The Ugly Side of #Fitspo

Ah #Fitspo.

Everyone knows I love a good motivational quote and inspiring words. I live for the cheesy. But there are two sides to this particular hashtag coin.

 
Screencap of what you get when you search Fitspo on Pinterest. I feel like I'm in the ladies locker room of the fitness models land.

Screencap of what you get when you search Fitspo on Pinterest. I feel like I'm in the ladies locker room of the fitness models land.

 

For those of you who aren't familiar with this term, here is the brief synopsis:

  • Fitness + Inspiration = Fitspo.
  • #Fitspo is a popular hashtag on social media feeds, usually accompanied by a range of photos usually including one or more of the following: a six-pack, beautiful yoga poses, some nice triceps, a cool exercise, a funny motivational quote, a gym selfie, healthy foods, juices, smoothies, or some models in fitness clothing.
  • Fitspo is the egg laid by the Thinspo hen. Thin + Inspiration = Thinspo
  • Thinspo is Satan of healthy body image. It was a trend of glorified photos of dangerously thin women, originated on pro-ana websites. Pro-ana= pro anorexia. I can't bear to go any further. Thankfully, Instagram and Tumblr (platforms that had a heavy presence of thinspo) have since banned it. 

At its best, it's a great motivator for some to get into a healthier lifestyle.

Seeing photos depicting any sort of human experience pleasing to the eye, whether it be delicious food or a cool exercise maneuver, incites a physiological response by stimulating our nervous system. Ever watch someone dance and move and suddenly your body wants to too? Little kids are the best example of this- they watch any type of sports or dancing on the television and suddenly they're flopping all over the living room.

So in this respect, fitspo is awesome. I know whenever I see someone's Instagram of them doing sunset yoga, my immediate response is "ooooh me too me too!!" If those photos get your butt moving, I am ALL in for that.

Now for the uglier side of said coin:

 

#1: Comparison is the thief of joy

It didn't always used to be this way, but now I work out for myself and myself alone.

Not so my body can look like that other girls. Not so that my body is more desirable for the male race. I work hard to make my body the best possible version of itself and to feel amazing in my own skin- not to transform it into a 6' tall model's body that I can physically never emulate, nor would I want to. These fitspo photos of chiseled abs and thigh gaps tend to make it all about comparing ourselves to these impossible standards- thus perpetuating the punishment of self-esteem. I wish I looked like her. Ugh, my thighs are twice that girls size. If I work really hard, I'll look like that and then I can be happy.

Note: your self-worth should never, ever, be determined by your physical attributes. 

 

 

#2: It's Not Realistic

This one goes a multitude of ways: 

Headless, check. Flat tummy, check. Thigh gap, check.

Headless, check. Flat tummy, check. Thigh gap, check.

My first issue with this one usually comes in the form of the fitness models scantily clad in non-functional sports bras and booty shorts that look like they would rip in half on the first squat.

These are also usually professional fitness photos that models are primed, dressed, makeup-ed, touched up, and spray tanned for-- and also have zero to do with whatever quote it is that a random stranger on Tumblr decided to edit on top of the image. AND it's usually cropped to display a headless woman, just focusing on her tiny waist and thigh gap. Great. Just great.

Then, there will be these "facts" that get posted on these images. Facts that are clearly rooted in some very deeply scientifically-researched information and not the first thing that popped up on Google at all... There will be a girl bicep-curling a 5lb (probably pink) dumbbell. Her body is ripped because she's a freakin' fitness model and she's holding that dumbbell because she is getting paid to stand on a set and do just that. There is also 0% chance that this girl wasn't lifting far heavier than 5 pounds to attain that physique. 

Steam is coming out of my ears. Who contributes this offensive stuff to the world?!

Steam is coming out of my ears. Who contributes this offensive stuff to the world?!

Oh yes, every woman in the world will see results in this exact timeline...

Oh yes, every woman in the world will see results in this exact timeline...

 

#3: ___ is the new skinny.

Strong is the new skinny. Healthy is the new sexy.

PERFECT example of a well-intentioned message gone horribly wrong. This is a play off of the "____ is the new black" statement. That would imply that skinny is the black in this scenario. And we all know black never goes out of style. This completely reinforces the wrong message and also allows fitspo to be thinspo hiding in a Nike sports bra and lululemon wunder unders.

