Why Fit is the New Thin (And What We Can Do About It)

Trigger warning: In order to write today’s post, I have to use and link to images that are potentially triggering for folks with ED/in recovery/generally struggling with negative body image thought patterns right now. I’m going to be making it crystal clear why I do not endorse these images or want you to apply any of them to yourself — but please tread carefully and skip today’s post if you think this might be sensitive material for you. xo

 

Oy.

This image has been bopping around Pinterest lately, and it’s part of a whole wave of “fitspiration” images and messaging that I am having a lot of beef with.

Other examples would be slogans like [trigger!]: “No matter how slow you’re going, you’re still lapping everyone on the couch,” “unless you puke, faint or die, keep going,”"do not reward yourself with food, you are not a dog,” and “look good, feel good.” And, of course, so many images of tiny, hard-bodied, sweaty women running, twisting, contorting.

As I mentioned Monday, there’s a crackdown afoot on Tumblr to rein in “thinspiration,” aka blogs devoted to posting pictures of incredibly skinny women purely to inspire readers to new eating disordered heights. But meanwhile, a lot of that “thinspo” has migrated over to Pinterest, notes Jezebel. After all, Pinterest is all about collecting images that inspire you. And some people want to be “inspired” for unhealthy reasons.

So how do all these workout mantras and six-pack ab chicks fit in? As Charlotte over on The Great Fitness Experiment puts it: “Fitspo may be thinspo in a sports bra.” 

Exactly.

Sometimes we forget that developing a healthy relationship with physical activity can be just as challenging as ditching your food guilt — and that exercise can play as big a role in eating disorders as well, eating. So obsessively collecting and studying workout mantras and pictures of perfectly fit bodies is not necessarily the best move whether you’re in ED recovery (like Charlotte) or practicing Health At Every Size or otherwise trying to smooth out the rough edges in your body image issues.

The problem is that damaging, triggering fitspo is a lot harder to spot than thinspo. A photo of an emaciated woman? You know I’m going to tell you not to offer her a sandwich or make assumptions about her health based on her weight. But I’m also going to admit that at either end of the weight spectrum things get a little more cut and dried. Truly emaciated is unhealthy.

Tne no pain, no gain rhetoric of fitspo, on the other hand? Now we’re in murkier waters. There is such a thing as healthy competition, after all. Lots of people genuinely enjoy the endorphin-riddled pay-off that you can only get from intense physical activity. Why shouldn’t they celebrate and share that joy via inspiration boards? And you most definitely cannot start making health assumptions about the super-ripped or super-flexible women featured in these photographs. Other than: They have a lot of visible muscle tone and they can put their feet behind their heads or what have you.

But you can parse out the Fat Talk behind the fitspo. Exhibit A: The slogan pictured up top. Any motivational statement that has to diss another type of body in order to make you feel good about your body? Not. Helping. Anyone.

For starters, who says you can’t be skinny and fit? Or fit and look good in clothes? Or skinny and look good naked? Or neither skinny nor fit and still good-looking both clothed and naked? It’s unproductive any way you slice it.

Ditto hating on people sitting on the couch. Why go there? Now, how will you feel the next time you do decide to sit on your couch instead of going for a run — no matter how valid the reason?

And you can also pay attention to how it makes you feel to be “inspired” by lots of photos of a largely unattainable beauty ideal. Because that’s what rock hard abs are, after all. Yes, sure, core strength is important for your health. But pictures of bikini-clad, chiseled muscles beaded with sweat? That’s about pretty, not about health. And it’s fine to exercise for aesthetic benefits — but I do think it helps to stay clear on your motivations and not get health and the Beauty Myth all tangled up together when they are actually two separate conversations.

Last tip: Be wary of any body-related “inspiration” that comes at you by way of advertisements, which a lot of these Pinterest images actually are. Nike, Lululemon, Athleta and friends all use a lot of big, fancy girl power talk to sell us stretchy pants and sports bras just like Bare Escentuals wants to be about more than pretty when it is really just about makeup. This is fine if you’re in the market for some new stretchy pants or a sports bra; not fine if you’re hoping their marketing materials will teach you something profound about yourself. See: Jezebel’s perfect takedown of Equinox’s new public awareness campaign about “skinny fat.” And see also: Amanda Rosenberg’s simple-yet-brilliant “The 10 Least Inspirational Sentences on This Lululemon Tote.”

Because bottom line: Fitspiration is thinspiration, even when it’s dissing skinny girls. It’s not about health — it’s about using “health” and “fit” as code words for beauty standards. And I support your right to chase that fitspiring beauty dragon through a Zumba class if “fit” is one of the beauty standards that really sets your heart on fire. Just know that your beauty standard isn’t any more morally righteous than the woman who chases the plastic surgery dragon or me with all of my shoes.

