body · mental wellness

Is ‘Fitspo’ Damaging Our Mental Well-being?

Fitspo/Fitsporation: Images or words that women (or men) post with the purpose of inspiring others to live a fit and healthy lifestyle. 

50,039,695 Fitspo posts are floating around Instagram as I write this blog post, sitting in a corner of Starbucks, sipping coffee and eating cake between the two spin classes I teach on a Wednesday morning. How ironic.

The hashtag that entices us with imagery of the ‘ideal’ body. You know what I’m talking about, tight abs, dewy skin and a motivational message which goes a little something like this:




and a personal favourite:


Now I don’t want to come across as a negative Nancy (or do I?) but these phrases aren’t filling me to the brim with motivation. In fact, I’m feeling slightly bitter and that I’m not good enough. Is this not just another way for women (and men) to pick flaws in their appearance and compare themselves to an unrealistic ideal? Is it not just another way to sabotage our self esteem and get us to buy into this notion that we’ll just never be quite good enough? Just like thinspiration (reference to something or someone that serves as motivation for a person who is seeking to maintain a very low body weight). This fitspo posts are still representing one, uniformed standard of what is deemed attractive.

Hiding under this thin veil, It shows itself as motivating, healthy and a ‘life changer’. But if we just lift up that blanket ever so slightly, we can soon see that a lot of the messages behind ‘fitspo’ can be damaging. We are being drawn in and made to believe that if we play by the rules like changing our diets and hitting the gym hard will lead to health and happiness (what are you talking about Lucy? That is healthy!). But what happens when you miss a gym session so you skip your lunch? Or you eat something that wasn’t planned so you miss out on the dinner with your girlfriends? Or you are so filled with dread at the thought of going to the gym, but the extra bit of toast you had this morning fills you with way more dread if you don’t burn it off? What happens when these innocent changes that you brought in to your life to become healthier, start becoming an obligation, a competition, a prison sentence.

Now let’s not jump ahead and assume that I referring to ALL exercise. No. There’s nothing wrong in pursuing physical health or wanting to improve on fitness. The problem arises when we start to believe that health and fitness only works in one way and looks one way:

Regimented, skinny, sweaty, the ‘no pain no gain’ mentality.

It starts when we believe that all thin bodies are healthy, desirable and that all fat bodies are greedy, unhealthy and unfit.

I can tell you first hand that I lived in a body that was viewed as acceptable by society. People commented on my appearance and ‘wish they looked like me’. I was skinny, but was I healthy? No. I forced myself to the gym everyday, I skipped meals and the meals I did eat, I threw up. This was not the healthy and glamorous life that people believed I sustained from ‘clean eating’ and exercising. Compare this to someone in a larger body who exercises, eats healthily and is happy! So we can start to see that thin does not always equal healthy, happy or perfection and that fat is not greedy, unfit or a bad thing to be! As much as we’re being told that ‘strong is the new skinny’, what we’re really being fed is that ‘strong-skinny’ is the new skinny because if you don’t fit neatly into that toned, slim ideal then you can forget it.

So the message that fitspo throws at us is: this is what a fit body looks like, this is what you should look like, this is what working out with give you, this is the goal. It’s not about moving your body to feel good, all that matters is moving your body to LOOK good. Does that not leave a slight feeling of sadness? That it’s just one more part of our world which is telling us that we’re not good enough unless we’re sweating until we feel faint or not worthy enough until our muscles are chiselled and popping. Remember that no one looks like that during every moment of the day.

We are no longer viewing exercise or movement as something fun or enjoyable, in fact we’re not viewing it in any other way than to loose weight and achieve that ideal body. So really, we have poisoned the relationship we had with exercise.

Think back to the days when you used to run until you thought that your heart would burst from your chest, just for fun.

When you used to swing as high as possible until you felt the frame moving beneath you, just for fun.

When you’d go to dance classes or horse riding lessons or football, just for fun.

With no worries about toning your thighs, slimming your arms or flattening your stomach.

What happened? When did that carefree childlike attitude change into something so sour?

Can we ever get that freedom back? I believe so. But it means getting rid of the idea that we are only important if we’re slim. That we’re only desirable if we’re toned. That we are only here to become that perfect ‘ideal’ body shape.

So next time you are tempted to scroll through those hashtags, take a moment and remind yourself that you don’t need to compare your wonderful body to these personalities on a screen.

Because, my darling, you are beautiful. Without the tan, the hair, the abs. You are worthy. Without the strict exercise regime, without the thigh gap, without a low BMI. You are incredible with the squishyness of your stomach and the jiggle of your arms.

You are here to be heard! You are here to be marvelled! You are here to take up space and to learn and to grow! You are not a meaningless type to be categorised and stuffed into a box! You are not low calorie meals or 5am runs to get your steps in for the day.

You are an outright beauty that should burn brightly and intently with a depth that cannot be known to others.

So with the risk of sounding cheesy…

Keep shining!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s