I’m not against ALL “fitspo” pictures. Like this one. Nothing motivates me more to workout hard than the thought of getting dropped into a gladiator arena with a bunch of teenagers on a reality show. 

The other day as I sat happily pinning away on Pinterest, a taut, perfectly chiseled six-pack caught my eye. No I wasn’t admiring the latest David Beckham ad for H&M. It was a fabulously fit woman, one whom I would love to look like. But when I clicked to enlarge the picture I saw that the text written across her stomach was not inspirational words but a recipe for purging. The site the picture came from? Ana4Ever. It was thinspo.

For those of you unitiated in the world of eating disorders, “thinspo” (short for thinspiration) are images of very skinny models/actresses/cartoons that one then uses to self-flagellate with the hope that all the shame will make you stop eating and thereby help you lose weight. Because if we’ve learned nothing from The Scarlet Letter it’s that shame is clearly the best motivator to do anything. If I sound jaded, it’s because I am. I had a serious thinspo addiction when I was at the height of my anorexia. After going through a lot of therapy I can finally see the images for the damage they do and now when I look at thinspo I only see sadness. I only feel the self-hatred that permeated my every waking moment then.

I’ve managed to mostly put it out of my mind until this past week when a couple of events brought it right back. First, Tumblr, safe haven to thinspo blogs, announced a policy change banning any site that advocates self harming behaviors in general and eating disorder in particular. While I am under no delusions this will shut down the thinspo sites, I am very happy to see an actual policy acknowledging the damage they do. The other issue was that I got an assignment to write about the problems with thinspo and then show examples of healthy “fitspo.”

Another one I LOVE!

Obviously the first part came easy (maybe a little too easy, by about 200 words too long… oops) but while I thought the second part would be easy, it ended up being a juggernaut that has consumed my whole weekend. The first thing I did was go to Pinterest and start clicking on all my friends’ boards who posted inspirational fitness stuff. But as I got into it I found myself getting more and more obsessive with the images, then comparing myself to them and consequently feeling really awful about myself. Just like I used to do with thinspo.

Looking at rock-hard body after rock-hard body it occurred to me that fitspo may be thinspo in a sports bra. After all, the problem with thinspo is that the images represent a mostly unattainable ideal that requires great sacrifices (both physical and mental) to achieve and I daresay that most of those “perfect” female bodies, albeit muscular instead of bony, are equally as problematic. Many people will say that while it’s rare to be born with skinny genes but that muscle can be built with hard work in the gym. And I agree. But in most of these pictures, we’re not looking at your average woman who does Bodypump twice a week and can now lift her children with ease. We’re looking at a very exclusive set of dedicated athletes that train very hard and eat a very particular diet to maintain extremely lean figures. A second argument would be that super skinny is unhealthy while exercise is very healthy. Again I agree. Except that for the majority of women to look like the girls in these fitspo pictures they’d have to be young, probably not have had kids and quite possibly have an unhealthy devotion to exercise and eating. And let’s remember that women need body fat not only for spawning but also for our own health. I’m not saying every fitness model has an eating disorder. I promise! I am saying though that compulsive over exercise can be just as deadly as other eating disorders and yet it so socially sanctioned that it’s often promoted as inspiring.

This one totally made me grin.

The last point – one that I would never argue with – is that some women seem to find fitspo genuinely fit-spirational. Seeing those pics does make them want to work harder, eat cleaner and live better. I’ll freely admit that I may be more sensitive than most to this type of influence. Which is why I’m now asking you guys (because that’s my strategy – to ask normal people what they would do and then try and blend in!):

Do you find “fitspo” to be inspiring or frustrating? Does it matter to you if a beautiful bod comes from elite genes versus elite training?

P.S. While I’ve given you some examples of stuff I find truly inspiring, I feel like I need to give at least one example of the kind that bothers me so much. But I’ve put it way down here at the bottom in case it bothers you too – feel free to not scroll!

LOVE this sentiment! But everytime I look at this one I get depressed all over again. Because honestly? I will never, ever look like this. No matter how many weights I lift or sprints I run. 

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  1. Why must all these ymages be white women? Brown, asian, latina women don’t exercise. None of these inspire me. The but girl is a Kim Kardashian prototype.

    Maybe they ad reps think that they are catering to their consumers? Fitness needs an image overhaul.

  2. I don’t think Tumblr can fix self esteem issues, nor should its objective be to do so. If folks can look at these fitspo images and automatically feel down on themselves, then fitspo really is not the issue.

    Most of these fitspo posts are meant to inspire,combat negative thoughts, and curb excuses to leading a healthy life. People have to learn on their own how to seperate the fish from the bones. Learn what to take and to leave from these postings.

    • @Tammy M.: I have a love-hate relationship with fitspo pages. I love seeing what hard work can get you, but at times it can be frustrating to see what seems “impossible” but as Tammy M. said, the problems aren’t the images but more so what I have internalized from them.

      The images don’t preach depression or the impossible but the readers that have internalized those messages need to ask themselves, as I do very often, why do you believe it’s so impossible and what is it that makes you feel depressed.

      Then I go run another 6 miles to prove to myself that anything is possible if you push towards it.

      My main issue with fitspo images are that they don’t show areas of diffusion when it comes to “fitness.” Someone can weight train 5 times a week and train for a half marathon and still not look as tone as the women in the images and indeed many women won’t. All this is to say that women should not be striving to look like an image but rather should embrace the image their body gives them when they are living a healthy life style (food, diet, spiritual).
      I run, I weight-train, I have hips and I’m fit.

  3. i exercise does it matter no i guess not

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