The Problem With ‘Fitspiration’ And Our Over Obsession With Exercise

Flickr / Health Gauge
Flickr / Health Gauge

Young women in our country are constantly being followed by images and messages saying that they aren’t pretty, thin, or most recently, fit enough. There are so many images, inspirational quotes, articles, Facebook statuses, and tweets that tell women that they are “lazy” or “fat” and that most of their time should be spent trying to find the next miraculous workout to “get rid of cellulite.” The truth of the matter is, every woman has cellulite. It is scientifically proven that every human being possesses cellulite.

“Fitspiration,” or fitness inspiration, constantly clogs up social media. Although the “fitspiration” is a good way to promote healthy living, it is hurting more than it is helping young women’s self esteem. It all started in 2013 with a controversial image of a thin, six-packed woman with her three children below her; the header of the picture says, “What’s your excuse?” It’s as if being “fit” to a fitness model standard is supposed to be at the top of women’s priority list. There was an uproar of the female race; it was appalling for many women who despite their resources, could never look like this woman. It is not attainable for someone who is not genetically blessed with such a physique.

This brings me to my first issue with the fitspiration movement itself. I’ve seen images that say, for example, “What do you want to be this summer? Fit or jealous?” or “Someone that is busier than you is working out right now.” These messages tell women that they have no excuse to not be working out. That staying in and watching Netflix is unacceptable. That taking a day off to rest is inexcusable. It completely sends the wrong message that a woman should only be valued by her BMI and how she looks in a bodycon dress.

One of the biggest components of this issue is Pinterest. Over 70 million users are on the website, 80% of which are women. There is a category you can select on the homepage called Health & Fitness, most of which is filled with “inspirational” pins. Pictures of six pack abs, thigh gaps, round butts, and thin arms take over the majority of the screen. Fitspiration is impossible to avoid, no matter who you “follow” on Pinterest. Undoubtedly there is an obsession amongst the female population, despite its harming effects on their self image.

There is evidence that since the fitspiration movement began, the amount of eating disorder cases has increased significantly.

“Fitspiration” promotes that every other body type should not be celebrated. There’s criticism thrown toward women who are “too skinny” or “too fat,” and it’s morally wrong. The goal that all women should hope to have is respect for other women, even if they are different than themselves. Because of the negative criticism of one individual’s body, that individual is tempted to bash someone of another body type. It’s a cycle perpetuated by the movements that say that X type of body is better than another. The fit movement has taken a lot of its energy out on other body types when frankly it should be about allowing individuals to be comfortable in their skin.

It is proven that online communities can trigger or exacerbate eating disorders. David LaPorte, a professor and director of the doctoral program in clinical psychology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, says in his research about fitspiration that “84% of women reduced their caloric intake 90 minutes after exposure to fitspo.” Three main values that are instilled results from fitspiration are control, perfection, and success. To some, these values may seem positive, but more often than not, they can destroy a person’s life. Focusing on only those things allows other parts of a person’s life to fall away.

Since one in three people are obese, I understand that there is an overall concern about the health of our population. I know that some of the fitspiration that is posted on the internet is out of the concern of overall well being. But at the same token I think that making women feel guilty about eating a donut or sitting on the couch is unproductive. Telling obese women that they are overweight and need help is nothing new for them. Instead of promoting bodies that are fit and thin, our society should be promoting whatever size makes women happy. Overall mental health is most important because we live in a country that sees a lot of suicide and self harm. Suicide is in the top 10 of the WHO’s most common causes of death. Happiness is the second most important because the world sees so much darkness and devastation, especially on the news and word of mouth. I understand the concern of health specialists and fitspiration advocates, but allowing women to find their own happiness can change their overall health on their own.

Some would argue that women will have a distorted view of themselves with or without the presence of “fitspiration.” While I acknowledge that the media constantly perpetuates the idea of the “perfect body,” fitspiration has caused women’s insecurity levels to soar. Approximately 91% of women are unhappy with their bodies, only 5% of which have body types that fit this “perfect body” standard. The unattainability of this standard causes a lot of damage to the female psyche, and while it has been this way for many years, fitspiration has exacerbated the issue.

On a related note, others can argue that eating disorders would still be just as prevalent without the “fitspiration” movement. An article called Concerns From a Fitness Professional says “as many as 31 percent of young female athletes in ‘thin-build sports’ have eating disorders.” There is this assumption that all women with eating disorders are extremely thin and lanky, which is just not true. There are women of all shapes and sizes with eating disorders. But this number has increased in the past few years; Recently, Compulsive Exercise has been listed in the DSM-5 as a mental illness under the eating disorder category. Similarly, the obsession with eating healthily has become its own type of eating disorder: Orthorexia Nervosa.

A childhood friend of mine, for example, is an orthorexic. She does not allow herself to eat anything processed, and if she breaks that rule, she publicly shames herself on Instagram. She has what many people would call a “fitstagram,” where posts her fitness progress and weight loss journey. When “fitspiration” was first on the rise, she decided to lose weight and get fit. She was very overweight, so my friends and I, along with her family, were glad that she decided to put her health in the forefront. But what I didn’t realize was that this would perpetuate into something completely different.

Once she started losing weight, she would brag about how much she had lost and how much better she looked. I thought, okay, at least she feels better about herself. I’ll let her off the hook because she hasn’t felt confident in a long time. But I didn’t know that her clean eating would turn into an eating disorder to the point where she would ask me about my eating habits myself. Her Pinterest was overflowing with images that had pictures of six packs and small thighs that said things like “you’re one workout away” or “do you want to be fat or fit?”

Since she first began her weight loss journey, she has lost over 90 pounds. Her thighs are a third of the size they once were and her arms look breakable. She says that she feels confident and sexy, but I just don’t believe it. She recently posted a photo on Instagram with the caption, “I am extremely disappointed in myself. I have over eaten and over indulged. I am completely ashamed. I am totally embarrassed. I should be practicing what I preach.”

Although “fitspiration” can help the obese throughout their weight loss journey, it ultimately damages an individual’s mental state. Eating disorders as well as mental illness are at an all time high, and fitspiration has caused the acceleration of this process. There is constant pain in trying to have a perfect body and being let down because for most people, it is impossible. It is necessary for women to ignore these images and messages and instead find beauty in themselves despite what society says. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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