is fitspiration really that inspirational?

“#fitspo #gym #motivation #cleaneating #abs #healthyeating #inspiration #workout #insanityworkout

We all know what those are. Those terms have now become part of my vocabulary ever since I joined the Instagram craze and found out there existed something called fitspiration. Its an online trend, a message that promotes perseverance in the face of imminent death on a speeding treadmill, your arms trembling as you try to lift that dumbbell for another 5 reps, and for the love of God, do just 1 more sit up despite feeling as though someone had lit your stomach on fire. All this in the name of trying to achieve toned arms, slender legs and defined abs.

Here’s how it goes:

Fitspo Pictures

What fitspiration does is that it offers you a sea of pictures of women with model-esque features who are annoyingly sexy, curvy, lean and very fit at the same time. Like this:

q1 q2

model2 modl3

 

These women happen to be captured in the process of lifting weights, annihilating punching bags, doing push-ups or running along some outdoor trail with their hair perfectly in place as though they were effortlessly gallivanting along a field of daisies. They strike pretentious poses. They lean against an unknown wall with their backs arched, their faces half turned toward the camera, looking at you with sexy bedroom eyes and wearing a sports bra and running shorts that show off their long lean calves and arms. They are standing in the middle of a room wearing skimpy lingerie with their arms raised and resting on their head and staring down and smiling at the floor (cookies, maybe?)  so that attention is obviously drawn to their very flat and very toned stomach:

Fitspo Messages

These pictures are usually accompanied by supposedly motivating messages, some of which many of us are all too familiar with such as:

p1 p2strong 4 weeks

Needless to say, I detest these women.

Like any other human being out there. I know that being healthy isn’t synonymous with being long and lean. But then again, neither do I don’t want to be have a high body fat percentage. I’m not perfect and of course I have  days in which I wish I were a size smaller. I like working out and I want to be in great shape. I love doing cardio  – running, kickboxing, dancing – you name it. Anything that makes me move a lot and sweat a lot – I’m down with it. But when I look at pictures of these women with toned arms and enviously lean defined stomach muscles (thank you Photoshop), exercise tips (20 minutes to Victoria Secret Abs, Great calves in 10 minutes) and even pictures of pre-prepared meals that health nuts swear by of limp chicken, a huge mound of salad and a depressingly small and measly mound of rice or potato at the side, I sometimes think to myself: what exactly am I doing wrong here?

Given the global obesity epidemic we are currently facing, don’t we all need some kind of motivation to get off the couch and exercise to get healthier? Yes, putting up images of lean women with muscle is certainly much better than having girls using photos of emaciated girls as motivation to lose weight. However it seems to me that fitspiration could just be thinspiration wearing a different skin. It promotes a different kind of body ideal – a type of body that has been trained, perhaps even over trained to get a body that  the average woman wouldn’t be able to achieve on her own – and that this can potentially foster unrealistic expectations about weight loss, negative body image and disordered eating.

I should know this best. At the peak of my eating disorder, I combed through the very same fitspo pictures you can find on any social media platform and used it as a benchmark to gauge my success, progress and determine how much weight I should be losing. I followed the exercise tips and I worshipped these fitness goddesses – using them to motivate myself to exercise everyday. Some of the pictures I looked up to were so incredibly unhealthy but I was determined and in the end I pushed myself to the limit, both physically and mentally.

chips] done to earn this for the good as git  junk food suck iy

It became a ridiculous mesh of  thought patterns that went something like: “If I miss a workout, it’ll take longer for me to get a body like that.”, ‘If I miss a workout, I won’t sweat as much. I want to sweat and I want fat to burn.” “No I can’t have that bag of chips because if you want abs, you can’t have chips and cake.”, “I don’t want to suck it in forever.”, “I missed my workout yesterday – I’ve been pushed back a day for achieving that body I want”, “Damn it I’ve been working out for so long but why don’t I have the same stomach muscles?” and ” I want the skinny jeans and the stares and the booty shorts and string bikinis and those abs and the collar bones, even if it means exercising 2 hours a day, 5 times a week.”

I wasn’t seeing the results I wanted and was confused as to why I wasn’t becoming as lean and curvy as them.  I became angry, frustrated and disappointed. I was criticizing myself so much and feeling so exhausted every single day. Looking back now, I realize that these fitspiration pictures were actually  giving me unrealistic expectations about the type of body I should have. If those women can have such defined abs, why couldn’t I? It was always a case of why couldn’t I?.