And also: If it gets to be too much, and you want to break up with fitspiration, maybe go sit on your couch for awhile, and then figure out some fun ways to be physically active for your health’s sake… that is also an option.

Thoughts? How does fitspiration imagery make you feel?

 

Filed under Beauty Labor, Beauty Standards, Glossed Over, Health

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53 Comments

31 Comments

  1. Posted March 14, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Interesting topic and thank you for sharing your thoughts. I am kind of mixed on this subject. I think there is an alarming amount of people not getting adequate physical activity. On one hand, this age of convenience that we now live in only enables people to being lazy. On the other hand, there is a such thing as too much. We should work out to the point of exhaustion. Also, being fit for the sole purpose of looking good isn’t a healthy mentality.

    Likewise, everyone has the right to choose how physically active they are. If you want to be an active and in shape person, that is your choice. If you want to live a sedentary life, that is your choice too. Where I am struggling is the part about passing judgment. I am not going to lie, I judge people who are lazy, with both their bodies and their minds. All humans judge, it’s just the way of the world. I am at peace with people judging me. I might not like or agree with their thoughts on me, but hey, I’ll get over it and who would I be to tell them they can’t express their opinion? Now I do think there are limits. People come to my blog and tell me I have thunder thighs or something and I really don’t care. They are free to say it. But if they say, “You are disgusting and should kill yourself” well that’s just harassment and I don’t tolerate that. I don’t know if any of this is making sense or not.

    I like to be active in ways that are fun, but it grinds my gears to see people refuse any activity that isn’t fun. I know a lot of these people, who as soon as they feel something is “work” they stop. This is something people need to learn to live with from time to time.

    • Posted March 14, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

      Correction: I meant we *shouldn’t* work out to the point of exhaustion.

    • Jackie
      Posted July 3, 2012 at 2:04 am | Permalink

      I thing fitspo is like this, “Hey you guys, oh no they’re taking away our pro-ana sites! What do we do? I know, we’ll change it’s name to fitspo, and then hide our pro-ana behavior under the guise of it being about fitness! Brilliant!”

  2. Posted March 15, 2012 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Great post! I will admit that my most active board on Pinterest is the one where I share photos of buff women doing physical things like climbing mountains or doing one-armed handstands. I like these photos because they excite me and get me all pumped to go train my ass off. So I guess you could say that I’m really into fitspo.

    But at the same time I recognize that fitspo can really get very sketchy and a lot of it puts me off. For instance, I don’t like it when it focuses heavily on abs, nor do I like it when it just shows the woman posing. I also don’t like fitspo that tears down other people or other body types. When people do that, they are basically taking fitness and using it as yet another way of establishing moral superiority over other people. I mean, my love of running and lifting weights does not suddenly mean I am more valuable as a human being, nor that I am more worthy of love and respect. It just means I like to run and lift weights. I think that fitness enthusiasts need to be really careful about that, because I see it way too often and it really puts me off.

    • Posted March 15, 2012 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      Caitlin, so interesting — I think you make a really good distinction between fitspo that’s about glorifying (and objectifying) body parts and/or suggesting athletic people are more valuable or morally righteous than others… and fitspo that is just about encouraging people who love running/weight lifting/etc to go get pumped to run/lift/etc. The latter is completely harmless (in my eyes anyway) and really does quite a lot of good! And now I need to go follow your board because I love me some one-armed handstands…

  3. Posted March 15, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Looking at the Pinterest link you posted made me sad :( Some of the “fitspiration” pictures were just skinny girls in bikinis reclining on the beach or half-naked lying around on couches. What, exactly, about those pictures is supposed to inspire me to work out more? There’s no telling if those women are fit- I don’t even know if they’re able to walk! Images of people doing amazing things with their bodies are different (i.e., I love me some awesome rock climbing pictures, but I don’t pay too much attention to the shape and size of the climber, just the crazy way she is hanging onto a rock using just two fingers!)
    As someone who is recovering from an eating disorder, I agree that those posts are just thinspo in a different guise. I have slowly learned that being fit and healthy has NOTHING to do with my looks, yet I still fight not to conflate them.
    @ Ashley- I think what I just said is true when looking at other people as well. You can never just look at someone and tell if they are “lazy” or not (and judging someone means that you think you’re better than they are, and who the hell am I to think I’m better than someone else because I exercise and they don’t?).
    Also to reply to Ashley, I do think it’s really important to find physical activities that are fun and that you don’t have to force yourself to do. At least in my own experience, any exercise that feels like work isn’t something that I’m going to stick with (unless I’m doing it to punish myself, which I used to do in the depths of my ED).

  4. Posted March 16, 2012 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    Thank you for this, excellent article! I’ve read a lot of stuff on exercise recently, and i do find some of it quite worrying. Being active is part of being healthy, but total exertion isn’t necessary for good health. You can be really healthy while also being a bit flabby and really not looking it (I would count myself in this category. i’m sure there’s loads of people who see me and thing – argh, greedy couch potato). And of course, the mad conflation of health and thinness/physical attractiveness is everywhere!

