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Some thoughts on Fitspo


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.

fitness-fitspiration-fitspo-health-Favim.com-623593Basically 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. Some of them use workout devices. The bfr bands are easy to use anywhere so you can always be ready to play a sport like hockey with the best hockey gear ever.

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’ and they are always recommending you to boost testosterone levels with these top products that they talk about all the time.


3. It enables eating disorders

thigh gapNo 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.

Thoughts anyone?

* 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.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Korien 8 July 2013, 9:58 am

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post, Franca. I don’t spend a lot of time on the internet so this is completely new to me. Today is my 39th birthday and the goal I have set for my 40th birthday is to “be in the best health possible”. Even if I were to lose the weight necessary (with necessary being about reducing my risk of diabetes and heart disease) I will never be skinny, but I will also never look like these images based solely on my body shape. It is only very recently and in part thanks to Oranges-and-Apples 🙂 that I have stopped measuring myself against unattainable standards. And I shudder to think what a younger and less secure me would have made of this.

    • Franca 8 July 2013, 5:40 pm

      I’m glad I’ve contributed to you wanting to get healthy! 🙂

  • Rachael 8 July 2013, 1:36 pm

    Hi Franca! I’ve been a reader of your blog for some time and really enjoy your postings about society and culture- thank you! I’d never heard of thinspo or fitspo before reading this post, but it’s clear to me that the message behind it is as you say- all about “looking good”, and not necessarily about being healthy. I actually stopped reading women’s magazines when I was 18, primarily for this reason, and can’t imagine what young women today have to deal with, having the internet at their disposal 24/7. In combination with TV, and whatever printed media they might be reading, they probably couldn’t get away from these types of messages if they tried. In the US, the glorifying of celebrity weight loss/fitness is absolutely sickening, with a particular focus on how quickly a woman can become thin again after giving birth. It’s very sad, and certainly not a healthy way of thinking for anyone.

    • Franca 8 July 2013, 5:43 pm

      Hi Rachael, I’m glad you came out and commented! The birth thing is mad! I actually think it’s really sad new mums not enjoying those first few months because of worrying about the way they look. I like the idea that what takes 9 months to put on will take 9 months to lose, that seems a sensible timeframe.

  • Jen 8 July 2013, 2:24 pm

    Those ‘thigh gap’ photos make me very uncomfortable from a ‘sexualization of children’ standpoint. There’s a line that’s being crossed for me.

    • Franca 11 July 2013, 5:36 pm

      I had not even thought about it that way, but you’re right, probably a lot of people consuming these images will be 13 year olds.
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  • estrojen 8 July 2013, 3:32 pm


    I think this is a great post. I was caught up in all of those posters and your perspective is so right. Healthy cannot be seen from the outside. All of those protein shakes and “suppliments” can’t be good. I know a girl who is now skinny, she lost about 45 pounds but has intestinal problems now from all of the low carb supplements she used. This is a great post and I needed to read this different perspective. Thanks and stay blessed xoxoxo


    • Franca 8 July 2013, 7:32 pm

      You know that doesn’t surprise me at all – I really hope she manages to get better! I’m predicting that it won’t be long we will see some of these people whose job it is to be professionally thin, like hollywood actresses, develop serious health problems because of all the stress they have put their bodies through.

  • Layla 8 July 2013, 4:51 pm

    Those thigh-gap things are just wrong… partly as the above commenter notes, but also as it’s just unachievable for most of us due to body shape. Just something else to feel bad about.
    This is why I like sports role models like Serena Williams who is amazing and at the height of her sport, but definitely not thin.

    • Franca 8 July 2013, 7:35 pm

      ha, you’ll like the post i’ve got scheduled for tomorrow then 🙂 Thigh gaps and so many aspects of these pictures are completely unachievable for so many people, including me. For me to have a thigh gap I would have to be completely emaciated everywhere else.

  • bani 8 July 2013, 7:52 pm

    Excellent post, Franca. I’ve been thinking the same things but you say it so much better!
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  • Ashe 8 July 2013, 8:10 pm

    Thank you, Franca! You’ve summed up many of my feelings as well.

