Why “Fitspiration” Isn’t so Inspirational
If you are on Facebook, Pinterest, or Instagram, you have seen fitness inspiration images just in time for “the holidays” or “bikini season” or your “big day” to motivate you to “get fit” – we call them “fitspiration.” They are almost always images of parts of women without heads or faces. They are always very thin, surgically and/or digitally enhanced, tanned, oiled up parts of bodies with text like this:
Look good, feel good.
Unless you puke, faint, or die, keep going.
Girls who are naturally skinny are lucky. Girls who have to fight to be skinny are strong.
If you haven’t posted one of these pictures on one of your social networking sites, one of your well-intentioned friends has. I promise. Pinterest itself is a site designed to help people collect images that inspire them, for heaven’s sake. And while a slogan and image motivating you to get out and move and live and do is a beautiful thing, so many of these “fitspiration” messages floating across the web must be exposed for what they are: shame-inducing, objectifying, limiting ideals that keep women in their places as objects to be looked at above all else.
Ever heard of a thing called “thinspo” or “thinspiration?” It’s an online world of thousands – even millions – of females who share and collect pictures of very thin women as inspiration to keep up their eating disorders. It is a saddening and terrifying world of females banding together to literally get thin at any cost, and thousands of girls and women die every year in this pursuit of thinness. But Beauty Redefined is here to reveal truth – to speak about things as they really are – and we echo Charlotte over on The Great Fitness Experiment: “Fitspo may be thinspo in a sports bra.”
So we are here to provide you with a few ways to determine if the fitness inspiration you are viewing is healthy and motivating you toward real health goals or keeping you imprisoned in a body that is to be looked at above anything else. You are capable of so much more than being looked at. And if you believe that, it puts fitness back into focus as a way to improve your physical health first and foremost.
Be very aware of any “fitspiration” that is advertising something. Nike, Lululemon, workout DVDs, etc., all profit from these “girl power!” messages that look so empowering on first glance. The problem with so many of these is what Virginia at VirginaSoleSmith.com calls “a lot of big, fancy girl power talk to sell us stretchy pants and sports bras. This is fine if you’re in the market for some new stretchy pants or a sports bra; not fine if you’re hoping their marketing materials will teach you something profound about yourself.”
See this bit of fitspiration floating around online? It has effectively chopped a woman into just a part of her – without a head as is so often done in objectifying but totally normal and harmless-looking media. This part of her also happens to be sexually alluring, which is so often the case in this same objectifying but totally normal and harmless-looking media. Her hand is placed in her pants in a way that looks very reminiscent of a woman about to pull down her pants in a sexually alluring way. Her hip bones, navel, and cleavage are highlighted by the lighting of the shot, which say nothing of fitness or whatever the “it” is spoken of in the text. This text is open for interpretation so the “it” can be a well-meaning physical fitness goal, but the image would lead one to assume it is a look – a vision of oneself – that is the goal. A sexually appealing, “to be looked at” goal that leaves little room for worrying about internal indicators of health or meeting a fitness goal like hiking to the top of that peak or finishing that race or getting your heart rate up every day.
Pay attention to the advertising so often being done in these “fitness inspiration” messages and you will see what is really being sold here. Is it a message of real health and fitness or a message asking you to commodify yourself by buying sports bras, yoga pants, the latest fitness DVD, etc. to appear a certain way. Advertisers are VERY GOOD at framing their messages as an empowering “You Go Girl!” message with their fists in the air cheering you on. But pay attention to their swift move from using that pumping fist to cheer you on, to punching you in the face for not being enough. If you do not have rock hard chiseled abs, the right workout outfit, etc., you are not good enough until you do. These advertisers will make sure you know that, because their profit depends on your wallet and your beliefs about yourself. They’ll make sure you know you must work for “it” every second. Of every day. For the rest of your life. (Note: Please be aware that we go to great lengths to avoid perpetuating harmful images on this site, so we’ve purposely left out the more obviously thin-ideal-focused fitspo images. A simple Web search for fitspiration will reveal a much more representative spread of what those images look like.)
Next time you see one of these “fitspiration” messages, please ask yourself how it makes you feel. If these images and texts motivate you to respect your body as something that can do so much good, make and reach fitness goals, and maintain health that will keep you happy and able, then they are appropriate for you. If they motivate you to worry about being looked at or to improve parts of your body to meet a beauty ideal you see in media, you must be aware of this. Being self-conscious of your looks, in a state of self-objectification, stunts your health and well-being in physical and mental ways. Virginia at VirginaSoleSmith.com so concisely says, “Pay attention to how it makes you feel to be ‘inspired’ by lots of photos of a largely unattainable beauty ideal. Because that’s what rock hard abs are, after all. Yes, sure, core strength is important for your health. But pictures of bikini-clad, chiseled muscles beaded with sweat? That’s about pretty, not about health.”
