Warning: The images and words in this post could be triggering to anyone who has had an eating disorder.
"Strong is the new skinny."
"When I exercise, I wear all black because it's like a funeral for my fat."
"Skinny is not sexy. Healthy is."
You've probably heard or read the quotes listed above at some point. They're known as "fitspiration" or "fitspo" for short. Fitspo pictures and posters are typically images of extremely fit, lean, and muscular women, with motivational quotes on them like the ones displayed above.
Fitspo is supposed to be a healthy alternative "thinspo" (short for thinspiration). Thinspiration images typically display extremely thin women with motivational quotes regarding getting and staying thin. In general, these were first created by online users who wanted to inspire and support women with eating disorders to continue with their disorders and stay as thin as possible.
Good thing fitspo became popular, huh? At least now we have lots of healthy images floating around the web inspiring women to be healthy and strong instead of skinny, right?
You see, it's pretty obvious to the general public that thinspo isn't healthy. We all know that aspiring to achieve a below-normal weight or developing an eating disorder to become extremely skinny is an unhealthy thing. Not only do people who work to become unhealthily thin lose muscle mass and bone mass, but their body goes into survival mode and starts shutting down less important bodily processes like digestion and reproduction.
Fitspo on the other hand, is generally regarded as healthy. The men and women pictured are fit, lean, and muscular. So they must be super healthy and in-shape, right?
As I discussed in my previous blog, for some people, being very lean is extremely difficult to achieve and hard on the body. Not all of us are designed to walk around with veins popping and our abs showing. Sometimes, we can accomplish it for a short period of time, but what are we sacrificing in the long-term? Our health? Our performance? Our sanity? Maybe all three.
This is what makes fitspo even scarier than thinspo in some ways. Your average Jane Doe will recognize that the bodies shown in the thinspo images are not only very hard to attain, but definitely not healthy. On the other hand, Jane usually doesn't recognize that the bodies shown in the fitspo pictures aren't always healthy or realistic for everyone, or that they're usually incredibly difficult to attain and maintain (despite what the creator of the fitspo images wants you to think).
But let's set health aside for a second. Let's assume that the fitspo body is a healthy body. Even then, what message are the fitspo posters sending? That we should all be fit, lean, and muscular (not to mention tan, glistening, and busty too, right?)
So how should you feel about yourself if you're not those things? What if you're fair-skinned or flat-chested or can't get a six-pack to save your life, or have cellulite on your legs or extra skin from giving birth to a baby—despite doing your best to exercise and eat right consistently?
Should you feel like you aren't good enough? Aren't fit enough? Don't work hard enough? That maybe it's all your fault and you're just making too many excuses?
If this is what we look at and compare ourselves to, this is what becomes the standard by which we measure ourselves. If we don't measure up, we feel like we are "lesser than."
I get it. Fitspo is supposed to be a positive thing. The images are intended to be motivating and inspiring images of strong, healthy women. And I have no doubt that a lot of women who look at them do find some motivation to start exercising or not let excuses get the best of them.
But you know what's funny?
The women who are inspired by those images tend to already be really fit! Those who aren't already fit, and those who do need motivation to work out and take care of themselves feel intimidated by them and feel like they can't measure up.
So the goal of fitspo and the feelings most women have after viewing fitspo, are in fact, completely opposite. Instead of feeling motivated, many women feel like they aren't good enough.
Not to mention, some of these "uplifting" sayings actually put other groups of people down!
There are dozens of "motivational" fitspo posters floating around with phrases like, "Real women have curves," or, "Real women have muscles." These posters are designed to encourage women who do look like that to feel good about their bodies. And that's great. But if you look more closely, they are doing it at the expense of other women.
It boils down to this: spreading the message that women "should be" skinny, curvy, muscular, voluptuous, fit, lean, toned, etc. is complete crap. And that's what thinspo and fitspo both have in common.
Society doesn't get to dictate how our bodies should look, and putting other women and their bodies down in order to feel better about our own is NEVER a good thing. The more that we spread negativity and hate, the more the negativity and hate will come back to us.
So what's the solution?
The solution is actually my life's mission:
To help women have grace and compassion when it comes to their bodies.
You see, when we have grace and compassion for our own bodies, then we afford that same grace and compassion to others. We don't need to insult anyone's body to feel better about our own.
Now I'm not saying that this is an easy task, but here's a tip to help. Next time you're tempted to turn to a fitspo poster for inspiration, why don't you sit down and think about your unique body, what you love about it, and what it allows you to do.
Can you run far? Jump high? Lift heavy? Move around without getting winded?
Can you change the water cooler at work without anyone's help or hoist 50-pound bags of dog food over your shoulder?
Does your body allow you to nurture and take care of yourself and your family?
Does your butt look absolutely killer in a nice pair of jeans?
Figure out what you love the most and are most proud of about your body, and don't forget it. Then, share the wealth. Give a friend a genuine compliment. Tell her what you think is awesome about her body. Not in relation to yours, or anyone else's. Make it about her. She will feel good, you will feel good, and the "good" will keep spreading.
And that is more inspiring than a fitspo poster any day of the week.
What do you think? Do you find "fitspiration" images to be inspiring or insulting?
About the Author
Molly Galbraith is a strength coach and co-owner of J&M Strength and Conditioning, a rapidly expanding, private gym in Lexington, Kentucky, for professional athletes and the general public alike. She is also co-founder of the wildly popular Girls Gone Strong group, a movement dedicated to changing the way women train. Her mission is to, ''Help women give themselves grace and compassion when it comes to their bodies, and to help them discover and accept what their best body looks like, with minimal time and effort.'' She has also been an expert contributor to magazines like Oxygen andExperience Life. No stranger to the gym herself, she has competed in both figure and powerlifting and her best lifts include a 275-lb. squat, a 165-lb. bench press, and a 341-lb. deadlift. You can find out more about Molly by visiting her website, and you can keep up with her latest adventures on Facebook and Twitter.
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