Sometimes I think I spend too much time on the internet. I went to a different yoga class the other day and I told Dave that the teachers looked like a girl in a fispo photo, and he had no idea what I was talking about. I also asked the girls I was with one Saturday and the only one who did is a pilates teacher.
Basically fitspo is short for fit inspiration. It all started with the similar (we’ll get to that) thinspiration, or thinspo, which started out on websites where people with eating disorders would egg each other on, but then somehow went everywhere. Pinterest and tumblr is full of that stuff. Thinspo tends to be about pictures of very very thin bodies, protruding bones, hips as narrow as one of my thighs. These pictures often come with slogans of which the classic ‘nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’ is by far the least scary. I’m so glad this kind of stuff wasn’t around, or as easily accessible when I was 13, let me tell you. Google at your peril.
Anyway, fitspo is the more socially acceptable form of this. The slogan is ‘strong is the new skinny’ and so the women in the fitspo pictures look strong. Lots of defined muscles, particularly abs. But the girls are still very thin, and not wearing a lot of clothes. That’s why I thought the yoga teacher looked like a fitspo girl, because she was very skinny and walking around in what was basically a bikini*. I mean almost all ashtanga teachers have the strength, they have to, but not all of them look like fitspo girls.
In a way I get it. Exercise is pretty much always good for you, and I know the satisfaction of watching/feeling your body get stronger as you work out. I also think it’s good to see muscly ladies presented as a positive thing. HOWEVER, there are a few reasons why I really can’t get behind fitspo
1. It’s all visual
Ultimately, it’s not at all about health, it’s about LOOKING “healthy”, i.e. buff and slim. A good part (though by no means all) of these images use the language of health and strength, but even those images that are doing that, are still based around pictures of uniform, very thin, very toned bodies, often without faces. It’s a different type of body than the thinspo one, but it’s hardly more diverse. The message is that this is the only acceptable way to look. And the ‘healthy’ rhetoric really only serves to reinforce the idea that healthy=skinny, or in this case skinny & muscly. The idea that health can be seen from the outside, which I’ve got no time for. The other thing about health and exercise is, while there absolutely is a relationship, and a much stronger one than between health and weight, it’s really at the low to medium end that it makes the biggest difference. An hour of brisk walking a day is going to give you all the cardiovadcular protection you need**, whereas it will make a marginal, if any, difference if you do 100 or 200 push ups a day. But the push ups are going to give you that muscle definition, and the walking will not.
2. The judging of anyone that does not look like that or aspires to look like that
Really there is a helluva a lot of judging going on for something that is meant to be a positive force. There is this idea within a lot of the images that all that stands between you and the perfect body is doing lots of exercise ‘work’. Combined with the idea that health can be seen, the implication of messages like ‘You won’t get the butt you want by sitting on the one you’ve got’ is that if you haven’t got a fitspo type body, that can only be because you’re lazy. And it’s not even just implied, when you look at the comments and blog posts around these fitspo images, there is plenty not-concealed-in-the-slightest fat shaming going on. And it’s not just fat people that are being judged, also average sized people who don’t have the muscle tone required, and of course skinny people of the thinspo body type. There are plenty of images that go on about how being muscly is so much better than being skinny, how men don’t fancy skinny girls, blah blah blah. There is no body diversity in fitspo, there’s only one acceptable form of body, and that’s buff and slim. There’s people saying they could not be friends with anyone who is not into exercising and being ‘strong’.
3. It enables eating disorders
No doubt about it. I hadn’t realised how bad it is until I started googling, but a lot of the fitspo blogs bill themselves as eating disorder recovery blog, but they seem miles away from full recovery. These bloggers might be recovered in the purely physical sense in that they are no longer in immediate danger of dying from undernourishment, but you just need to have one look and the mental illness jumps out at you. There are people ravaged with guilt about not doing enough exercise and eating the wrong things, obsessively recording the amount they worked out and what they ate in a way that reads pretty much exactly like a pro ana site, but with skinny occasionally replaced with healthy or fit. Of course it’s not the fitspo images as such that are making people act this way, but they definitely don’t help. They’re a tool not for positive inspiration, but for making already very thin and very fit girls hate themselves. The word ‘strong’ is used a lot, but more often than not it doesn’t refer to strong as in being able to lift stuff, but strong as in having the willpower to make yourself go on a two hour run when you’re completely exhausted. Which is exactly how the thinspo one talk about being strong by not eating.
I don’t want to write these things off completely, because I know people who share these images occasionally (even if they don’t know what they’re called) and mostly they’re ok and don’t seem to do any harm in the way they seem to with these bloggers. In my googling I came accross this article which I really liked which takes as it’s starting point the idea that fitspo can be positive but explains why much of it isn’t and urges fitspo fans to be more media literate and ask themselves why they are really using these images.
* Nothing wrong this girl by the way, she’s a fine teacher, just that she really looked like that which started me thinking about all of this. Also I’m not sure why she was in her underwear that day. Been to other classes with her and she was fully dressed.
* *Probably. I am not a doctor and have not studied particular research. But that is certainly the impression I get from what I have read from more authoritative sources.