  5. Posted March 16, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    Sorry ahead of time; I’m going to curse.

    Thank you for articulating what has been percolating in my mind lately! I keep unfollowing friend’s fitspiration boards, because to me they are JUST like thinspiration. The first one that really made me angry was “do not reward yourself with food; you’re not a dog.” Talk about being fucking self-judgmental. I just want to comment on these pins and say “would you EVER say that to your mom? to your best friend? then why is it okay to say that to yourself?”

    These slogans and pictures of unrealistic chiseled bodies do NOT inspire me to be active. They inspire me to hate myself and judge myself and feel like whatever I’m doing is NEVER ENOUGH. I mean really… if I rewound back to when I was highly self-hating I would probably let this stuff PREVENT me from even trying to work out, because I knew it would never be enough.

    Fuck that. I enjoy working out regularly… sometimes it’s hard to get into a routine with it, but I am currently and I just feel so great… I feel strong and I look more toned and I have more energy. I love being active, running, yoga, walking everywhere as fast as I can. What inspires me is the feeling I get after a workout.

    (By the way, I wholeheartedly support women who find some of this stuff empowering and inspiring… athletes and such. I just think for the rest of us it can be extremely damaging and just another opportunity to feel flawed.)

  6. Posted March 16, 2012 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

    Sometimes I fear appearing “lazy” and have recently had people question why I don’t take up running. Well, my feet have major joint damage due to rheumatoid arthritis for one thing. I used to be in great shape, but now could appear “lazy” since my physical limitations aren’t obvious. I look a little chubby maybe even a little flabby but I stay as active as I can. I used to love lifting weights. However, last time I tried, my wrist throbbed for a month. So “no pain, no gain” just makes me laugh. I worry about the self-righteous attitude, but I once looked down on people who weren’t active without considering why they might be that way. I’m hopeful because I’m also seeing a lot of people encouraging acceptance of people with different appearances and abilities.

  7. Posted March 17, 2012 at 1:16 am | Permalink

    Fitspiration is thinspiration, even when it’s dissing skinny girls.

    So much this. Or at least, most every fitspo picture post is consistent with thinspiration, even if the words don’t match up 1:1.

    I follow a lot of running, yoga, and fitness tags on Tumblr. As such, I see my share of fitspo, whether or not I’m looking for it. Like Caitlin, there is a “hey, cool!” spot in my brain reserved for posts telling about or depicting physical feats I admire: running a certain distance (in a certain time, under certain conditions, etc.), perfecting a certain yoga asana, whatever.

    But the fact remains: No matter if I can run the distance or place my body into the asana, the fitspo pictures never, ever, ever look like me. They always portray much thinner bodies than I could ever attain — again, even if I can demonstrate the same measure of “fit” they’re showing.

  8. Posted March 18, 2012 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    So many great things in this post!!! I agree with all your recommendations, esp. that shaming anyone’s body for any reason hurts us all. Also, amen to this: “Sometimes we forget that developing a healthy relationship with physical activity can be just as challenging as ditching your food guilt — and that exercise can play as big a role in eating disorders as well, eating. ” !! So well said!

    • Posted March 19, 2012 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      Thank you Charlotte! And thank you for YOUR super smart and thoughtful post on the topic, which got my wheels turning…

  9. Posted March 19, 2012 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    This post really struck a cord with me – so much so that I posted to my blog’s Facebook page.

    I find the whole weight culture [most notably among groups of women] to be completely screwed. I’m a naturally thin girl. I always have been [save my 3 year college stint when i packed on a few pounds] and I feel just as judged for being thin as I’m guessing women on the opposite end of the weight spectrum feel. I get called a skinny bitch, told that I’m anorexic or unfit to give fitness advice since clearly my thinness is genetic and has nothing to do with my dietary choses and workout routine.

    I think that when we talk about the weighty issue of weight, we need to all learn to mind our own business and bodies and do what feels right for us. No woman deserves to be judged for her body. What good does that do for anyone – the judger or the judgee? Does judging burn calories and make a healthy meal? Nope.

    We, as individuals, need to define our own personal ideals of beauty and have the inner strength to ignore modern culture cues in favor of doing what we know is good for our own mental and physical health [I'm a firm believer that the two are closely correlated]. We as a culture need to also stop all the fracking negativity around weight [ both ends of the spectrum]. If I have to listen to one more of my girlfriends b*tch and complain about weight and counting calories, I’m going to whip myself into a donut eating frenzy. It’s ridiculous – and completely counter productive. I don’t want to build relationships over mutual self-hatred, I’d rather build relationships on a foundation of positivity and self-love.

