The Internet is the first resource we turn to for answers these days. I don’t cook, but, if I did, I would type some recipes into Google because it’s quick, easy, and always accessible with a WiFi network. I know people who use discussion boards to keep track of their diets—places like Weight Watchers even encourage their members to look up “points” for meals as they dine out or dine in. Many people—not just dieters— look to the Internet for tips or motivation to help them stay on track with healthy eating or with working out. However, Fitspiration, or “fitspo” for short, comes up more often than not when we search for work-outs or for healthy meal options. That’s because it’s EVERYWHERE.
Fitspo is widely disseminated on the Internet. It is all over social media sites, such Tumblr and Instagram, and much of the controversy surrounding fitspo is that its images are all very, very similar. Designed to motivate and “inspire” us lazy Internet-users to get up and work out, fitspo usually features a white woman in her twenties wearing short shorts and a sports bra on her toned, glistening body, complete with a 6-pack of abs. Her head is sometimes there, but most often it is just the body that is featured, showing us what is really important about ourselves. Most of the time there is also an accompanying “catchy” phrase beside the image designed to make us want to look like the toned, white woman. Some popular phrases I have seen are, “train like a beast to look like a beauty,” “stop wishing and start doing,” “make yourself proud,” etc. There are countless numbers of these images on the Internet, waiting to inspire someone.
But I don’t find them inspiring at all.
After scrolling through several pages of google images for “fitspo,” I counted one non-white female and three males, all white. I saw no body diversity at all; all of these women featured were very slender with lithe bodies and visible muscles. The men were all bulky and muscular. Besides grossly over-generalizing the bodies and skin types of people who are “fit,” one doesn’t have to look at this long before it dawns on you: I don’t look like any of those people! I’m not healthy!
That’s because most fitspo is cleverly packaged as “health.” Exercise has been drilled into our brains to equate to “healthy,” so it isn’t unusual to automatically assume that those people who exercise more are healthier individuals. Exercise is healthy; however, health doesn’t have to look like a 25 year-old white woman with 5% body fat. In fact, I would argue that many of these pictures of “health” are the product of daily hours at the gym, incredibly strict diets, and not much time for social activities or flexibility. Yet we are comparing ourselves to these images and being told that we don’t look like these people because we just aren’t trying hard enough.
Does anyone else see where this logic can get very problematic? If we believe that we aren’t working hard enough or that we have to “stop wishing and start doing” to achieve the body on our screen, we just might believe that. It is a lie.
Health looks different for every single person. Fitspo puts health into a box and says we should all look one way or we just aren’t trying hard enough or don’t want it badly enough. Another lie fitspo tells us is that we will be happier because we look the way that these “fit” people look. If we are motivated to take care of our bodies by looking at unrealistic pictures, we will probably have unrealistic expectations of not only what our appearances should be but also of how healthy we are. Furthermore, it is a lie to promote the idea that we can and should all look like the people featured in fitspo images. It is a lie that shaming our bodies will make us want to be healthy.
It’s time to change the conversation and make health more about our actual well-being and less about what we look like. If we really want to inspire someone to be healthier, maybe we should leave out the “fitspiration.”