Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Why Fit Is the New Thin (And What We Can Do About That)

This post graciously submitted by Virginia Sole-Smith 

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

 Body Image, fitspiration, fitspo, Jezebel, Pinterest, plastic surgery, Shoes, The Great Fitness Experiment, thinspiration, Thinspo, Tumblr, Zumba


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.” 


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 (likeCharlotte) 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 yourhealth’s sake… that is also an option.

Thoughts? How does fitspiration imagery make you feel?

This post was originally published March 14, 2012.

Virginia Sole-Smith

As a writer, I’ve hung out in discount nail salons, embedded as a Mary Kay lady, talked my way into Mexican sweatshops, and learned how to wax, Brazilian-style, in order to explore key health, social and economic issues facing women today.

My work has appeared in more than 40 national magazines and newspapers including GlamourParentsSlate, and Harper’s. Online, I’ve enjoyed stints as a contributing blogger for AOLiVillage Health, and Planet Green. I also wrote The Essential Green You, the third volume in Deirdre Imus’ best-selling Green This! series (Simon & Schuster, 2009). I spent ten years in New York City, and prior to becoming a freelance journalist in 2005, was on the editorial staffs of Organic Style and SeventeenThe Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund and the Economic Hardship Reporting Project have supported several of my projects.

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