Trigger warning: Discussion of fitspo and thinspo, “motivational” images, body shaming, and diet culture
A new year has just started, which for many people will mean making resolutions for the year ahead. By far the most common resolution I hear people making is to lose weight and/or get fit, and lots of women will turn to online fitspo and thinspo communities in order to find motivation, workout ideas, diet plans etc. I am definitely not against anyone wanting to get more in shape, or even to lose weight if that’s what they wish, though I do believe the focus should always be on health and fitness rather than aspiring to an arbitrary number. However, there are various problems in the fitspo and thinspo communities, and since many more people will be looking into them at the moment, it seemed like a good time to talk about some of them.
I will start by saying that thinspo and fitspo are somewhat different animals, and I will mainly be discussing fitspo. Thinspo usually completely skips the focus on fitness, instead focusing on glorifying specific body types and features which are unattainable for most women (case in point: thigh gaps). Thinspo images often encourage undereating and romanticise thinness, suggesting that being thin will solve all of your problems. Fitspo was created to be a healthy alternative to this, and by comparison, it’s definitely an improvement, but there are still some very toxic ideas present in the fitspo community.
One of the biggest problems with so many of these fitspo motivationals is that they promote unsafe behaviours and goals, and they rely on guilt and shame to do so. Too many of these images glorify pain, discourage listening to your body, and use shaming language to “motivate” you into working out or eating less. Some motivationals irresponsibly insist that you continue working out even if you are crying, out of breath, sick, tired or in pain, claiming that “quitting is unacceptable”. This, of course, is a good way to cause yourself serious injury. Exercise shouldn’t feel like punishment, and it is much easier to be motivated when you’re enjoying yourself. Listen to what your body is telling you, and rest if and when you need to.
Other images frame eating anything outside of a strict regime as a failure and something to be ashamed of, yet eating different foods in moderation is entirely reasonable. Outside of medical reasons, staunchly cutting out specific foods is usually completely unnecessary, and these sort of messages often cause guilt and self-loathing should you ever “slip up”. It’s also unsustainable in the long term, with some people feeling that eating something unhealthy compromises their entire diet, resulting in a complete return to less healthy habits. Sustainable eating habits should not have forbidden foods – everything should be allowed, as long as it’s in moderation.
On top of the image captions themselves, these communities are filled almost exclusively with pictures of very thin, white, able-bodied women, intended to be aspirational, yet alienating for so many. “Do it for the body you’ve always wanted”, one image proclaims. “Do it to like what you see in the mirror”, says another, over a picture of someone with a body type that is just not attainable for most women. While these images could be inspirational for those who already have similar bodies, many other women feel dejected or intimidated by the constant stream of idealised bodies that they can’t, and may not ever, relate to.
A common side of fitspo is the “Get strong, not skinny” slogan and its variants, which supposedly encourages lifting weights and getting strong, rather than focusing on size. It sounds good on the surface, yet it has the same issues of promoting damaging behaviours, and it falls into exactly the same trap of only showcasing one kind of body. Strength is possible at any size or weight, yet once again, 99.9% of the time it is represented by thin, white, able-bodied women, this time with extra muscle definition. It claims to be a better than the images promoting thinness, but the subtext is clear: this is what strong looks like, and this is the sort of body you should aim for.I have to admit, I am not the most qualified to speak about this topic. I am not currently trying to lose weight or improve my fitness, and I have never been involved in the fitspo/thinspo community. My opinions on these things are based mostly on reading what other people have written about how these images have affected them, and the images that I’ve come across myself. The reason I decided to write about this is due to Panache Lingerie’s current campaign, in which they are aiming to provide their customers with resources and motivation to improve their health and fitness. Along with reviews of their sports bra (which I hope to be doing soon), they have been doing numerous other projects, including a pinterest board of information and motivational images. The pinterest board is a group project with over 50 people currently participating, including everyone from lingerie bloggers to designers to retailers, which makes for a wonderfully diverse group. However, while I was happy to participate with a review, I was disappointed to open the pinterest board and see so many of the sort of images I’ve discussed above.
I was saddened to find such a space in the full-bust lingerie world, a world that (thanks to many bloggers and various brands) I often consider to be positive. I considered not participating at all, not wanting to associate myself or my blog with any of the negative messages, but ultimately I realised that I (and some of my fellow bloggers) could instead add some balance. For the past few days, a few of us lingerie bloggers have all started adding positive fitspo – inspirational plus size athletes, practical resources, along with reminders to take care of yourself, and to start loving your body even if you aren’t at your goal weight. I hope this does not come across as a plug for the campaign, nor a criticism of any of the other participants, as this was definitely not my motivation for writing this. I understand how many can find these images to be inspirational, and I am definitely not judging anyone who finds them useful. However, it seemed a good time to highlight the issues with these images, and explain exactly why I had decided to contribute to a pinterest board dedicated to them.
I guess the point of this post is this: If you have decided to improve your health and fitness this January, make sure you evaluate what you use for inspiration. So many of the motivational pictures and resources available promote dangerous workout and eating habits, and it’s very easy to take these things on face value without considering the underlying messages. Remember that you are just as valid and important a person at your current size as you would be smaller. Remember that you can be fit and healthy, even if the number on the scale isn’t what you wanted. Remember that food is not the enemy. Remember that everyone’s limits are different, and it’s not worth hurting yourself through overexertion. Remember that weight loss won’t magically fix all of your problems. And remember that you are worth loving, right now, exactly as you are. You don’t have to wait to start enjoying your body.
If you would like to look into more positive fitspo, you might be interested in some of these sites. I haven’t been through all of them in their entirety, so I can’t guarantee there will be nothing negative or problematic, but they are generally good resources from what I’ve seen:
- The Exercist (fitness resources, created Reclaiming Fitspo)
- Criss the Geek (blogs about weight loss, body image and geekery)
- Fat Chicks Who Love to Exercise (showcases plus size athletes)
- That ARThletic Girl (draws usually-positive motivationals)
- Fit-Fabstroid (debunks and improves negative fitspo)
- Fit and Feminist (examines sexism and gender in the fitness world)
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