Fitspiration is a new term on the block, a blend of fitness and inspiration. According to the Oxford dictionary, fitspiration is a person or thing that serves as motivation for someone to sustain or improve health and fitness. Under this definition my blog for example would probably be considered fitspiration. The message of fitspiration often contains an image, mostly of a fit person doing a physical activity, or presenting their body (or certain body parts) in an enviable state of attractiveness.
If you don’t live in outer space and you are fairly interested in fitness and health, you probably have come across such fitspiration. In fashion, health and fitness magazines, online, on instagram, pinterest and other social media. It is a huge business. There are fitness models who make a living showing off their perfect bodies and selling 30-days-to-the-bikini-body workout and meal plans.
If you have looked at fitness and exercise posts on pinterest or instagram (and other media, but these are particularly strong as they are focussing on pictures), you surely have seen captions such as “fit is the new thin”, “don’t stop until you’re proud” or “being able to wear absolutely anything and feel amazing”. Mostly these pins feature pictures of six pack abs, girls with thigh gap legs and chiseled shoulder and biceps muscles.
These pictures are supposed to motivate us to work out and eat clean, so we can be strong, fit and healthy. Unfortunately, I believe that a lot of these pins make us feel inadequate, inferior, ugly, and cause frustration, overtraining and eating disorders.
These pictures that want us to believe that “fit is the new thin” promote the same negative self image of women as newspaper ads, commercials and magazine covers displaying super thin models with legs and arms like twigs. These posts are meant to promote health and fitness, but instead make many men, boys, women and girls feel ugly, inadequate and frustrated, in the same way that glossy photos of Victoria’s Secrets and catwalk models do. Although this new wave of model images tries to steer us away from the anorexic model looks, it still promotes the notion that a woman or a man needs to look a certain way to be attractive.
Mary Wollstonecraft said in 1792: “Taught from infancy that beauty is woman’s scepter, the mind shapes itself to the body and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison.” (Just to add a bit of trivia here, Mary Wollstonecraft was an English writer and advocate of women’s rights – and she also was the mother of Mary Godwin Wollstonecraft, better known as Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein). So we may have moved on from aspiring to look like Twiggy or Kate Moss, but we have not made much progress since 1792 if we all now try to look like instagram fitness stars Izabel Goulart or Tracy Anderson (there is a great list on Harper’s Bazaar).
These pins may mean well and I believe can be motivating and inspirational, even empowering, but probably not all of them and not for everyone. I follow a lot of these fitness models and experts on social media and I admire their perfect bodies. And I like aesthetically pleasing photos of strong men and women (such as the photo above). But I know what my limitations as a 45-year old mother of two are, and I do not have unrealistic expectations with regard to my body. But a lot of people are looking to these articles, posts and images for motivation because they are unhappy with their bodies, and already feel inferior and lacking. Presenting perfect bodies may not be the most helpful and inspiring in their situation.
We also must keep in mind that, first, most of these photos are photoshopped, enhanced and manipulated. Cropped to focus on favourable body parts, filters to soften wrinkles and cellulite, lights to create shade, oil is applied for shiny muscles, water drops are added to create sweat – the list of tricks is endless. If you have ever posted a selfie, you know how many takes of a shot you need until you have one that is “post-worthy” – the perfect shot at the right angle that shows all beauty and no flaws. And chances are you are using a photo editor to further “beautify” yourself on the picture.
Second, a lot of these posts are ads – they just try to sell you something. They make you believe that in order to look like that woman or man on the photo, you need a certain drink, shake or other supplement, a certain piece of equipment, fancy sports shoe or sports bra. Many are selling exercise programs and meal plans, promising that their method gets you more or less quick results, you just have to pay for a subscription or a downloadable book. Ultimately, it is just clever advertising – using the same old tricks.
So when it comes to fitspiration, my advice would be the following: Find posts and images that really motivate you to be healthy, fit and strong, to exercise and eat well and that make you feel good. Don’t focus on pins with unrealistic and photoshopped pictures of unattainable body shapes if they make you feel frustrated and sad. And don’t pay attention to captions with extreme and unrealistic messages. Such as to work out every day (that is unhealthy and can lead to overtraining) and restrict your diet (unhealthy too and possibly leading to an eating disorder) or to feel inadequate because you are human and not a machine. If a message gets you motivated to move your body, get fit and strong and eat well, it is great. There is a place for fitspiration, absolutely. Or what are your thoughts on this?