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Fitspiration is an online trend that you’re probably a part of. If you haven’t created a fitspiration image, chances are you’ve shared one. If you haven’t shared one, chances are you’ve liked, commented or at least seen one. I’m not saying the whole thing is your fault, but we’re kind of all involved just because there’s so much of it about.
As the obviously portmanteaued name suggests, fitspiration images are there to inspire you to be fit, or think about fitness, or whatever. I don’t have the figures to hand, but they’re overwhelmingly oriented towards women and carry slogans like "Would you rather be covered in sweat at the gym or covered in clothes at the beach?"
Obviously, there’s a way you can read this as being positive towards women taking control of their health and fitness.
It’s reclaiming sweat, effort and athleticism, and that’s a good thing, right?
Not everyone thinks so.
Fitspiration: The Darker Side
First, that particular fitspiration quote is actually advertising a brand. I won’t say which one - it’s enough to know that they make sportswear. That’s a problem in some people’s eyes, because it’s not really about inspiring you to be your best - it’s about inspiring you to buy expensive fitness merchandise.
There’s a deeper problem with fitspiration too.
Keeping with the same slogan, we can see that it’s emphasizing appearance — at the very least, someone who doesn’t keep fit is apparently going to inevitably want to keep all her clothes on at the beach. Why? Because she’s going to feel social pressure to do so, pressure that’s being reinforced by this ad.
In that sense, fitspiration has the capacity to be downright dispiriting.
But Not All Fitspiration Looks Like This
Some fitspiration is more down-to-earth and funnier. Slogans like "focus on what you want your life to look like, not just your body" are pretty hard to argue with. Especially since they’re presented as text on a coloured background with no accompanying images.
Which brings me to my next point.
Because this is a textual post it’s hard to work with imagery in detail, but we can talk about the kind of imagery that’s presented with "fitspiration" images. Mostly in these images, for instance, women are attractive and feminine. Most people wouldn’t see that as necessarily a bad thing, but when they’re all, always, conventionally attractive and feminine, and they appear next to text saying things like "what’s your excuse?" it’s easy to see them as demanding certain behaviors from women, not encouraging women to achieve goals they have selected. ‘What’s your excuse for not looking like this?’ is how it often comes across.
Fitspiration images have come under fire for being hateful and oppressive towards women for just this reason, with bloggers like FeministFigureGirl and Beauty Redefined’s Lexie Kite laying into images that are seemingly designed to make women feel bad about themselves even while they pretend to do the opposite. In fact, some bloggers — notably Charlotte from The Great Fitness Experiment — have termed fitspiration "thinspiration in a sports bra". (Here at SteadyHealth, we’ve talked about thinspiration before. If you don’t know what it is, check out that article.)
So much for the cultural aspects. What about the nitty-gritty?