Thinspo to Fitspiration: destructive messages in disguise

First ‘thinspiration’, now ‘fitspiration.’ Can any of these health and fitness accounts be good?

Health and fitness accounts flourish on Social Media. Thinsperation. Fitsperation. Fat-shaming. Skinny-shaming. Skinny-fat. Thigh gap. Waist trainers. Detox Teas. The list of buzzwords could go on – and these hashtags reveal only part of our culture’s dysfunctional relationship with food, exercise and body image.

Despite attempts to stamp out movements like ‘Thinspiration’, images that glorify eating disorders are still plastered all over the internet. I was shocked to find that sites such as Tumblr still have this content readily available for young girls to consume:

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These are only some of the horrifying messages that still circulate on the internet today. Restricting calories is seen as a strength; a battle to be won against yourself. Being ‘skinny’ is the pinnacle of popularity, beauty and success. It acts as inspiration for a party outfit. An item of clothing to be worn like a badge of honour. What’s worse is that the admins of these accounts are giving out ill-informed information about diet and exercise, propagating damaging ideas about what it is to be happy and ‘healthy.’

Detox teas, laxatives, waist trainers, ‘specialised’ guides to lose 30lbs in a week, plague the internet, and are often advocated by fitness ‘inspiration’ accounts that have no certified qualifications to be giving such advice.

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The admin of this account advises eating 800 calories a day to see results: a cripplingly low amount of food for anyone to function on. Reducing body size has ostensibly become society’s way of measuring self-worth, happiness and success. The language and images used in diet and exercise advertisements equate all of these things with toned legs and rippling abs. The possession of a perfect body is a standard of contentment we all hope to achieve. Peeling off layers of fat is just a tangible way of aiding our feelings of imperfection.

In a generation of immediacy, weight-loss, no matter how long or hard the process, does have a guaranteed result, no matter how extreme the measures. And this is exactly where ‘Fitspo’, ‘Thinspiration’ and other insidious ideas about health and wellness come in.

Thinspo to Fitspo: What’s the difference?

‘Fitspiration’ began as a noble pursuit. As a reaction to ‘Thinspiration’ – a movement that, linked to cases of anorexia nervosa and other disorders, served as motivation for women to maintain a very low body weight – ‘fitspiration’ is meant to propagate a more ‘healthy’ way of achieving a desired physique. The effect, however, has been less than positive.

The ‘Fitspo’ definition of health is essentially a slightly reimagined version of ‘thinspiration.’ Fitspo hasn’t shifted the problem, they have just shifted the focus.

Every era in history has had its beauty ideals. Fitspo models, while offering a more full, curvaceous & ‘toned’ physique as a reaction to the dangerously thin bodies of ‘thinspo’, still propagate a certain kind of image that cannot be achieved by all women. While advocating slogans such as ‘eat more, not less’ and ‘build a booty’ – positive ideas, yes, about fuelling the body and increasing strength – they are still creating a particular kind of beauty standard not accessible to all. Everybody might want a big bum, but not all of us have the genetics to achieve one.

‘Fitsperation’ masquerades as ‘pro-body image’;  ‘health rather than weight focussed.’ Yet the body is still an enemy that needs to be battled with, controlled and conquered, and the ‘Fitsperation’ rhetoric aptly serves this purpose: ‘Fight through the pain, it’s worth it.’ ‘Set some goals, then demolish them.’

GYM-QUOTES-PAINS

Fitspo’s intention to provide motivation for a sustainable way of living has become obscured by the circulation of senseless phrases such as ‘Obsessed is a word the lazy use to describe the dedicated.’ In some cases, inspiration for a ‘healthy body’ becomes less about restricting calories and more about extreme gym routines that cannot suit every body type or lifestyle. Hyper-gymnasia, an over-emphatic commitment, or obsession, with exercise, is perhaps not a recognisable disorder to most, but the damage it inspires is real. Inspiration for a ‘healthy body’ becomes the same as inspiration for a thin body: extreme measures must be taken. These social media accounts, whether attempting to inspire a ‘healthy’ way of living or not, provide ample ground for negative body image to grow.

