great Fitness Experiment
Read more of our posts on Fitness/Nutrition here
Join Us in the Fight Against Fitspiration!
Ways to support the movement:
- Follow us on Instagram
- Use hashtag #StopFitspiration when sharing messages that promote body-positive fitness.
- Share this page and our Articles with others.
Most importantly: model a healthy relationship with exercise to your friends, family, and students and don’t buy into Fitspiration. When people stop consuming it, producers stop making it.
UPDATE: Since writing this post, I’ve received a lot of criticism in various forms. Read my response here: liberomagazine.com/stop-fitspiration-a-response-to-the-criticism
Lauren is the Founder of Libero Magazine. She started Libero in April 2010, when she shared her story about her struggles with an eating disorder and depression. Now, Lauren uses her writing and videos to advocate for mental health. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, playing cozy video games, and taking selfies with her 65lb goldendoodle, Zoey.
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