For the past six months or so, I’ve been an active part of the Pinterest community. I’ve found it to be a wonderful place full of DIY projects, outfit ideas, domestic tips and tricks, and yummy recipes. I mean, where else can you get weight loss tips and an Oreo buttercream cupcake recipe on the same site? Pure genius!! In my relatively short time on the site, I have amassed an array of boards that cover just about every topic you could think of, but lately I’ve been giving one of my boards the serious side-eye. …my Fitspo board.
For those of you who don’t know, “Fitspo” is short for Fitness Inspiration. It’s where people (mostly women and girls) repin, Instagram, or post pictures of beautifully chiselled, youthful, cellulite-free female bodies in minimal clothing as inspiration for exercise and healthy eating. Many of these images have inspirational quotes on them and come from fitness ads for athletic apparel companies. Not quite as controversial as it’s Thinspo predecessor, the Fitspo craze has been making more and more of a presence on the online photo-sharing community. A quick google search will yield over a million results for the term, ranging from sweaty women in sports bras running up a mountain or working out in the gym, to pictures of super-skinny models with phrases like “would you rather eat that bag of chips or look like this?”
These photos of scantily clad, rock-hard bodies are supposed to inspire me to work out and eat right. They’re supposed to motivate me to be a healthier person, but more and more lately, I’ve been feeling like they’ve pretty much just replaced music videos and Calvin Klein ads as the newest unattainable body image I’m supposed to aspire to.
When I was a kid in the 90′s, I used to clip photos of tall, spindly models from Seventeen Magazine to use as weight loss inspiration. I would look at these models’ tapered waists and gapped thighs as an image of what I should and could be. I would skip a few too many meals, try crazy fad diets, obsessively count calories, even spend hours exercising trying to get the body the magazines told me I should have. Then as a teenager, when I reached my current height of 5’10″, I read somewhere that the average supermodel was my height and 123 pounds! All of a sudden my average figure wasn’t good enough. I began to obsess over that number, doing everything I could think of to reach it, which I did, but only briefly.
Fast forward to 2013. At 5’10″ and a fairly muscular 150-something pounds, I’m what most doctors would consider “a healthy weight.” I eat right (most of the time), exercise 3-4 times a week (most of the time), and am generally a very fit and healthy person. I have my vices, but my health is important to me, and I work hard to maintain it. And although I never attained the golden waist-hip ratio and certain areas on my body are a little squishier than I would like, I generally feel good about myself and the way I look.
So now, as I fill my fitness inspiration board with images of airbrushed ectomorphs in bikinis with six-packs and enviably perky backsides, I wonder if this is really motivating me to be healthier or if I’m just replaying the same unhealthy supermodel obsession in digital form. Only now, instead of impossibly skinny, it’s unrealistically fit. Let’s face it, I’m not 19 anymore and I don’t have the time, motivation, or desire to spend hours in the gym every day, and when I do go to the gym, I’d prefer not to puke, faint, or die… and I think that’s ok. And even if I did live in the gym, there’s no guarantee that exercise could completely offset the short waist and narrow hips genetics dealt me.
Older and wiser, I no longer obsess over my weight, and even though I’ve put on a few pounds since high school, I feel more confident and happier with my body than I ever have. I finally feel like I have a good balance. I eat better, exercise regularly, and feel healthy. So why am I looking to 23-year-old models as motivation for my health? Shouldn’t I be more focussed on setting attainable goals for my body and finding realistic ways to improve my health and lifestyle? After all, Nike ads aren’t designed to make you want to work out. They’re designed to make you want to buy Nike products. That’s not the kind of inspiration I need.
One of the reasons why this Fitspo trend is so acceptable is that it is supposed to focus on health, not just being skinny, and healthy is good, right? Muscle, not bone. But there are so many other factors that make up “health” besides just the way you look, and this thinspo/fitspo trend is ignoring this. Sure weight is an important factor but the ultimate health markers are things that you can’t see from the outside like blood pressure, blood sugar, cardiovascular health, cholesterol, etc.. In my quest to be the healthiest me I can be, maybe I should be posting perfect blood pressure readings to my Fitspo board for motivation. After all, that says more about my health status than having an 8-pack, and health is the ultimate goal, right? But I’m sure that board wouldn’t get many followers and not a single repin because this is still image-obsessed America and healthy isn’t good enough, …especially if you’re a woman.
Maybe we should stop pretending it’s about health, because we all know it’s not… at least not entirely. Having glutes of steel may help you fill out a dress, but it doesn’t make you healthy. Let’s stop sugar-coating it and call it what it really is: A new unrealistic standard of beauty that is more socially acceptable than the ”heroin chic” images of my youth. Either way, it still boils down to women and girls obsessing and comparing their looks to an unattainbale standard. Same disorder in a more acceptable package.
The technology may have changed, but thinspo and fitspo along with all forms of female on female booty worship are just the remixed version of my high school supermodel obsession. And to me, something doesn’t seem mentally healthy about comparing my 31-year-old, healthy yet imperfect body to an 23-year-old fitness model’s. Even worse, I cringe at the thought of my (imaginary) teenage daughters repinning fitspo and thinspo pics like I obsessed over Calvin Klein ads when I was their age.
Having proper inspiration is important, but maybe it’s time to repurpose my fitspo board into things that inspire me in a more positive way: nutritious recipes, cute workout clothes, or motivational quotes (sans the half-naked teenagers) instead of making my Pinterest board a shrine to the 24-inch waistline.
What do you think about the Fitspo/Thinspo trend? Do looking at these images help inspire you to work out? Would you be ok with your teenage daughter looking at fitspo images for motivation?