5 Reasons Why Fitspo Is Unhealthy

by Gio
why fitspo is unhealthy

I spend way too much time on Pinterest. It’s a great resource for inspiration about anything. How to decorate your bedroom. What to wear with your new yellow crop sweater. What new haircut you should try next. How to find motivation to stop spending so many hours sitting on the couch watching TV and start being more active.

The latter has a name. Fit inspiration, or Fitspo. Images involving beautiful, super fit women, often accompanied with motivating phrases like “the voice in your head that says you can’t do this is a liar”, and “never give”. They seem innocuous enough, and a great way to inspire people to get healthier.

And some of them are. But too often, rather than a healthy desire to lead a more active life, these images induce body shame and hate, undermine self-esteem, and perpetuate the message that a woman’s value is based only on her looks. Here’s how:

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1. Fitspo promotes impossible to achieve ideals

Just like women’s magazines, Fitspo encourages us to compare ourselves to others, which is never healthy. It is even less so when the ideal you are encouraged to strive for is unachievable. Fitspo promotes only one body type, and the girls who appear in those photos are chosen because theirs conforms to this advertised ideal of beauty and already exercise a lot.

Even then, they are usually very young, undergo fitness and dieting regimes for a few days before the photoshoots, and have their images taken by professional photographers using short-term “peaking” techniques. But only after a makeup artist and stylist have used their skills to hide their flaws (that’s if they get to show their faces at all).

And what can’t be hidden, can be deleted with photoshop. That’s also how their waists are made smaller, their breasts bigger, and every inch of their body altered to make them look fitter and slimmer. But even if these images weren’t digitally altered, no one can achieve someone’s else body type. A short, pear-shaped girl will never become tall and with a tiny waist, no matter how much she exercises or how little she eats.

And that’s ok. Everyone has a different body type, and they are all beautiful. But Fitspo ignores that. Just like it ignores that our bodies have different limitations, and different fat storage systems. Most importantly, it ignores the fact that women are more than their bodies, and that we should be valued for our goodness, intelligence, and achievements, not the way we look.

Related: 5 Ways To Learn To Love Your Body

2. Fitspo perpetuates fitness myths

Even when we realize we’ll never look like the models and athletes in those photos, we still believe the lie that losing weight is simply a matter of eating less and exercising more. And if that doesn’t work, it’s because we’re weak and lazy. If only we had more willpower, we would achieve our goals. That’s a lie. Weight loss is more complicated than that. Socio-economic factors, stress, bad habits, hormones, and genetics can all affect your weight, and all need to be tackled if you really need to lose some. Eating less and less and exercising more and more will just make you ill.

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3. Fitspo encourages us to exercise for the wrong reasons

Working out is one of the best things you can do for yourself. It improves both your health and your mood. But that’s not what Fitspo usually focuses on. It tells you to work out to “make your supporters proud and your enemies jealous,” implying that a tight arse or a flat tummy, nor your brains or good heart, are desirable characteristics highly valued by your friends and who make your better and worthier than your enemies.

Worse, Fitspo often reduces women to sexy eye candy for leering men. Images rarely show the whole body. Heads and legs are usually cut off, implying that these body parts aren’t really that important. That women’s job is not to think or talk, but just to look sexy. Often, these women don’t even wear gym clothes, but just a bikini, underwear, or nothing. Even when they’re dressed, they are usually pictured in sexy poses that objectify women. The message is clear: we should exercise to be sexually attractive to men, not to be healthy.

Related: Are You Exercising The Right Way?

4. Fitspo can trigger eating disorders

Charlotte Hilton Andersen, author of The Great Fitness Experiment, believes that “fitspo may be thinspo in a sports bra.” So do I. Thinspo, or thin inspiration, are pictures of very thin women used as willpower motivation for eating disorders like anorexia. Fitspo is supposed to be healthier. After all, it tells you to exercise and eat healthy, which are very good things. But in moderation. If you exercise too much, and keep going even when your body is too tired, you’re going to seriously injury yourself.

