Do the images on the right look familiar? Anyone who uses Facebook, Instagram or even Pinterest will have seen fitspiration posts around, either in their own feed or shared from someone else’s. Studies increasingly suggest that when it comes to reinforcing negative body image, fitspiration could well be doing more harm than good, for both men and women.
So is it better to avoid fitspiration altogether? I do, but it’s not necessary for everyone. Fitspiration can be used well, but there are definite harmful categories of messages.
When it encourages you to ignore your limits
Look, “no pain, no gain” actually has a lot of truth to it. Going out of your comfort zone – whether it’s for a diet, a fitness regimen, a relationship or a career – is where growth can happen.
Where this gets destructive, though, is the type of motivation that suggests taking this “pain” to an irrational level is normal, and even necessary. The suggestion is that your body is an enemy to be browbeaten into submission. Excuses are the same as being lazy. Being tired, sick or simply needing a day off are for the weak. In a nutshell: “You want results? Punish yourself until you get there.”
Disturbingly, this is exactly what an eating disorder sounds like. Also, who on earth thinks that crying, blood and puke are acceptable after a workout?
When it aims to provoke feelings of shame
“Don’t stop until you’re proud.” Messages like this are meant to say “go, you! You can do it!” but the actual undercurrent is that you can’t be proud if you’re not up to THIS standard (ie, with impossible muscles and zero grams of fat).
The big issue here is that your body is being elevated to becoming a measuring stick of your worth (it’s not) with the implication that all bodies are the same (they aren’t). Comparing people is like apples and oranges, and it’s just not possible for everyone to have a six pack, tiny waist and toned arms, never mind other factors like time constraints and biological factors that a person might have.
There’s nothing wrong aiming to change your body for the better, but holding up an uncompromising, narrow fitness ideal as the standard is wrong, wrong, wrong. The goal should be to be the best you can be, recognising your body is unique. Appreciating your body for what it is and does is the definition of healthy body image, whereas hating it for what it’s not starts a whole host of other problems.
When it focuses on an ideal physique
Next to thinspiration and pro-anorexia sites, fitspiration looked like a healthy alternative, empowering people to pursue their fitness goals and feel good while looking great. “Strong is the new skinny” is surely putting the emphasis on health, not weight, right?
Unfortunately, the reality is often different. Fitspiration in theory is about getting healthy, but too often falls into photos glorifying a perfect six pack, exercises to “get the perfect bum” or “crunch those abs”, and shots of dewy-eyed models or body builders in fluoro Nike gym-wear.
The truth is that most fitspiration just substitutes one ideal (thin) with another (toned and muscly) – and ironically, most of those toned and muscly people are just as thin as the “thinspiration” examples they were meant to replace. Health is not about image, and actually means different things for different people – so how can a fitness regimen revolve around attaining one idealised standard?
The takeaway? Fitspiration messages aren’t all bad, but they need to be taken with a grain of salt. When all is said and done, they should be something that empowers you, reminding you that your body is good and worthwhile, and that it should be healthy and nourished. But if the messages are telling you to improve an aspect of your body to make yourself acceptable, or suggesting that your body is there to be looked at, then there’s something wrong.
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