Here's The Problem With 'Fitspiration'

by Holly Garcia

The late ’90s and early 2000s brought us many trends we now reflect back on and wonder what the hell were we thinking. Like clothing that was neither comfortable nor functional. Including low-rise everything and a mantra to help us keep our cravings in check so we could try to squeeze ourselves into the aforementioned ridiculous fashion.

You know which one I’m talking about, Kate Moss’s famous one-liner, nothing tastes as good as thin feels. Yeah, you read that right. Clearly, she had never had a slice of cool dulce de leche cake on a hot summer day. Feeling thin > Dulce De Leche–I think the fuck not.

By sharing this mantra, Moss unintentionally became the poster child for the #thinspiration movement. If you aren’t familiar, thinspiration is thin inspiration. Whether it be photos of models with protruding bones on the runway or “inspirational” quotes surrounding food and your body. For example…

“You will not regret getting skinny, but you will regret overeating. The choice is yours.” — Unknown, Pinterest

“Junk food you’ve craved for an hour, or a body you’ve craved for a lifetime? You decide.” — Unknown, Pinterest

To the people who write and post these quotes, their intention isn’t to shame you into not eating but to empower you to have the body you’ve always wanted. Because we’ve always all wanted to be thin–right? Negative, batman.

Conversations around body image and diet culture have come leaps and bounds… in some respects. We no longer glorify skeletal photos of women and call it #goals. Even the fashion industry jumped on board in some instances. But now, instead, we’ve replaced #thinspiration with #fitspiration.

Fit inspiration. What could be harmful about that? Well, it turns out social media tends to reduce the concept to an aesthetic, not a part of a healthy lifestyle. Thanks, Facebook and Instagram, you’re the reason we can’t have anything nice. Just like #thinspiration, #fitspiration focuses on aspiring to an ideal “fit” body (whatever that is) instead of keeping your body active and feeling good.

The problem with #fitspiration is sometimes it does less inspiring and more damage to our mental health than we realize. But don’t just take my word for it.

A 2017, study conducted by Amy Slater, Neesha Varsani, and Phillippa C. Diedrichs about social media, fitspiration, and self-compassion found that “women who viewed fitspiration images reported significantly less self-compassion at post-exposure than women who viewed control images.”

The discussion goes on to explain the women feeling this way might better be supported by messages of self compassion, like the quotes that sometimes accompany “fitspiration” images and posts. But actual “fitspiration” posts you often see on Instagram? Those are pretty horrible for self-esteem, the study found.

Hot damn, that’s a lot to unpack. But to put it simply, when we see fitspiration images on social media, they can negatively impact our self-compassion. This is more likely to happen when we see pictures of fit and trim women, accompanied by words that make us feel guilty. You know, the ones that make it seem like everything about having a fit body is a choice. Damn those pesky genetics and other environmental factors that we do not have control over. We feel bad about not doing what it takes to make our bodies look like the ones we see in our feeds.

Don’t worry it’s not all bad news, though. The discussion piece of the study also highlights optimistic findings. For example, that study found that “[w]omen who viewed a combination of fitspiration and self-compassion images displayed more body satisfaction, body appreciation, and self-compassion, and less negative mood compared to women who viewed only fitspiration images.”

Ahh. Yes! Genius. When we speak kindly to ourselves, we feel good. Like, “I workout because I love my body, not because I hate it.” Well, isn’t that a radical concept?

Choosing to be kind to ourselves doesn’t automatically mean we can’t achieve the goals we have for our bodies. But there is a difference between choosing to move your body and exercise because it feels good instead of only working out to make your body look a certain way. And spoiler, it doesn’t have to be dreadful, painful, or excruciating. You can honor your body by moving it without torturing yourself.

So, how do we keep the inspiration in #fitspiration? We are constantly inundated by all sorts of images on our social media feeds. And now that summertime has arrived, and we’re all out and about (more so than last year), there is no way you will not come across photos of women enjoying the weather. With that being said, you can control what kind of images you’re seeing.

Do you always see photos of Becky lifting weights at 5 a.m.? Wrapping up her sweat sesh with a child-size green smoothie made out of kale, cucumbers, and all the tears she cried over having a 2% body fat percentage? Stop a moment and think about how seeing that image makes you feel. Do you feel inspired? Do you feel empowered? Or do you feel guilty that you’ve never started a day at 5 a.m. and couldn’t impossibly imagine getting up to workout at that hour? *Raises hand* I feel you. Trust me. You will never see me up at 5 a.m., because honey, there isn’t enough coffee in the world.

There is nothing — let me repeat, not a damn thing — wrong with wanting to be fit, toned, and in shape. But when achieving this comes at the cost of your mental health and negatively impacts your body image or relationship with food, it’s not worth it. It can take years to undo that kind of damage.

If there is content in your feed that makes you feel not-so-great or inspires guilt or shame around how you’re looking or what you’re eating, unfollow. Mute it. Block it. Do whatever you have to do to make sure the content you’re scrolling through empowers you to live your best life. Because you deserve that and nothing less.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go live mine. With every ounce of my mid-size body soaking up the sun in a two-piece I adore–margarita in hand.