And demonizing food can lead to eating disorders. A diet based on hamburgers, french fries, and cupcakes will make you ill and overweight, but in moderation, they don’t do any harm. But Fitspo makes you think otherwise. It tells that, if you want to be fit, you can’t eat anything tasty and, if you’re still not losing weight, it is because you’re still eating too much. For some people, these messages can trigger eating disorders, such as anorexia and orthorexia.

Lesser known than other eating disorders, orthorexia (the term was coined in 1997) starts with a genuine desire to eat healthy, but sufferers soon become so obsessed with it to the point of worsening the quality of their lives and even putting their health at risk. They may start by becoming vegetarians or vegans (nothing wrong with that), but soon the amount of foods on their blacklists becomes so long that they can’t eat anything that’s not “pure” and that important nutrients are left out of their diets. And that’s never a good thing. Our bodies need all nutrients, including fats and carbs, to function properly.

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5. Fitspo undermines your self-esteem to sell you stuff you don’t need

Have you ever wondered who creates a lot of these images, and why? Sports brands like Nike, gyms, work out DVDs, and anyone else in the fitness industry profits by these images. Images that depict beautiful toned women, often without heads, in alluring poses. At first glance, these shots, and the accompanying slogans, may seem empowering, but in reality they are designed to make you feel bad about yourself. To lower your self esteem and make you feel like you’re not good enough until you look a certain way.

And to achieve that, you’ll have to buy their DVDs, or sneakers, or whatever else they’re trying to sell you. That’s why women’s waists and thighs are getting smaller and smaller every year. The goals must be unachievable because, should you ever become comfortable in your own body and love the way you look, you’ll stop working out so hard and so often. And their profits will collapse.

Related: How Going On A Media Fast Helped My Self-Esteem

Of course not all Fitspo is bad. Some photos can really inspire you to stop spending so much time on your sofa watching TV and start being more active so you can be healthier.

How do you know when fitness motivation is healthy?

When it focuses on health, fun, and a balanced lifestyle rather than looks, sex, and dangerous extremes.

When it makes you feel excited about working out rather than miserable for not looking hot enough.

When the goal is to be healthy, not skinny with muscles.

Only when you take good care of your body, rather than trying to change it, you can truly be healthy and happy.

What do you think of Fitspo?

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16 comments

BebeTaian November 28, 2014 - 2:50 am

That third one also promotes something else: detrimental and even dangerous exercise habits.

Fitspo photos and blogs loooove spouting dangerous advice about pushing the body beyond it’s sustainable limits. “Yes, you can breathe?” HAHAHAHA yeah tell that to undiagnosed asthmatics, people with heart conditions that aren’t triggered until doing intense exercise (like me), and people who get injured from too much exercise and keep going back because “no pain, no gain”. If you’re having trouble catching your breath while exercising, it isn’t just that you’re out of shape. You might have a real medical condition that needs looking at. Nearly impossible to do in the States, but most other countries have healthcare programs to take advantage of! USE them!

If your legs are “that tired”, freaking stop or risk getting an injury. Do something else. There is no need to overexert, especially if you’re new to fitness. Some exercises might not be for you at all! If you’re significantly overweight and jogging, hel-lo knee injuries and shin splints! Swimming is often a much better choice; it strengthens muscle and keeps weight off of injured or weakened areas at the same time. Or you might not be able to do pullups because you have a shoulder injury. That’s fine! Just pick another thing and do what you can!

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MM Curator November 28, 2014 - 3:14 pm

I was coming over here to say the exact same thing! Not only is FitSpo unhealthy for all the reasons Gio pointed out, it can also lead to injury or other health problems. I have exercise-induced asthma and to “keep going” when I really can’t breathe is NOT a good idea. I also ran through a pain in my hamstring for months and now am finding out I may have done permanent damage by trying to “keep going” – because I was basically brainwashed to believe the no pain, no gain mantra.

Thanks, Gio for writing this post and thanks to BebeTaian for the excellent comment.

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Gio November 28, 2014 - 8:44 pm

Hillary, glad you enjoyed the post, and I’m sorry to hear about your knee. These fitness myths are really dangerous and it’s appalling that not just those in this industry but mainstream media are allowed to keep spreading them.