And then there are the ‘Before and After images.’ ‘True’ depictions of the bodies of ‘real’ women that are still most likely augmented by lighting, posture, clothing and filters. More worrying still, is that these juxtaposed images do not show the process of weight lossundertaken by the individual. From ‘before’ to ‘after’, we have no idea what measures have taken place in order to achieve this more desired physique. While the person who posts the picture may be feeling good about their progress, we could, by offering our encouragement on social media, be glorifying disordered behaviours surrounding food and exercise.

So if not ‘fitspo’, who can we follow?

Of course, these fitness movements can all be placed on a spectrum. There are positives to be gleaned from online movements such as ‘Fitspiration’. The 2017 Dove Global Girls Beauty and Confident report, for example, showed that ‘girls were harnessing the power of social media to democratise the beauty narrative … and flooding the space with their diverse stories and images.’ Fitness accounts such as ‘Fit Girls Guide’, for example, ‘democratise’ the fitness community by encouraging inclusivity. Welcoming women from different ages, body types and skin colour, there are some accounts that create a supportive environment for women just starting out on their fitness journey.

Influencers such as Amber Romaniuk, dietician and expert in emotional eating add a human dimension to those struggling with body image issues and symptoms of eating disorders. Through her podcast, ‘No Sugar Coating’, she addresses deep-seated issues that she herself as dealt with, in order to provide understanding to those suffering from similar problems. Her instagram, while offering balanced and nutrient-dense recipes, focuses more on the mental and emotional benefits of health and fitness rather than just the physical: a trend Fitspo influencers would do well to adopt.

The Bottom Line

The stream of ‘fitness’ images on the internet, whether attempting to provide positive inspiration to people seeking guidance, is not the answer to long term weight- loss and sustainable living. There is still much to do in terms of helping women develop the resilience they require to overcome the impact of beauty pressures. While social media is inescapably becoming the first port of call for help and advice on health and wellbeing, choosing to follow registered dieticians and nutritionists on social media who offer accurate and balanced advice is certainly more insightful than content inspired by ‘fitspo’ trends.

If you are susceptible to feelings of guilt or shame about your body image, it’s wise to unfollow people who propagate restriction, extreme exercise, fitness drinks/ supplements or calorie-counting. A large social-media following does not often pertain to expert advice. Choose influencers with qualifications who promote ideas about how best to approach health and fitness in a sustainable, more long-term way.

Resources:

Be Real Campaign – an organisation who provides educational tools to help people combat personal issues surrounding unrealistic beauty standards.

amberapproved.ca/podcast/134

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/oct/05/poor-body-image-makes-girls-less-assertive-and-risks-health-study-finds

https://www.seventeen.com/body-image/

https://www.healthyisthenewskinny.com

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/08/thinspiration-blogs_n_1264459.html?page=1&guccounter=1

5 SIMPLE WAYS TO BE MORE PRODUCTIVE

  1. KNOW YOUR LIMITS

This is something very few of us care to acknowledge. We like to think of ourselves as deadline-driven machines who can conquer any task in any given amount of time.

It’s important to realise your own individual capacity for concentration and honour it. If you feel your mind wandering from your computer screen an hour into your emails then TAKE A BREAK. Even if that means getting up from your desk, making a hot drink, even staring out of the window for a few minutes to refresh your mind. You’ll find that the time you spend not actually concentrating is improved by accepting that your mind doesn’t run on a timer.

2. MAKE A LIST OF PRIORITIES, NOT A TO-DO LIST

Lists are an important tool of productivity. I run my life on them. Ticking completed tasks off is a powerful source of validation of your efforts and helps you feel like you have things under control.

My advice would be not to constrain yourself to time. Of course, we all have deadlines that need to be met. But instead of writing a ‘To-do list’ that has a strict time schedule, make a list of priorities in terms of importance. This will allow you to recognise which tasks need to be the most imminently completed without feeling overwhelmed. The aim is to feel like you have an abundance of time, not a lack of it.

3. WORK IN NATURAL LIGHT

Sleep disorders are epidemic and it’s partially to do with our lack of daylight during office hours. Scientists conclude that our circadian rhythms – our body’s internal clocks – are disrupted by our lack of exposure to daylight. Feeling that midday slump in the office? That will be why. Even if your access to natural light is limited by the plan of your workplace, then take time at lunch to go for a stroll. It will do wonders for your concentration.