    Thanks for letting me rant – and for your wonderful post.

    xoMeg
    http://www.megsmumbo.com

  10. Linda
    Posted March 19, 2012 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    “I like to be active in ways that are fun, but it grinds my gears to see people refuse any activity that isn’t fun. I know a lot of these people, who as soon as they feel something is “work” they stop. This is something people need to learn to live with from time to time.” (Ashley)

    Ashley, that may be true for you, but please don’t assume to know what *I* need. I truly am not suffering from choosing activity that I enjoy rather than what I don’t. In fact, doing so makes my life much, much better than it would be otherwise. I’m *happy* living this way. Why on earth should that bother you? It has nothing to do with you and isn’t hurting anybody. My gosh.

    “I mean, my love of running and lifting weights does not suddenly mean I am more valuable as a human being, nor that I am more worthy of love and respect. It just means I like to run and lift weights.” (Caitlin)

    Yes. Exactly. :)

    • Posted March 20, 2012 at 1:53 am | Permalink

      Linda, I was mainly talking about the day to day things that take a bit of strenuous effort that any adult must do as a part of their adult responsibilities. Like cleaning. I have had a history of lazy roommates who I have had to clean up after because they are admittedly lazy, and I have had a history of co-workers who are able to lift and do this and that but they won’t, and that kind of thing is my business because some people’s laziness does often affect other people, especially when those other people have to do the work for them. They have that mentality of “If I don’t LIKE to do it, I WON’T do it.” I don’t like having to pick up slack of unfit people at my work that should be able to lift 40 lbs. I’m getting paid the same for doing twice the work because they are lazy and avoid any activity they don’t enjoy.

      I understand what you are saying as well and when it comes to personal activities that don’t involve other people, then do what you want to do, but the mentality of not doing anything you won’t enjoy I see as potentially dangerous.

      • Posted March 22, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

        Ashley, thanks for clarifying your point more. I think you got misinterpreted because readers such and Linda and myself read your comment in the context of the fitspiration discussion. Choosing to exercise for fun or health is, of course, completely different than choosing whether to do basic adult tasks.
        However, I still think “pick[ing] up the slack of unfit people at my work who should be able to lift 40 lbs” is a potentially dangerous/judgmental statement. Someone’s ability to lift 40 lbs doesn’t necessarily reflect their fitness or lack thereof (they may have injuries that you are unaware of, for instance). If lifting that amount of weight is indeed part of their job description and they refuse to do it, it seems like an ability to work issue rather than a physical fitness issue, and taking it to management or HR might be a better tactic than complaining about “lazy people” here.

  11. Melis
    Posted March 20, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    @Ashley:

    I really must take exception with this line: “Likewise, everyone has the right to choose how physically active they are. If you want to be an active and in shape person, that is your choice. If you want to live a sedentary life, that is your choice too.”

    That is absolutely NOT the case for everyone. As a cancer survivor who has been dealing with the after-effects of my treatment which included experimental surgeries and joint replacements, my physical activity has been severely curtailed under orders of my physicians. Though I am still within my healthy weight range and wear a size 6/8, not being able to be as active as I once was thanks to my illness has been difficult. I would choose to be more active if I were able, but that choice was taken away from me through no fault of my own. I struggle with this fact daily, and those who judge in the way you do – blindly and without empathy – only add to my sadness.

    • Posted March 21, 2012 at 12:00 am | Permalink

      Melis, thank you for correcting me. I apologize for not even considering situations like this. Again, I am sorry and you are completely right.

  12. Abby
    Posted March 27, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    Virginia,
    Your sincerity and investment in helping girls and women with body issues is incredible. As a former bulimic, seeing a woman speaking truth on this matter is refreshing. However, I disagree with your take on fitspo. I do believe that fitspo can be highly unhealthy for women struggling with eating disorders and body image,and if I had discovered it while bulimic, it would have exacerbated my unhealthy mindset and actions.
    Having been fully recovered for a few years now, fitspo aids and inspires me to take care of my body and treat it with love and respect. I have always been petite and active, and I love seeing pictures of women who are pushing themselves to take care of their bodies, compete with themselves and others athletically,and prolong their lives through exercise. I eat balanced meals (including “junk food” and sweets occasionally) , run, and do Pilates several times a week. I don’t do this to be thin. I do it to cherish and nourish my body, and because it makes me FEEL great! My main focus is on how exercise makes me feel. It gives me more energy and greater enthusiasm for all parts of life. Do I love looking great in shorts and a tank top? Yes. Do I love it when my husband praises my body (which he also did throughout my eating disorder and me not working out much)? Absolutely. But for me, fitness is not nearly as much about looking good as it is about loving life and living it to the fullest, and being a goal-oriented person, fitspo inspires me to push on and go harder in my workouts. I feel alive, invigorated and powerful when I run and work out, which carries over to other goals and desires in all areas of my life.
    To each her own. Again, I highly respect your work and applaud you for all you are doing. This is just my own personal view on fitness.
    Blessings to you.