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Gio November 28, 2014 - 8:33 pm

Bebetaian, thank you for your great comment. That is so true. Telling people to push beyond their limits is just irresponsible, and only leads to injuries, or worse. Yes, when you start exercising after years of inactivity, even running for 15 minutes can be painful, but that’s all the more reasons to take it slow and go to a pace our bodies can take. Keep going is never a good idea. We should be encouraged to do what we can, when we can. Anything else is dangerous.

It’s also best, if you can, to have a checkup before starting exercising. Here, all gyms used to require it by law till last year. Even if it is not mandatory anymore, most gyms won’t let you join if you don’t have a medical certificate stating you are in good health. It’s not free, but not that expensive either, and can save lives. I really wish that soon access to healthcare will be made easier in the US for everyone. It’s not right to deny medical services to anyone. But I agree, if you have access to healthcare programmes, use them!

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anubhuti November 28, 2014 - 11:45 am

Very nice article.. I actually enjoyed reading it. I am also fitness freak kinda person but i never compromise on food and nutrition.. I don’t leave things forever just because someone says it’s bad… If i love chocolate, I indulge in it once in a while(ofcourse you can burn extra calories off).. Starving your body to achieve weight loss or a petite body is very harmful for the body in long run… You can never make a healthy and fit body by depriving your body of nutrition and food 🙂

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Gio November 28, 2014 - 8:38 pm

Anubhuti, I’m glad you enjoyed it. And I agree. Depriving your body of any foods is never a good idea. Having some chocolate every now and then won’t do you any harm, but starving yourself or demonizing certain foods will.

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Annette December 2, 2014 - 11:56 pm

This is just another method of making women (and men) feel like shit about themselves. You never seen some normal person just jogging and bullet points saying why exercise is beneficial because it has nothing to do with how you look. All the benefits are non-visual like lower heart rate, good for depression etc.

But these benefits aren’t very sexy so we end up with images of women lifting their t-shirt wearing low cut shorts where we can almost see lady parts! So again like you said be fit so you can be sexual available to men. Meh

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Gio December 3, 2014 - 9:37 pm

Annette, I agree. Exercising has so many benefits, but being sexually available to men shouldn’t be one of it. We need to exercise for ourselves, so that we’re healthier, not for someone else.

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Katie December 14, 2014 - 8:55 pm

I dislike fitspo for many of the reasons you cited here. It encourages injuries and poor decisions, I’ve seen ones that essentially tell people to ignore pain and keep going. That’s how you hurt yourself and have to take loads of time off. Or ones that berate you for wanting chocolate or something, a bit of chocolate now and again won’t hurt most people.

Being fit and healthy is awesome. Fitspo isn’t.

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Gio December 15, 2014 - 3:50 pm

Katie, I completely agree. Extremes are never good and should never be encouraged. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Fitspo does. *sighs*

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Poonpo January 6, 2015 - 5:50 am

Fitness is something which we always neglect !! but this is wrong !

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Gio January 6, 2015 - 2:08 pm

Poonpo, I agree,. Exercising is important but, if taken to extremes or done for the wrong reasons, can be very dangerous too.

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Janessa October 23, 2015 - 6:25 pm

Fitspo promotes getting fit for the wrong reasons, I agree. It makes one feel inferior and inadequate. When photos only show body parts, it’s so misleading because we all have different body shapes and different angles can create extra unrealistic illusions that others may try to attain when it’s physically impossible.
I think fitspo can be inspiring, but surely not majority of it. I’m thinking of professional and world-class athletes who are so beautifully strong and are fit because they’re doing something they love and enjoy doing it.
I don’t look at fitspo because most search results are pretty degrading and unnecessary. Also because I don’t have time for junk in my brain.

Excellent post. 🙂

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Gio October 23, 2015 - 10:37 pm

Janessa, thanks. I couldn’t agree more. Fitspo could be very inspirational indeed. We all could benefit from exercising more. But making women feel inferior for not looking a certain way is not the way to do it. And that has nothing to do with health anyway. Just the opposite in fact.

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Hannah January 22, 2017 - 5:14 am

Ahhhh! About that quote by Ashley Greene,-she’s Alice in Twilight (love that series)!

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Gio January 22, 2017 - 5:07 pm

Hannah, 🙂

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