    I have no problems with someone wanting to be the healthiest they can be. I’m on that long, slow path myself. While there are a few “fitspo” images I do find inspiring (these two come to mind: http://pinterest.com/pin/246501779575609370/ and http://pinterest.com/pin/246501779575584245/ ). For me, these images are less about my body and creating an ideal shape (they just happen to be written on those bodies) and more about developing healthy attitudes and pushing myself more. Less “giving up” so to speak.

    In general though, I find as soon as someone creates a “fitspo” board on Pinterest, I have to stop following it. It quickly devolves into the problems you’ve talked about, and I don’t find it inspiring. And I can certainly see how it’s triggering for those with eating issues.
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    • Franca 8 July 2013, 8:50 pm

      Me neither, though I do find a lot of the diet things people do in the name of health (like that juice thing we talked about on facebook for example) unecessarily faddy. I also don’t have a problem with wanting to lose weight really, I have been trying to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight for a while, and I’ll admit that’s more about the principle of getting back down to that and into my old clothes than any health concerns. But it just really really bothers me when the two (losing weight and being healthy) are conflated. I’m not totally sure about the ‘push yourself’ message either, for me it’s more about finding a way of eating well and getting some exercise that’s sustainable. It’s taken my seven month to (almost) drop the baby weight, and I know I could have done it a lot quicker if I had made drastic changes to my diet and ramped up the exercise, but I really wanted to do it in a way that I can maintain when I return to work and life will get a lot busier again. I can push myself for a bit, but I know I can’t keep it up, so for me it’s a lot better to do things slow and steady.

      • Ashe 8 July 2013, 11:04 pm

        Oh, I’m definitely a slow and steady girl myself! But I also know that I can sabotage myself very quickly mentally. I can try running once and say, “I can’t do this” and never do it. Instead of sticking with the Couch to 5k program. I can let myself stop 60 seconds into a 90 second run, or I can push myself to finish those last 30 seconds. Or I can stop writing a short story because I don’t feel it has purpose, I don’t know what is happening, or I can push with it to see what happens creatively.

        This all has more to do with my own emotional and mental hurdles of sticking with something when it gets hard than the actual physical/health benefits. Which is why I like the quotes, but not for health reasons. But they’re on typical “fitspo” imagery, which is why I thought they were worth mentioning (but I felt they were valuable in my life outside of the fitspo imagery, because I felt they related to things in our life beyond health). That sometimes the visual message can change the textual idea.
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        • Franca 11 July 2013, 5:48 pm

          I get you now! I’m more of an all or nothing type myself (in life, not exercise), and always overdo it, get really stressed then beat myself up endlessly when things don’t go to plan, so for me not pushing myself too much is actually a lesson.

          Also, I’ve done the couch to 5 k three times now. I love the podcasts, but I always stop when I get to the end and I don’t have the nice nhs lady to spur me on (though admittedly the last time it was because of morning sickness). I just don’t really enjoy running I guess.

  • Style Eyes 9 July 2013, 7:06 am

    I will have to admit since I have been concentrating on excercise, getting fitter and getting stronger, I have felt a lot more confident about my body than when I used to try and diet to lose weight. But I am not sure obsessing over how we look is a good thing. I guess no matter what there are people who will feel insecure. Unrealistic images and ideals may motivate some and demotivate others.
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  • Julia 9 July 2013, 9:20 am

    Such a good post! thank you!
    Personally, until now, I thought not about online inspirational pictures as harmful, but more about what people told me after my two pregnancies. For reasons entirely out of my control I did not gain much weight during pregnancy, and people kept complimenting me on my body afterwards. And I was never happy about it, because what I look like does not, in any way, reflect how I FEEL like, and yes, gaining weight during pregnancy has a purpose. I felt weak and did not have the reserve to nurse without feeling even weaker. the impact of pregnancy and birth were simply not (as) visible. It says a lot about our society when a women who gave birth is reduced to whether she looks like “before”, even if saying so is meant as a compliment. I understand that some women struggle to unite their new body with their body consciousness they had for all their life, but I think fitspo is the best way to make them feel worse, even if they are inspired to do more exercise. As you said, it just focuses too much on one body type. A good example is a video I saw recently on Youtube, where Crossfit women are asked whether they pee during exercise. and yes, a lot of them do, and the video makes it sound like when you do it, it shows you push yourself hard enough. If they would honestly do healthy exercise, they would not, because they would focus more on what they need to do for health, not for having a certain body type.