    • Posted March 27, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

      Hi Abby,

      Thank you so much for the kind words and thoughtful comments here. I think it’s great that you find fitspiration images so helpful in such a thoroughly body positive way — and clearly, there are lots of women that feel just like you, which is great. I think the crux of the issue is really what sites like Pinterest, Tumblr, etc need to be doing to take care of the more vulnerable folks (people deep into their eat disorders, or maybe on the line with some issues like that) who are going to respond differently.

      And I do think there are some themes within the fitspiration world that don’t add up to the kinds of positive messages you’re exploring here — how exercise makes you feel alive, invigorated and powerful, etc. But that’s probably pretty open to different interpretations. So interesting to hear your take — thanks again for sharing and congrats on getting to such a positive place with your body/relationship with exercise!

  13. Concerned Fit Pro
    Posted April 3, 2012 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

    I disagree tremendously with the general health view points of this article. I will also address some of the other comments as well. First, it is nearly impossible to maintain being a fitness model and having an eating disorder. The amount of muscle required to become a true fitness model requires a VERY healthy diet and exact fitness prescription distinct to each individual. I have known several models who are not fitness models and that I feel there a much better depiction for your argument. Many of the models on runways etc are not “ripped” due to their appearance in clothing, and its effects on selling the product. They fast and maintain very unhealthy diet in many of their circumstances to stay that skinny (Liquid diets before shows, not eating at all before shows, do research and you’ll be mortified). Victoria Secret models are not fitness models. Their habits and lifestyles should not be compared similarly.

    Now, I am not familiar with any of these images, nor do I judge someone for their ability to be fit. However, if I see someone who is overweight and they are close to me, I will say something. Its the same thing as an alcoholic intervention etc. If someone is endangering their health, I will let them know it for their sake. Many believe it is enough exercise every once in a while, but if they do not maintain a healthy level of body fat, which for women is under 30%, then they are at a much greater risk for CVD.

    Rewarding yourself with food in moderation is okay, however, just because you go on a run does not mean you can pig out on a huge bowl of ice cream or have a heavy night of drinking. Especially sugar, to some is considered by many health experts as a drug or a poison due to its addicting effects of releasing dopamine in the brain. I myself do indulge on certain pleasure on occasion such as alcohol and bad foods, but I feel guilty about it. I should feel guilty about it. These things shorten your life. You cannot be sensitive to your health.

    Some fitness models, specifically women, are between 14-20% body fat. Although this can have some adverse effects with menstrual cycles etc, the pros out-weight the cons. To get to this toned level, it takes a lot of hard work and dedication in being healthy. I’m not saying you need to look like these fitness models, either. I just don’t think maintaining average health is good enough. Images of these models inspire people to get in shape. Better shape = live longer and happier. People are way too sensitive, and need to get over it.

    • Posted April 4, 2012 at 10:29 am | Permalink

      OK, “Concerned Fit Pro.” There’s too much going on here for me to even begin to unpack it all for you. How about we just deal with this: “Now, I am not familiar with any of these images.”

      If you’re not familiar with any of the images we’re discussing here (and couldn’t be bothered to familiarize yourself by looking at the picture at the top of this page or clicking on the illuminating links I provided), then I can’t imagine why you feel qualified to weigh in on this discussion.

      Feel free to come back once you’ve done your homework and we’ll dance.

      • Concerned Fit Pro
        Posted April 4, 2012 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

        I viewed several of the photos that are linked through out your post and I stand by every word of what I said. I am simply commenting on societies inability to get in the best possible shape for their own health sake. When I read your article, I was struck pretty hard and quickly responded. I am interested in hearing your response to my views though. Please respond.

        • Posted April 5, 2012 at 7:50 am | Permalink

          Okay, fair enough. Stay tuned — I’m going to respond in the form of a post.

  14. I.R.
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 4:28 am | Permalink

    While I agree with many of your points I think you have missed out a large, very positive section of the fitspo community. There are plenty of girls promoting general happiness with live, yourself and your body. They try and help others to love themselves and their bodies and many of them rarely, if ever, weigh themselves and encourage others not to, something that I found extremely useful in my recovery.

    They preach everything in moderation, that eating unhealthy food isn’t bad for you so long as it is in moderation. They try very hard to help those in recovery, many have recovered from eating disorders themselves, to aim for healthy instead of thin or even super fit. They strive to help people develop a healthy relationship with food. They tell people to celebrate achievements such as finally being able to run a mile, do a pull-up or hold a tricky position in a yoga class instead of celebrating a goal weight, clothing size or waist measurement.

