Fitspiration gone wrong

Recently I came across an article published in the March issue of the International Journal of Eating Disorders that examined “fitspiration” websites versus the already known-to-be dangerous “thinspiration (or Pro-ana)” type websites.(Here’s the link to the article in case you want to read it yourself http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/25778714/ )

The study looked at 8 “coded variables” of potentially harmful messaging content on the websites, including things like food guilt, body/weight guilt and dieting/restraint messaging. Not surprisingly (to me at least), both types of websites shared common themes. In fact, the study reports that 80% of the “fitspiration” websites examined included one or more of the coded variables (potentially harmful messages). The study found that “…fitspiration (sites) include objectifying images of thin/muscular women and messages encouraging dieting and exercise for appearance rather than health motivated reasons. Such content may normalize compulsive exercise and (the) guilt inducing messages may contribute to poor body image…Research has noted the hazardous messages contained on “thinspiration” sites. The current study also indicates that sites supposedly devoted to healthy pursuits may contain (similarly) dangerous content.”

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the same results could apply to social media “fitspiration” as well as websites.

An additional study that I came across in my reading on this topic was aimed at attempting to identify demographic populations that most frequently visit/follow health and fitness related social media pages of 3 types- weight loss/fitness motivation (“fitspiration”), detox/cleansing, and diet/fitness plan pages.  Do you know what this study concluded? Teenage girls. Consumers of health and fitness related social media content were predominantly teenage girls.

Fitness family—WHAT ARE WE DOING?? The first study is indicating that we are essentially operating on the same level as pro-eating disorder websites.  And who are we promoting this to?? Teenage girls!

Something needs to change. 

The word “fit,” in the context we are looking at, by definition means: “in good health,” or “physically healthy and strong.” Nowhere, in any definition that I came across, was the word “fit” defined by anything about how a person looks. So WHY has “fitspiration” become so geared toward influencing how we look, instead of how physically healthy we are. Why are we promoting achievement of a “look” over achievement of health… (To teenage girls!!).  As a member of the fitness industry I can tell you first hand, the way a person looks is NOT an indication of his/her health status.  

One of the “coded” variables in the first study was “thin pose”- meaning a picture of someone posed in a way to make them thinner. This was not something that was typically found on the “fitspiration” sites. However, had they included a variable for “awkwardly twist your midsection to make your waist look as small as possible, pop your hip up to make your butt look bigger and don’t forget to flex your arm pose” I’m pretty sure the fitspiration sites would have scored even higher on their ability to promote damaging messages.

Here’s the thing folks, it’s OK to be proud of how you look. And it’s OK to post it up once in a while for the world to see. But maybe we all should start thinking twice about the true message we’re putting out there as well as WHO we are pushing this message on.  

You can be “fitspiring” without putting up a million and a half pictures of your abs (butt, boobs, etc). You can also be “fitspiring” without objectifying your body. You can promote healthy eating without encouraging restrictive/disordered tendencies and obscure food rules. And you can promote physical activity without insinuating a need for obsession or extremes.  

So let’s start actually promoting the concept of being FIT- as in “good health physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.”  And maybe think twice before you post that next abs/butt/boobs [insert other body part here] selfie or your “guilt-free” restrictive food rules.  What message are you really trying to send and who in fact is listening?

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