Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Toxicity of the New Fitspirational Movement

It seems here in the last few years that being 'fit' is trendy. You can't scroll through any social media without seeing photos designed to be inspirational, and motivational. Fitspo, or Fitspiration as it's called is everywhere. It's staring at us from magazine covers as we check out at the grocery store, and screaming at us from our television programs. Photos of half naked women fall across our computer screens posed in dim washed light with sweat dripping off of their body. Motivational words splash across the photo letting us know that we can't give up, we need to train hard, remember to never quit, and that we can have or, be the person we want if we just try harder.

Are these posters really healthy? Are the ideas behind the words motivating? How is this trend affecting girls, and women everywhere?

Let's start with the idea that the people that are in these photos are healthy. They are muscular, and they seem fit, so that means they're healthy..right?

Not necessarily.

A photo of someone cannot accurately give you a picture about their health status.. You don't know how they achieved that physique. They may have starved themselves, and over-exercised for weeks in anticipation for the photo shoot. They are paid models. You're not looking at candid shots of people working out. They train for photo shoots. It's their job to look good, not to be a good athlete. Don't confuse the two. Another typical trick is for the models to dehydrate themselves before photo shoots. Dehydration makes muscles more pronounced.

Are the words used for the usual fitspo motivational?

This is a mixed answer. Like most inspiration porn it is motivational on the surface in a very shallow kind of way. You might feel fired up, and ready to go as you're pinning photos to your board on pinterest. How often does that motivation really carry out into results in real time? How often does that spark really ignite a passion in you that gets stuff done? If you're like most people, you spend way more time daydreaming of the perfect life that you have pinned on your board then you do taking action. The life you'll have someday when you just finish this, or when you have that.

Let's say that you want to be healthier. You know you could lose a few pounds, or could be in a little better shape. You are motivated, and ready. You get a good workout routine, and are eating clean. Is it realistic to believe you'll look like the photos of people on fitspo images?

Doubt it.

No one can obtain that kind of physique, and sustain it over long periods of time without damaging their bodies. I'm not going to tread lightly around the idea that we're not meant to have huge bulging muscles on a lean willowesque frame.  It's not natural to look that way. One has to push their body well beyond it's limits daily to achieve this look. That is considering you have the body to ever get there. Some people will never have that long, lean muscular look no matter how much they train. There's a difference between wanting to be strong, healthy and fit than wanting to be a certain shape and size. People can't say it's not about the shape, and size with fitspo,. because it most certainly is. Otherwise, the slogans wouldn't be talking about 'earning a body' or 'strong is the new skinny' or many other iamge related phrases. If being fit was the end goal then why is almost every single fitspo photo of a woman almost naked? Often posed in the most sexualized positions? You mean to tell me those photos are about being healthy? Please. I've seen Playboy covers have more clothing than many of these fitspo images.

Which brings me to my last question... What is this telling women, and girls?

The trend used to be about skinny. Now, the saying is 'strong is the new skinny' except all the models in the fitspo images are skinny. So, ladies it is no longer acceptable to be fat, or just skinny. You must be skinny and muscular. You must always be pushing yourself to transform your body to unattainable standards. You must be a great mother, a wonderful friend, a super coworker, nurture the world while figuring out how to maintain a physique that looks like Megan Fox. You can't be proud until you have reached this point. You haven't earned self respect until you've earned that body.

That is not what I want my daughter to learn. I want her to learn to be healthy for the sake of health. I want her to understand that the photos with all the women's head cut off showing only toned torsos, and even worse women in half covered panties are demoralizing. That is not a photo of a person. That is a photo of a body part. Taking the part off of that woman of that which is what makes her an individual with a face, and mind is disgusting. It is deducing her to a thing. Not a person. A thing. We use things, and I don't want my daughter to grow up to feel like it's okay, not wait... not just okay, but normal to be used. To be seen as an object for desire. Is being desired a bad thing? Absolutely not. Most of us like to know the opposite sex is attracted to us, but there is more to us than looks. You don't know anything about the women in the fitspo images other than the photo enhanced image you see. You don't know what kind of person they are, or what kinds of things they like. We're more than our looks. If you don't believe me think about a time you met someone who was strikingly attractive when you met them only to have that wear off as you got to know the person they are. We all have met that one person whose personality was so nasty it made them look less attractive, and conversely we all have had that experience of seeing someone who was not conventionally attractive being so after getting to know them, and their beautiful persona. We are more than our jean size.