How can one person workout out every single day and not feel as though their muscles are about to tear apart? How can people motivate themselves to sprint on that treadmill nonstop for an hour or two every day? 

Are the results really worth it? 

I’m not saying that every single girl out there will go through the same mind-blowing self-criticisms I did. I’m saying many girls don’t understand that the women in these pictures have been trained so much to achieve a type of body that the average woman won’t be able to attain. Many girls think that these types of bodies are easy to attain and when they don’t, negative body image, obsessive exercising and disordered eating patterns will slowly become a reality as they try to morph their bodies.

Notice that some of the messages are also centered on pictures that show a specific body part, like a woman’s stomach. Her hands, face and legs have been conveniently cut out:

M1 M2

As an article in Beauty Redefined nicely puts it: 

Are those messages carefully crafted to appear to be health and fitness inspired, only to sell you a product, keep you fixated on parts of yourself that have nothing to do with your actual health and physical fitness?

We become focused on removing fat from our bodies, doing endless crunches, lifting dumbbells and restricting our diets that we forget to think about what this could be doing to our bodies. Some women are naturally built to be able to endure high levels of physical activity, but they could be athletes. The average woman may or may not be able to endure such high intensity exercises all day every day.

Exercise is about being healthy, and definitely not looking like these fitness models.  I have a triangular body shape – wide shoulders with narrow hips – and no matter how many lunges I do or how many oblique twists I do, my body will never be able to transform itself into the universally desired shape of an hour glass.

Fitspiration won’t go away anytime soon. Many people still perceive it as a better and healthier alternative to thinspiration, but this is in fact, a hidden danger. Like thinspiration, fitspiration is promoting a body-ideal using a different angle.

Do I follow fitsporation accounts on Instagram. Of course I still do. But then sometimes:

m1

So please. When you see these fitspiration pictures, be mindful and don’t believe the messages. Tell yourself and tell other girls that yes, it is okay to miss a workout, and yes it is also okay to have those forbidden chips every now and then. Understand that not all women have athletic bodies and not all women can, or are even willing to exercise for 2 hours everyday that yes, it is also okay. Exercise because you want to be feel and look good for yourself, and not because you want to achieve an overly trained Photoshopped body-ideal. Know your limits. Know what’s real and what’s not. Know what’s healthy and what’s not. 

What do you think? Do you think fitspiration is unhealthy and/or gives you unrealistic expectations about what your body should look like? Comment away!

(P.S. don’t forget to like my Facebook page!)

Sorry? Don’t be sorry – be empowered

“Sorry to bother but can I…”

“Sorry for asking this silly question but…”
“Sorry can I trouble you…”
“Sorry could you help…”
“Sorry for the delay…”

Ladies – yes, saying sorry is an unabashedly female thing to say when we feel like we’re inconveniencing others or saying the wrong things, but why must you issue meaningless and superfluous apologies to others for such inconsequential, everyday things without a reason? What’s there to be sorry about asking a question? What’s there to be sorry about someone to help you with a task? What’s there to be sorry about getting what you need?

This ad by Pantene has got it right. Stop this ritual. Remove this space-filler, say and do what you want without fearing that you will offend anybody. Being a woman isn’t about trying to get others to like you or see you as more friendly and polite. Being a woman is about getting your words across with confidence and unapologetically having no fear about being herself in front of others. Saying sorry too often disempowers you. Stand up strong. Be empowered and stay empowered!

(P.S. don’t forget to like my Facebook page!)

 

periods and girls’ education in developing countries

Periods.

time

Ladies, we all know what that is.

That time of the month when we bleed a crimson tide from our uterus, our boobs become so much more sensitive (to boyfriends: touch me and I will kill you”), become ravenous chipmunks and terrorize our refrigerators for burgers and cakes and chocolates and ice cream (“WHERE IS THE DAMN CHOCOLATE CAKE?!”), cry a river over that sad advertisement (“but that puppy was so cute and it was so sad and i’ll never be mean to anyone again I swear!”), suddenly putting on what we think is 100 pounds overnight (“OH MY GOD MY FACE IS SO BLOATED I AM SO FAT WHY IS EVERYTHING JIGGLING?!”)  and how we suddenly become fabulous contortionists and start twisting ourselves to try to give ourselves some relief from the damned belly and back cramps as though Satan had gleefully unleashed a million tiny devilish imps to stab at our ovaries and uterus (“oh dear God no, why am i being punished for not being pregnant?!“)

meet

Lucky for many of us, we live in developed countries where we have pads and tampons to help us manage our monthly flow, and it helps us continue go about doing our daily activities without too much worrying about any unsightly stains (don’t you hate it when that happens?!). However, some of don’t realize that there are many girls and women our age living in poor developing countries such as Uganda, Afghanistan and India our age who just aren’t so lucky.

