Those Fitspo profiles you follow are doing you more harm than good
They’re everywhere! Images of lean, toned bodies, headless torsos in crop tops wielding kettle bells and battling ropes. Lorna Jane clad runners at dawn with perfect neat ponytails, shadowed by trite quotes about good things coming to those who work… or other such drivel that I’m supposed to find motivating…
Yes, we humans are visual creatures, and we love seeing images of ourselves! But we’re not seeing images of ourselves reflected in fitspo, and that’s why it’s not only de-motivating, but downright harmful. What we’re seeing are images of a tiny proportion of the population, who meet the ‘athletic ideal’, which is the new updated version of the ‘thin ideal’. Apparently the diet industry decided we need a new ideal to aspire to, because people in focus groups have been saying more and more that what they want is just to be healthy, not thin. So as usual, ‘Big Diet’ twists the words and desires of regular well meaning people, and tells us that the ‘athletic ideal’ is what healthy looks like, and we should all aspire to being muscular (but not too muscular). And of course we need their weight loss products and plans to achieve it… Facepalm!
So aside from the obvious twisting of facts to sell products…
What’s actually wrong with Fitspo?
Here’s the rationale, we’re shown images of people who have a muscular look and very little body fat, and we’re told that this is what ‘healthy’ looks like*. This of course carries the inherent implication that if you don’t look like this, you’re not at your healthiest, and this is supposed to motivate us to engage in fitness and health promoting activities. It’s basic old ‘aspirational marketing’!
*By the way, I should point out that the low body fat may not be healthy for the model. You can’t tell whether someone is healthy by looking at them. Some people are naturally thin, but most people aren’t. Women actually need to have enough fat on their bodies for normal hormonal function, which stops our bones from becoming brittle, for example, to have a normal menstrual cycle, and to be fertile. Then there’s the fact that the images are most likely to have been photoshopped. So EVEN THE MODEL doesn’t look like his/ her image. What does that tell you about attainability of the so-called healthy physique? Okay! With that off my chest, back to the story!
What research shows instead, however, is that when we see these images of unattainable physiques- which are TOTALLY unnecessary to achieve to have a fulfilling, healthy life, by the way- instead of feeling inspired to take better care of our bodies, we experience the following:
- Greater dissatisfaction with our bodies. We feel worse about our appearance, we feel worse about what our bodies can do (athletic performance-wise, or general physical ability/ mobility), and we feel down about our current state of health.
- We do more body-checking and comparison. This is when we do things like look at body parts we don’t like in mirrors or shop windows, touch our bodies to feel how clothes are fitting, or a whole host of other behaviours that can become quite compulsive. Body checking worsens negative emotions and thoughts about ourself and our body.
- Lower self-esteem. When we’re constantly fed the message that the beauty ideal (sorry, I mean ‘HEALTH’ ideal, that’s what we’re calling it these days…) is a young, white, lean and muscular, able-bodied woman, who has not experienced pregnancies, has no scars or stretch marks… what it tells us is that this is the body type that is most valuable. We can’t help but compare ourselves to these images, and of course, when we don’t see aspects of ourselves represented in what diet culture values, we feel less valuable.
Fitspo Lowers Motivation to Care for Ourselves
The impact of these negative outcomes is… you guessed it… lower motivation or desire to engage in health supporting behaviours. Here’s the thing, it’s pretty hard to do a good job of taking care of something, or someone, that you don’t like. Your relationship with your body, and yourself, are no different. If you want to feel more motivated to look after your health, what you need is to ditch the fitspo, and work on building self-compassion instead. This means, not being judgemental with yourself, treating yourself with kindness, and understanding that there’s nothing wrong with you, everyone else experiences challenges and deals with tough things, too. Building self-compassion is important, because it helps you to take care of, and begin to accept, the body you have right now.
You can start building your self-compassion skills by examining your inner dialogue. Here’s a quick version of how the process might look:
- Write down some of the things you tell yourself about your body/ self worth/ food choices, etc.
- Ask yourself ‘is that how I’d speak to my best friend, or a young child’? Chances are those negative thoughts aren’t very fair or accurate, and ignore all of the great things about you. Write down how you’d respond if someone else said your thoughts out loud.
- Now, every time you’re in that situation where the negative thoughts come up, practice saying the more compassionate statements to yourself instead. It might feel silly or insincere for a while, but the more you keep it up, the more automatic those healthy, helpful thoughts will become.
Fix Your Social Feeds
Now, let’s get your social media feeds looking more body positive:
- Unfollow any social profiles posting perfectly posed bikini shots, fitness models with ripped abs, before & afters, or promoting weight loss as necessary to improve health.
- Diversify the images of people in your social media accounts. It’s not just thin, white, young, unscarred, cis-gendered, able-bodies that are valuable. ALL people, in all bodies, have inherent value and worth. Focus on yours, and seek out images of other people celebrating their own inherent worth.
Here are some profiles to get you started. NB- I’ve just linked to the Facebook profiles, but I’m sure you can track them down on your preferred platform 🙂
What other profiles make you feel represented and valuable? Any I should add to this list? Email/ ping me on Facebook/ Twitter and let me know!
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