If these images and messages categorized as “fitness inspiration” actually inspire body shame – you feel ashamed of the beauty ideals you cannot reach and want to hide or judge your body or covet other women’s bodies – then these messages are not inspirational at all. They trigger you to feel anxiety, hopelessness, and ask you to resort to extremes to get somewhere largely unattainable for healthy people, which does not discount that some people may be able to attain that ideal, but most cannot. This powerful quote from a woman centuries ago has everything to do with the fitness inspiration we are discussing here:
“Taught from infancy that beauty is woman’s scepter, the mind shapes itself to the body and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison” (Wollstonecraft, 1792).
This woman hundreds of years ago described what girls and women growing up today are asked to do every second of every day for the rest of their lives. We are asked to believe our power, our very identities, our worth, all lie in our bodies because we ARE our bodies. So we are asked to fix every part of our bodies – from the wrong-colored roots of our hair to the scratchy bottoms of our feet and every new flaw in between (baggy eyelids, insufficient eyelashes, saggy knees, cellulite, stretch marks, and every other sign of life). Men are not asked to fix these “flaws” because this is women’s work – a work that must last a lifetime. Of course there are exceptions to these beauty ideals being pushed on men, but for the most part, beauty and beauty under the guise of health, is women’s work. We are advertised in media to ourselves as parts of ourselves to encourage us to view ourselves as simply parts in need of constant maintenance and perfection. We are asked to believe we are our bodies and nothing more, and we are asked to adorn the prison that we must reside in every second. Of every day. For the rest of our lives.
Now look again at those “inspirational” fitness messages. Are those messages carefully crafted to appear to be health and fitness inspired, only to sell you a product, keep you fixated on parts of yourself that have nothing to do with your actual health and physical fitness, and keep you roaming around your prison? Our bodies are not prisons – they are gifts that allow us to live and breathe and act and do and be. But when we believe we are only bodies, and health is simply making those parts look presentable and beautiful to people looking at us, we are at once prisoners and the prison guards.
We borrow from the fantastic Virginia Sole-Smith again for our last very important point: “Any motivational statement that has to diss another type of body in order to make you feel good about your body? Not. Helping. Anyone.” You’ve seen those photos of Marilyn Monroe vs. Nicole Richie with the words: “When did this become hotter than this?” or some variation. Ugh. When we pit female against female, we get nowhere fast. We continue minimizing each other to our bodies EVERY TIME we judge each others’ bodies, comment on them, even compliment each other.
One thing Lindsay and I mention at every speaking engagement is this: We have been taught from a young age that girls are to be looked at. So we compliment little girls on how pretty they are and little boys on how funny/rambunctious/smart/anything else they are. When we greet another female, we so often compliment her on her appearance: “Have you lost weight?” “I love your hair!” “Is that a new outfit?” But reverse that scenario. When guys greet each other, how often do you hear them minimize each other to their bodies and appearance? I almost NEVER hear a man say “Is that a new outfit?” or “Your hair looks great today!” to another man, because they do not learn they ARE their bodies like females do. We are capable of so much more than being looked at, but when our dialogue revolves around our bodies and we judge other women’s bodies, we are not getting anywhere progressive or happy or healthy. So next time you see a “fitspiration” post that pits one woman’s body type against another, please comment on it and link to this post!
So where do you turn for fitness information and happy inspiration?! If you are seeking positive inspiration to get fit and healthy and respect your body as something so powerful and capable of more than being looked at, we can help. That’s why Beauty Redefined is here! Read our post on how your body is an instrument, not an ornament here. Check out our in-depth look at the Body Mass Index (BMI) that has a shocking history and completely flawed present status. Read why fat shaming and focusing on numbers on the scale won’t get us anywhere in terms of real health here.
You are capable of much more than being looked at. When you believe that, you break free from the prison walls that keep you confined to your body, pitted against every other woman/prisoner in her own individual cell, always monitored by a gaze that controls your beliefs about yourself and your actions. Need more help developing body image resilience that can help you overcome your self-consciousness and be more powerful than ever before? Learn how to recognize harmful ideals, redefine beauty and health, and resist what holds you back from happiness, health, and real empowerment with the Beauty Redefined Body Image Program for girls and women 14+. It is an online, anonymous therapeutic tool that can change your life, designed by Lexie & Lindsay Kite, with PhDs in body image and media.
Since the Huffington Post published this very piece and we got hundreds of comments and shares from it, Lindsay was interviewed by the F Word Media Collective’s radio station to talk about the post and the backlash. Listen to her interview here!