Take a look at some of these statistics from Menstrual Hygiene Day:

  1. In India, 66 % of girls-only schools do not have functioning toilets.
  2. 83% of girls in Burkina Faso and 77% in Niger have no place at school to change their sanitary menstrual materials.
  3. 32.5% of schoolgirls from South Asia had not heard about menstruation prior to menarche and an overwhelming 97.5% did not know that menstrual blood came from the uterus
  4. A study at a school in Uganda found that half of the girl pupils missed 1-3 school days a month, or 8-24 school days a year.
  5. UNESCO estimates that 1 in 10 African girls miss school during menses, eventually leading to a higher school drop out rate. 

According to Fredrick W. Njuguna, the Program Director of Familia Human Care Trust in Kenya, poor menstrual hygiene is one of the reasons for the high rates of absenteeism among girls in poor countries. Why is that so?

First, with no feminine hygiene products, many of these young girls and women in poor rural areas in developing countries resort to using and even reusing old dirty rags, bark from trees, sand and leaves in place of pads to soak up the blood. These products are clearly not absorptive , and use of such unsuitable, uncomfortable and unhygienic products certainly account for the increase in the the risk of gynecological problems these women face, such as vaginal infections, cervical cancer and other reproductive diseases. Ladies, can you imagine yourself using s handful of dirty leaves from the ground – leaves that have been trodden on by people – and stuffing it into your period panties to soak up menstrual blood? Or even using cloth from old clothing and washing them again once you’ve used them because you can’t afford a nice soft comfortable pad? How am I supposed to keep the sand from falling out my panties? How will the leaves absorb the blood?! Won’t the husks and tree bark scratch and cut me, or worse will it disintegrate?! 

Second, many schools are not equipped with basic sanitation facilities that allow girls to clean up after themselves. No flushing toilets, no dustbins, no running water and no toilet paper – such discourages young girls from attending school because they have no facilities to help them. Imagine yourself stuck in a bathroom with no flushing toilet and toilet paper. How are you supposed to clean yourself?! Where am I supposed to change my overflowing pads?! What am I supposed to do with my used pad? Bury it in the sand?! 

Finally, lack of sanitation facilities aside, there is also a social stigma attached to menstruation. CliCk on the first picture below to get to see how menstruation is perceived in some of the more traditional societies in the world.  Some Hindus in conservative societies perceive women who are menstruating as “unclean” and so are isolated from the outside world until their periods are over before they are allowed to take part in regular activities again. In some strict Islamic societies, when a woman in menstruating, she is not allowed to have sex with her husband nor take part in any religious activities such as praying or fasting. Here in Singapore, if someone were to label me as unclean because of my crimson tides, I would probably go “ME UNCLEAN?! TO ANY MAN OUT THERE WHO DARES LABEL ME DIRTY, BE THANKFUL THAT WE LADIES GO THROUGH THIS BECAUSE IT MEANS OUR OVARIES ARE FUNCTIONING AND IT MEANS THAT WE CAN STILL BEAR YOUR CHILDREN IF WE WANT TO. BECAUSE IF WE CAN BLEED, IT MEANS WE CAN GROW HUMAN BEINGS. WHAT’S YOUR TALENT?!

taboos

men

It’s a very sad and unfortunate situation for many of these girls because the combination of inadequate sanitation facilities, feminine hygiene products, knowledge and social taboos prevent them from going to school and getting an education. Out of fear of soiling their clothes or offending anyone, they simply choose to stay at home and miss school for a week to manage their periods. Some girls may eventually drop out due to parental and societal pressure as well as personal shame and embarrassment. It doesn’t help that mothers in these rural regions feel embarrassed at discussing the issue of periods with their daughters  According to Masimba Biriwasha:

A girl absent from school due to menstruation for four days in 28 days (a month) loses 13 learning days, equivalent to two weeks of learning, in every school term. It is estimated that within the four years of high school the same girl loses 156 learning days equivalent to almost 24 weeks out of 144 weeks of learning in high school”

Girls shouldn’t be prevented from getting an education, excluded and disempowered because of a natural process in their reproductive systems, but unfortunately, because menstruation is a very private affair, hardly does it ever make headlines. Little is known about such a social conundrum and as such, little has been done to help address reproductive health issues for poor women.