    So yes, I see plenty of blogs that are essentially thinspo in disguise (and many of them don’t realise this) but I also see plenty of people like those I’ve described above, trying very hard to put out a message of health, physically and mentally, and self acceptance and love. Ignoring their existence makes your article seem rather narrow minded for the sake of making a point and will anger many of these people who genuinely help people and who have inspired and fuelled my recovery, and the recovery of others I know. I’ve already seen a post from one girl getting extremely angry at you for telling her that her respect for her body and self is unhealthy and thinspo in disguise.

    • Posted April 4, 2012 at 10:18 am | Permalink

      Hi I.R.,

      I’ll grant you that there are plenty of examples of positive fitspiration out there. As I say in my post above: There is such a thing as healthy competition, after all. Lots of people genuinely enjoy the endorphin-riddled pay-off that you can only get from intense physical activity. Why shouldn’t they celebrate and share that joy via inspiration boards?

      The goal of my post is not to slam fitspiration when it’s truly designed to inspire people to pursue a healthy passion for fitness and enjoy the many pleasures and health benefits of physical activity. It’s not even to slam the idea of wanting to look fit because you think fit bodies are more attractive — as I say at the end, we all get to choose which beauty standards work for us and more power to you and your rock hard abs.

      My goal is to offer some tools for discerning between the healthy and unhealthy forms of fitspiration because as you say, while it’s great that there’s good fitspiration out there, there are also “plenty of blogs that are essentially thinspo in disguise.” And I think the line between the two has gotten incredibly, alarmingly blurry because our feelings about fitness, health and beauty are so tangled and complex.

      Now. How you get from “tools for navigating the pros and cons of fitspiration” to “telling someone that her respect for her body and self is unhealthy and thinspo in disguise” is completely beyond me. Clearly, I’d never tell someone that respecting their body was unhealthy. That goes against everything I believe and write about here. But I can’t speak directly to a third party allegation like this without a link to the original piece. The blogger you mention is also quite welcome comment here with her concerns so we can discuss them productively.

  15. Lola
    Posted May 12, 2012 at 2:02 am | Permalink

    I Stumbled on this post and must say, I was a little worried at first, at what it would turn out to be like. A few months ago I came across some thinspo pictures and thought I had to be wrong on my assumption of what it was, so I looked up videos. Turns out, I was correct. It was SO disturbing. I have suffered from an eating disorder for 15+ years and have a difficult time believing there are people who encourage this sort of behavior. The general population tends to have an extremely different view of what it means and “looks” like to have an eating disorder, or even disordered eating, and thinspo/fitspo supports this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against being in shape or being fit or healthy. Most people take it to the extreme, making it the opposite of what they were looking for. It scares me, to think we are teaching children this is okay. I am currently in recovery, and like any addiction, it doesn’t just happen overnight. It’s a struggle, every minute of my life. I’m grateful to see there are people who want change. I believe everything needs to be taken in moderation, including moderation.

  16. Tiki
    Posted May 26, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    I hate fitspo! It is a way of temporarily elevating an ego by smashing down someone else’s. Implying someone as adequate or inadequate through the phrase “No matter how slow you’re going, you’re still lapping everyone on the couch,” is disgusting. None of us know where another person is in their journey or what obstacles they face. Maybe the person being judged as too fat has already lost a ton of weight and maybe the person being judged as too thin is recovering from a devastating health obstacle. Shame is a weapon that fitspo uses to smack us all down. Maybe you need to be on the couch because your body is working tremendously hard at healing and surviving. Maybe you need to participate in a physical activity because your body is healthy and you have an abundance of energy you need to burn off to find a calm and content space. Anytime you hear the word ‘should’ from something, whether it is directly said or implied, you can find the weapon of shame. You “should” messages carry the unspoken message of “Shame on you for being what another person judges and criticizes as being inadequate.” And I HATE the word “lazy.” Respecting your body’s limitations, resting, healing, being quiet, enjoying a moment, reading, watching tv, etc are not lazy, they are activities that don’t reflect a visible expenditure of energy. Saying someone is lazy is a childish way of expressing that you don’t like how they have chosen to use their resources; it is a reflection of your judgment of what is right and fair and nothing to do with them. Those same moments of judgment that apply to fitspo shame play in here… maybe a person is large and sitting on a bench, it doesn’t mean they are lazy, for all you know they could have spent the last 5 hours doing something physically demanding and need a moment before they pick up and carry on again. Maybe a person isn’t doing much in another person’s eyes because their body is busy healing or hanging on or ramping up for basic activities others take for granted, like taking a shower or doing dishes. We are all broken and flawed and beautiful and whole in one way or another and using those characteristics as weapons of shame by way of comparison is disgusting. None of us ever truly know the inner struggles of other people, especially total strangers we see in passing as we go about our days.

