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:

Screen Shot 2018-07-02 at 13.31.48

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.

Screen Shot 2018-07-02 at 13.31.30

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