I'm not pooing being healthy. I'm not saying skinny isn't healthy, or that being ripped can't be healthy either. What I am saying is that if you're advocating vomiting while working out, crying, or any other bodily reaction designed to let us know we're damaging our body then you need to rethink what you define as healthy. If you're promoting health you can do that with your clothes on, and your breasts covered. Health, and strength is not about sex. It's not about what our body looks like, but what it can do.

Being healthy is a multifaceted endeavor. It requires balance of mental, emotional and physical health. You can't be fully healthy without loving yourself, and no one that loves themselves would ever treat their body so poorly as most fitspo images suggest. Take care of yourself because you value your body. Not because you will when your goal is reached. Self love is unconditional, but motivating all on it's own.


  1. Love this post! Interestingly, last night I was in a conversation with a couple of women that I work out with. One of them has had breast implants, I am not judging that it is up to her and her desires however; when I said that I was perfectly happy with my size she said, "Really? " I instantly felt this moment of questioning being ok with myself. The other woman was getting a consultation earlier that day for implants and a tummy tuck. I was shocked, she looks great, but she is completely unsatisfied with her body. On a daily basis I see these types of fitspiration images on my fb feed where they have "liked" them.

    I believe that all of these unrealistic images damage women's self-esteem. Even when you do feel ok with your body, somehow you are not supposed to. I suffer from dysmorphia and seeing those unrealistic images at times triggers my obsessive thoughts and inability to see my body realistically in emotionally painful ways. I have no idea what I truly look like it is very distorted in the mirror and on the scale. I think it may help people like me who do have this issue to see more actual woman body shapes and images that give us an accurate perspective, I want that for my daughter. I want her to grow up feeling beautiful, healthy and satisfied in her body as well as seeing the beauty in others.

    I was very skinny for most of my adult life and I was unhealthy to say the least. I was constantly dehydrated and malnourished. I am the healthiest I have ever been in my life because I eat much better - I eat! - and I work out, but my goals are not to have the perfect body it is to be strong, have better body awareness, help my anxiety, depression, and to feel better all around.

    I went on a rant - special interest! Thank you for writing this I think it is a great subject to bring up and for people to have a conversation about.

    1. Thank you for your awesome comment! I am much the same way. I would like to do a follow up post about some of the things you talked about in your comment. This post was originally set out to be about why I strive to be fit, and healthy, which is has to do with keeping up with Beans, but somehow I ended up writing something totally different!

  2. This is such an important topic. I've been trying to articulate all my unpleasant feelings towards "fitspo" for months now, and I end up too sad and angry to many any reasonable points. This whole post is awesome, but your last paragraph really hits harder than ever. "You can't be fully healthy without loving yourself, and no one that loves themselves would ever treat their body so poorly as most fitspo images suggest." I want to shout this from the rooftops or something.

    1. Thank you for your comments! I touch a bit on this subject in this post: about how shallow inspirational posts can be. The entire point of it is kind of sad no matter what subject matter it's attached to. I have similar bad feelings about the Dove self esteem campaign due to how shallow it feels to me. I started a really, really long post about it that I have yet to finish. Hopefully some day I will get it done.

  3. <3 Really appreciating this post!! Thank you!!

  4. Good thoughts! I usually ignore those types of Facebook posts, because I'm just not really interested in becoming that dedicated to my weight. It would be cool if they posted motivational things that focused on how great people would FEEL. I want to be healthy, but I don't think it should become an obsession for anyone! There are many other aspects of life besides physical appearance!

    1. I agree. Posting about some easy, factual ways that we can make healthier choices through our day would be truly motivational. Shame based motivation is typically not long lasting.

  5. Fabulous post. I really worry about the world my daughter is growing up in.

    1. Me, too. So many things are happening for women's rights, but it seems equally so there are staunch roadblocks popping up, too!


If you'd like to follow all comments to this post, please click the 'subscribe by email' link under the comment box. I always reply to every post, and appreciate all feedback. If you have issues getting your comment to post you can email me your comment at Blogger sometimes loses a comment when the user goes to post, so it is always advisable to highlight and copy your text before hitting the post button.