when does a girl do

Thankfully, there ARE a number of social enterprises that have acted to help address the issue:

Pads4Girls by Lunapads

pads4

Pads4Girls is a social project of Lunapads that has been providing school girls with eco-friendly, washable and long-lasting menstrual pads and underwear since 2000. Their mission? To help girls in developing nations get better access to an education by providing them with affordable and eco-friendly feminine hygiene products and improve awareness about menstruation. Producing reusable and affordable pads is incredibly important for these underprivileged women because not only does it alleviate the financial burden of purchasing pads each month, it also lessens the negative environmental impact brought about by disposing used pads

AFRIPads

afripads

AFRIpads also produce sustainable and washable feminine hygiene products that can be used for up to a year. The compan, staffed entirely by females, also has workshops located solely in rural areas to provide employment for women who have received little education and/or come from disadvantaged families.

Access to affordable sanitary health care is a basic human right and every woman should be given the right to have pads and tampons and proper sanitation facilities during their menstrual cycle. Unfortunately, menstruation is a terrible curse for women in poor countries in Africa and the Middle East, as well as in poor regions in India. Fellow ladies, help your fellow international sisters be able to have a comfortable experience with their periods! Women shouldn’t have to resort to using dirty sand and leaves, tree barks and soiled rags as pads.

You can help these fellow women by reading up more about this issue, writing about this in your own blog and/or even donating to social enterprises that help create affordable pads for women!

Check out some of the organizations or websites below(simply click on the entry), or google or search in YouTube “menstruation third world countries” (hey that’s what I did) to read up more about this disempowering issue.

 

Girls making reuseable sanitary pads in rural Uganda. Photo: Derrick Debru for SNV

Girls making reuseable sanitary pads in rural Uganda. Photo: Derrick Debru for SNV

This a short 5 minute video about how menstruation is perceived in a rural village in Africa.

menstruation matters

#1. beauty comes at every size, but how far?

Hey there! I’m so excited to be writing this “first ever” official post for this blog because I’ve had so many ideas for this first post and I really wanted to it to be memorable. I recently finalized an independent research paper done with my supervising professor from the school of media communications about body image, and as a body image activist I decided that my first post shall be just about that.

Take a look at the pictures below:

ImageImageImageImage

I’m sure many of us know how important it is to embrace your own body and to be comfortable in the skin you are in. After all, it is true that beauty comes in more than one size, or rather, beauty comes in more than just a size 6. During my ED days, I was so ashamed to be wearing a size 10/12. I would shop alone so I wouldn’t have to pretend that nothing in the store interested me while my friends milled around the clothes with from XS to M, and so they wouldn’t have to see me secretly slide up to clothes at size L. Sometimes when I got home I would quickly snip the label off so I wouldn’t have to be reminded as to how big I was each time I put my clothes on. I’m sure some of us who never have had an eating disorder would have done what I did. Its perfectly natural to wish we were a smaller size once in a while, but the difference was that I was never comfortable in my own size to begin with. To me, beauty was a size 6 and nothing bigger. I equated beauty with a 26 inch waist with perfectly defined boobs and child-bearing hips, some junk in the trunk and of course, long slender legs. Naturally, I had hated my body. I never understood what people meant when they say ‘beauty comes in all sizes” because to me, beauty only came in one size. Which, really, was just a size 6. Nothing bigger than a Medium.

Of course now I’m getting more and more comfortable with my body. Sure I still have my bad days every now and then and still make fruitless pleas for a miracle to fall upon me and I’d *gasp* magically wake up with that 26 inch waist and fabulous curvy hips. During my student exchange program in Buffalo, NY, I met girls in every shape and size exuding so much body confidence and I actually began to embrace some body love and finally agreed that yes: beauty doesn’t just come in one size. Petite girls are beautiful. Plus size women are beautiful. Our body size does not define beauty. Our weight does not define beauty. Our personality, our charisma, our joie de vivre, our passions – all those characteristics are what make us fabulous.

We see many images on the Internet of curvy women accompanied by messages such as “Curvy and proud of it!” and “Men love meat, not bones”. These are typically images of plus size models, sometimes in skimpy clothing and showing off their curvy bodies. These images obviously aim to break away from the trend of being stick thin and encourage women who don’t have the tall, slim and slender body so idolized in the media and society to embrace their bodies. So yes, when we see a curvy woman proudly proclaiming that beauty is skin deep, that style has no size and that whether petite or not, all women are beautiful, we all applaud her. Finally, here is a woman who embraces her body – her curves, her imperfections. Here is a woman who understands that we don’t need to be skinny to be beautiful. Here is a woman who stands by her fellow women. Here is a woman who knows what true beauty is.

