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