  17. Posted June 20, 2012 at 1:15 am | Permalink

    I understand what you are saying about the pictures of women that are fit vs skinny. I do not really agree with what you are saying about eating disorders. I do think that women need to understand their somatic type. So yes not everybody is the same, but you really should know that. What is being said is fit women as opposed to skinny women are different. It is sexier to have lean muscle than skin and bones. I don’t have a problem with the get off the couch saying either. I don’t really understand your issue with this. Obviously you do not get healthy just sitting on the couch so as long as you are moving it is better than being on a couch. I don’t think we need to make excuses for others that just don’t want to exercise and are offended my some pictures of women who work their butts off to get the bodies they have. Yes exercise can be an addiction, but lets not make that a reason why we do not exercise. It takes a lot of exercise to hurt you. It far more deadly to do nothing.

  18. Katie M
    Posted August 3, 2012 at 1:53 am | Permalink

    Hi, Just read the blog and a few of the comments…. I rarely ever comment on blogs I read but I feel I need to. Over the past few weeks I have gone from an inactive lifestyle to a very active lifestyle. I have started clean eating and now do organized group exercise 3 days a week and head to the gym 6 days a week. This is a big change for me as I have always been big/overweight/whatever term you feel comfortable with and I haven’t been overly active since grade 10 physical education.

    I have chosen to enter this program because I want to be fit and strong. NOT fit and skinny.

    On the weigh in night (with the other 89 girls who have also paid to do this program) I saw 80 tiny, skinny, gorgeous girls (who, in my opinion at that time, did not need to be there) along with 10 of us (myself included) who really needed to be doing this program.

    As the weigh in progressed and girls became all teary I found out that what the scales say… whether it be 40kgs or 140kgs…. it truly is just a number. You can be THIN and tiny and look the part (according to the media thin is in right?) and still be as unhealthy and unfit as the fattest person in the room. I weighed in straight after this little slip of a girl… she stopped to watch my weigh in and I am glad of that. She weighed in at 51kgs with 34% body fat!!! And as for myself, I weighed in at 111kgs… I have 27% body fat! We are of a similar height and the same age! This girl and I became quite close as the evening progressed and let me tell you… there were more eye openers yet to come! My fitness scores were higher than hers! And my eating habits were healthier… wow. I couldn’t believe it. This tiny thin gorgeous girl was even more unhealthy than me! (And yes, I was in a tie with 3 other ladies for being the fattest chick in the room – hence the reason I was there…)

    There are HUGE differences between thin and fit. The picture you are commenting on isn’t having a dig at thin girls looking good in clothes… COS THEY DO and we all know it! It is simply putting to light the fact that FIT girls look good naked. And it is true. Clothes hide all the things you would otherwise have to see on the THIN girls… the ribs and jutting bones of unhealthy eating habits or naturally fast metabolisms that are lacking proper nourishment. HOWEVER… at the end of the day that is those girls’ choice and if thats how they want to look then good for them. FIT girls don’t need clothes to hide anything because every burpee and every lunge and every situp theyve done and every piece of chocolate cake and bowl of pasta they said no to is right there on their toned, gorgeous healthy body. I am all for fitspiration.

    Fit is eating clean and training dirty (the stupid pictures are right). FIT is working so hard you puke (from the lactic acid build up) but you keep going anyway! (I did that last week in a challenge and I am PROUD). Fit is TONED muscles and radiant skin and gorgeous bodies that look AWESOME naked (no jutting bones)… FIT is the WHOLE package… not just the waif like wrists, box gap (thigh gap) and bony elbows that NEED to be hidden under a few layers of clothing.

    There is NO finish line when you want to be fit… you can’t get to a point where your body refuses to process food which is what can happen when the aim is to be thin. Fit is a word that encapsulates a whole approach to food, exercise, health and general wellbeing. I thoroughly support fitspiration.

    How do you tell the difference? Its the exact same way you tell a scam email from a real one. There are always things that don’t match up. Think about what the word FIT entails (some muscle tone but not completely oiled up and ripped) Check out the body/bodies in the picture/s…. are they healthy looking? is there muscle tone? does the girl/guy look nourished and healthy (because that is one of the many benefits of being fit… you are very rarely ill and you look, for want of a better word AWESOME)? If not then someone made a poor choice when they made the image.

    I myself decided to google fitspiration (although I had never heard of this term until I saw it a few times on images in our fitness group’s facebook page) and there were more ‘thin-spiration’ and pro-ana images than ‘fitspiration’ – apparently the Q.o.d was “forget about the eating matter and you will never get fatter” and there was a picture of a living skeleton (who may have once been human… It was so painfully sad to see. My partner saw me crying and he had to turn off the screen. You see, I of all people should understand the differences because my sister had anorexia and passed away when she was 17…

    I think it would be good if people could understand that it takes a hell of alot of work to become fit. blood sweat and tears (in the last 3 weeks for me anyway… still a lifetime to go) and it takes nothing to become thin. Quite literally… just stop eating and let your body waste away. let your bones and organs and your brain suffer while your body slowly starts to shut down…

    Check it out for yourself and maybe enlighten a few people and encourage deeper thought into what it actually means to be FIT and the MASSIVE differences between being FIT and being THIN.