Its good that we are encouraging women to be embrace their bodies instead of being ashamed of them. We want women to feel good about themselves. After all, a confident woman is a beautiful woman. However, the question I ask is:  is it really healthy for us to advocate that it is beautiful to be at any size? Yes, being plus size is beautiful, but is there a line between being curvy and being obese? While the latter is beautiful, the fact is that her size makes her unhealthy and this puts her at risk for a multitude of heart problems. Thin women are beautiful too, but is there a line between being slim and looking gaunt and malnourished? While a skinny woman is beautiful, her size too, can make her unhealthy and put her at risk for developing anemia, having a lowered immune system and osteoporosis.

Is it 101% realistic for us to encourage women with larger plus size, or thin and very frail physiques to embrace their bodies? When we do so, we help to boost their esteem by spreading the message that we don’t need to diet to be skinny and that we should accept our bodies as they are (and we should!), but when we do so, are we indirectly harming them? In our well-intentioned efforts to empower the lives of women to make them feel confident about their bodies, are we unknowingly maintaining some unhealthy behaviors that some women are currently engaging in (e.g. over-eating, unhealthy diets of fast foods, bingeing, excessive fasting, cutting food groups etc) and subsequently instigating a host of health problems related to obesity, such as heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes and even gynecological problems such as irregular menstrual periods and infertility?

So what happens now? Yes, women of all sizes are beautiful and we need to encourage body love and minimize body shaming. We need to tell women to stop dieting and instead embrace the bodies we have now, but does this benefit women who are very overweight and very thin?

Perhaps such body-love mottos should do more the just encourage us to love our bodies. Women need to be educated about body fat percentages, health risks and engaging in healthy behaviors. A size 2 and size 22 are beautiful, but what happens when is struggling with osteoporosis and the other is battling heart disease because they both have unhealthy diets? Of course some women, unfortunately, suffer from illnesses, such as PCOS or thyroid problems that make them put on so much weight, or lose so much body weight. That’s understandable and my heart goes out to them all. However, to the average healthy woman out there – when we tell women its beautiful to be at any size, we should also inform them about the potential risks for high and low body fat percentages. Your behaviors are what determine your health. Eating too little nutritious foods and eating too much foods high in fat all the time aren’t healthy. We should encourage women to focus on their health and becoming the best possible version of themselves through means of regular exercise,  a good balanced diet and a range of healthy behaviorsWe want women to be confident, but we also want them to be healthy, and who says being both beautiful and healthy are mutually exclusive?

What do you think? Do you think the “beauty exists at every size” movement can pose some negative consequences? What are your opinions about such images, and/or how have they impacted you? Leave your comments in the comment box – simply go the top of this post, click on “Leave a comment” and write away!

hello this girl is…


chic

 

I cannot count the number of times I’ve told myself how much I really really really need to actually sit at my desk and really set up a blog to document all my thoughts and opinions about women’s issues around the world. Only I never really got round to it, because choosing blog themes is like shopping. It takes ages to find one you like and after hours and hours of browsing, I’m just knackered and end up leaving to watch reruns of Sex and the City.

But after weeks of scouring through the different themes, agonizing over a blog title and how to go about making this blog look decent, I can finally say I’ve succeeded in my efforts.

The main reason why I wanted to set up a blog about women’s issues is simply because its something I have an internal passion for. I read articles and books about how women are exploited in so many ways and my heart burns with rage. I’ve also personally experienced a bout of eating disorder that wrecked havoc on my life for 6 years that made me want to further understand the objectification of women in the media, and how women become pressed into thinking that thin is beautiful.

So here I am, with nothing to offer but my posts about the various issues I can only hope to raise in a succinct fashion by putting up a post once a week to help spread awareness about how women in other parts of the world are burned at the stakes, sold at auctions, beaten by their partners and starve themselves to obtain a scarily false beauty. I can’t promise overtly fancy, over-the-top posts given my utter inability to read HTML, but I’ll do my best to make my posts sound interesting!

Leave comments on what you hope to get out of this blog and/or read more about and/or the things you want to see on this blog in terms of pictures, videos, book reviews!