4. CLEAN YOUR IMMEDIATE ENVIRONMENT

We don’t all have to be masters of Feng Shui to recognise that a tidy workspace makes for a tidy mind. Our minds are cluttered enough, without having our environment replicate it.

Not only does having a clean workspace keep you focused by limiting distractions, it keeps you more organised. Work on developing your own filing system and invest in some desk organisers. You’ll know where everything is, you’ll waste less time and you’ll be better able to keep on top of things.

5. DO SOMETHING ELSE

If you’re unable to concentrate on the immediate task in front of you, then take a short break that sets your mind on something else. The aim is to keep moving. Keep your brain ticking by reading, going for a walk or cooking. Something that keeps your mind and body on its toes, but that allows you to rest from your original activity.

Finding my balance: My thoughts on temporarily uprooting.

‘And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away from wherever you are, to look for your soul?’ – Mary Oliver, ‘Have you ever tried to enter the long black branches.’

I came across this poem recently and was intrigued by the wistful tone of its words. All the questions I’ve ever contemplated about life, the future, seemed to be encapsulated in every stanza. It seemed to dispel every negative thought I’d ever considered on these themes. And then, this line:

 ‘Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?’

Breathing. So natural. So necessary. Sustaining. Comfortable. Second nature. With the calling of ‘Listen’ I physically halted. Perhaps I was only breathing just a little, and not even noticing. I had become so comfortable in my life that every thought and action was undertaken completely independently of my mind. I had switched to autopilot.

Monotony, routine, is a killer to the creative soul, but is also the antidote to a person who, like myself, lacks in confidence. That’s not to say that I knock routine. I need it, in fact. But having too rigid a structure provided me with too much of a comfort blanket. My best ideas and decisions are often bred in the most unsettling of circumstances.

It got me thinking that a lot of people consider life to be linear. There’s only a certain time and place where things can be done. Travelling can only be done in your gap-year. Job changes can only occur once every decade. Children come after career. Years roll on. These are perhaps bad examples. Perhaps I sound like too much of a young vigilante. But why must we all walk this undeviating line? Surely there is room to stray from the path, go forwards, backwards, upwards, downwards.

My masterplan was to take a strategic sidestep.

Instead of just breathing a little I decided to inhale a whole host of dreams and ideas. I wanted to travel, but I realised that I was never going to be the backpacker to Thailand. Instead, I have arranged to live in Berlin for six months, perhaps longer. It was art, lifestyle, language, literature that I was craving, and what better place for this than an international hub of culture like the German capital.

I’ve always been an over-analyser. I drive myself and my friends mad with my tendency to kill every good situation with my scrutinising eye. I realise that a lot of this sense of caution has been cultivated in me since I was a child.

Things can get heavy when too long at home. After graduating from University and moving back to the family home, I found myself becoming embroiled in circumstances that I could not change and it weighed heavily upon me. We all have our shackles and it is hard to know how onecan shed them, or even if we should. I found that I was always wearing the name of someone else upon my lips which prevented me from forming any articulate idea about my own future plans. I don’t want to escape, I just want to carve out a little mental space for myself.

I decided in the New Year that I no longer want to live a life poised in fear and apprehension. I titled this blog, ‘Finding my balance’ and this is what I intend to do to move forward. Help to relieve the burdens of others without being crushed under the weight of them. Acknowledge negativity but not be overthrown by it. Be disciplined, not obsessional. Labour for love of others, and for myself afterwards, but then learn to relax.

Berlin is about me fashioning my own narrative and taking control of my own circumstances. I needed something different, something inspiring. This is me seeking out the extent of my strength and capability, learning more about myself in the hope that I’ll be more certain of my future by the time that I return.

I am blessed every day for the life I lead and for the people I have around me, and this is what will bolster me for the months ahead. I hope to find myself in six month’s time with a renewed sense of positivity. My faith in life is still unfaltering.

I am still searching for what it is that truly motivates and excites me. My blog is called ‘Finding my Muse’ because that’s what I am doing: in life and in words.

#lifestyle #culture #personal

#DailyLife