Strong on its own is awesome. Why does it have to be the new version of something else?

Strong on its own is awesome. Why does it have to be the new version of something else?

Sore is NOT a shiny prize you get at the end of a good workout.

Sore is NOT a shiny prize you get at the end of a good workout.

It's not just a coincidence that on all of these photos with these specific type of quotes all display women with low enough body fat percentage so you can see a nice amount of muscle definition- which translates to strength right?

One of my clients is a boss in the gym and one of my most inspiring clients. She rocks her lifting, is strong as hell, and brings it every day. She's dropped about 30 pounds and still has a bit more she wants to lose. I would describe her as one of my strongest clients, based on the ratio of her weight to the weight she lifts and pure physical ability. But I don't see any fitspo photos of women her size with "strong is the new skinny" emblazoned across it. 

A friend of mine is tall and naturally lean thanks to some good genetics and having played sports most of her life. She is now not really active much with her desk job, and she eats candy like it's vegetables. She still has a decent amount of definition and a flat tummy though, and could easily be a commercial bikini/fit model- but she herself would describe herself as far from feeling healthy or strong at the moment.

Get where I'm going with this?

Again, well-intentioned and heading in a better direction than we were at before. But we still have a very long way to go.

 

#4: You're not good enough. 

You're currently not hot enough. Your stomach is currently not flat enough. Your muffin top makes life sucky. You don't deserve to be proud of your body yet because you don't have that 6-pack. How dare you want a cookie and to skip your workout!

My translations of the images below might sound a bit extreme glass-half-empty at first, but these are actually the subliminal messages behind these images masquerading around as inspiration. All I know is that I wouldn't want my future daughter to draw inspiration from any of these:

*PS: working out does not suck. Maybe it's the way you work out that makes it feel like it sucks. Ever think of it that way?

 

#5: Your body is the enemy.

There was a common saying amongst skating coaches.

"Unless a bloody bone is sticking out of your body or you are knocked unconscious, you do not stop your program (skating routine)!!!!!"

We were taught to ignore our body when it signaled we had gone too far. Our body was weak for feeling pain and exhaustion- our brains could override that because that meant we were strong. Beat your body into submission, and you'll emerge a champ. No pain, no gain. 

Not exactly the smartest thing to do.

I do still have the athlete mindset of pushing your limits and I love that feeling of triumph that comes with accomplishing something I wasn't sure I could do. Some of my training clients weren't used to pushing past what they thought were their thresholds, and I had to take them there to show them they were capable of doing so. But there is a smart balance to maintain.

This is a very fine line to tread. When faced with physical exhaustion, an emotional response of fear or anger pushes our bodies to produce adrenaline- also known as the "flight-or-fight" response. Pressing that red button repeatedly can lead to potential joint and connective tissue damage and hormonal imbalances. It's literally treating your body like a punching bag. 

 

Of course, then there's the fat battle. Not much to be said about this, but these ones in particular are akin to that infamous sorority hazing horror story where girls would have to strip down and have other girls circle all the "fat" parts of their body in red marker like a plastic surgeon does prior to liposuction. I despise everything I just typed in that last sentence or that the phenomenon even exists. 

I do have to admit that some of these quotes made me laugh at first, but because they take themselves so seriously.

It all ultimately comes in a form of degradation, beating yourself to the pulp, or berating yourself for not being enough. Not empowering or positive reinforcement. Saying that the fat that exists on your body is like the godforsaken enemy of WWIII is... an interesting way to think of it. If that's what gets people out and moving, alright, it's better than nothing- but this perspective should be taken into consideration.
What and who are you doing this for at the end of the day?

 

Real fitness inspiration for me.

Real fitness inspiration for me.

There definitely are some positive fitspo quotes.

Ones that remind you to love and embrace your body and all its capabilities. I love those. I use them for myself and my clients. Like this one to the right.

This is a topic that people have many differing opinions on, and as I said before- I am all about things that light a fire under your butt. But it's important to be mindful of what kind you're using as ignition for that long-term success. 

Just a reminder to be considerate about the ones you choose to inspire you!