22 Trackbacks

  1. [...] are so intrinsically tied with the casting process (more of my thoughts on that later, though!).Why Fit is the New Thin, & What We Can Do About It: Any motivational statement that has to diss another type of body in order to make you feel good [...]

  2. [...] Sole-Smith has a great post up about the potential pitfalls of fitspo, especially as it is used on tumblr.    She makes the point – and I agree with this [...]

  3. By Lovely Links: 3/16/12 on March 16, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    [...] wonders if fitspiration is the new thinspiration, and could end up being equally damaging. Your [...]

  4. By The skinny on being skinny | Thought Out Loud on March 21, 2012 at 8:05 am

    [...] Sole-Smith, a writer out of New York, took up the issue. She wrote on her blog, “Sometimes we forget that developing a healthy relationship with physical activity can be just [...]

  5. [...] bloggers, including Helena Handbasket (whose post alerted me to this controversy) and Virginia Sole-Smith have expressed similar reservations about fitspo. On The Great Exercise Experiment, Charlotte [...]

  6. By Concerns From a Fitness Professional on April 5, 2012 at 10:03 am

    [...] month, in Why Fit is the New Thin, I explored how the “fitspiration” phenomenon can be uncomfortably reminiscent of the [...]

  7. [...] Sole-Smith’s post, Why Fit Is The New Thin discusses the abundance of so-called “fitspo” on Pinterest and other sites, and why it [...]

  8. [...] Sole-Smith wrote about this last month: Fitspiration is thinspiration, even when it’s dissing skinny girls. [...]

  9. [...] that look so empowering on first glance. The problem with so many of these is what Virginia at VirginaSoleSmith.com calls “a lot of big, fancy girl power talk to sell us stretchy pants and sports bras. This is [...]

  10. [...] that look so empowering on first glance. The problem with so many of these is what Virginia at VirginaSoleSmith.com calls “a lot of big, fancy girl power talk to sell us stretchy pants and sports bras. This is [...]

  11. [...] that look so empowering on first glance. The problem with so many of these is what Virginia at VirginaSoleSmith.com calls “a lot of big, fancy girl power talk to sell us stretchy pants and sports bras. This is [...]

  12. [...] that look so empowering on first glance. The problem with so many of these is what Virginia at VirginaSoleSmith.com calls “a lot of big, fancy girl power talk to sell us stretchy pants and sports bras. This is [...]

  13. [...] that look so empowering on first glance. The problem with so many of these is what Virginia at VirginaSoleSmith.com calls “a lot of big, fancy girl power talk to sell us stretchy pants and sports bras. This is [...]

  14. [...] “Pay attention to how it makes you feel to be ‘inspired’ by lots of photos of a largely unattainable beauty ideal. Because that’s what rock hard abs are, after all. Yes, sure, core strength is important for your health. But pictures of bikini-clad, chiseled muscles beaded with sweat? That’s about pretty, not about health.” http://www.virginiasolesmith.com [...]

  15. By definition. on May 22, 2012 at 6:39 am

    [...] on unhealthy obsession with fitness and the danger of confusing health with beauty, check out this post by Virginia Sole-Smith that I found through Cheaper Than Wisdom’s Twitter [...]

  16. [...] parts of your body to meet a beauty ideal you see in media, you must be aware of this. Virginia at VirginaSoleSmith.com so concisely says, “Pay attention to how it makes you feel to be ‘inspired’ by [...]

  17. By Uninspired on June 26, 2012 at 9:53 am

    [...] parts of your body to meet a beauty ideal you see in media, you must be aware of this. Virginia at VirginaSoleSmith.com so concisely says, “Pay attention to how it makes you feel to be ‘inspired’ by [...]

  18. By Fitspiration and Southern Fried Fitness on June 27, 2012 at 8:27 pm

    [...] and guess why I liked her immediately (hint: Fried things are delicious.) Robin wanted to discuss this post I wrote back in March, about the troubles with fitspiration. In case you forgot — [...]

  19. By Fitspo?! Oh, no! | Beauty Otherwise on January 12, 2013 at 9:00 am

    [...] chiseled muscles beaded with sweat? That’s about pretty, not about health.” www.virginiasolesmith.com diet fitspo health positive body [...]

  20. [...] fickle beauty standards.  But I also have some issues with the execution, which, as I and many other fitness writers have argued, merely exchanges one unattainable physical ideal for another one.  I mean, I [...]

  21. [...] led me to another post that got me a-thinkin’, “Why Fit is the New Thin (and What We Can Do About It)”. I liked the way this post was written and this sentiment especially: “Because bottom line: [...]

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