‘Fitspo’ or ‘fitspiration’ is an online movement that stemmed from ‘thinspo’ or ‘thinspiration’. Both fitspo and thinspo originate in online communities and are designed to support people’s efforts to achieve their ideal body type. I interacted with thinspo blogs a great deal when I was anorexic because they reinforced my world view and strengthened my resolve to lose weight. In many ways, fitspo is just the same, but wrapped up in a sports bra and faux empowerment. I find both extremely troubling.
What we must first consider is how and why people interact with these sorts of online mediums. I get quite frustrated when people say that the media gives people weight concerns and eating disorders. If this were true, everyone who has ever been exposed to mainstream media would have concerns surrounding their bodies and this simply isn’t true. The reality is much more complex. People who have weight concerns often engage in self-socialisation, seeking out people and media that reinforce their conception of reality. For myself, it was only when I was well into the depths of my eating disorder that I began engaging with thinspo. When others in my personal life were telling me I was too thin, I would turn to the internet to tell me I could and should be thinner. Engaging with thinspo helped me to forge a reality that encouraged and supported my actions. It felt sort of subversive, and righteous, to be part of a secret online society who knew the true, ‘that nothing tasted as good skinny felt’.
It was a vital part of my recovery process to disengage with thinspo and all of the negative imagery it portrayed. I deleted my blog and closed myself off to the world of beautiful, skinny women and their soft words that encouraged ruin. But it wasn’t long before I would find myself becoming drawn into another online world, a world that promised so much but gave so little: fitspo. Fitspo, to me, began as a revolution. It was a direct reaction to the harm that thinspo caused and as an online community, strived to lift women up rather than bring them down. I was drawn to this community as my focus turned from being waify and skinny to strong and powerful.
For a long time, I bought into the fitspo ideology. I believed that their could be nothing insidious about encouraging people to get fit. I consumed images of women in the gym with inspirational quotes plastered across them like it was my job to do so. I thought my engagement with fitspo was a symbol of how far I have come and how my body ideals had changed from thin to fit. But there was a problem. I was still swallowing someone else’s pill about what my body and life should look like. And whilst engaging with both fitspo and thinspo I was comparing myself with others who were unattainable for me. In essence, the two online movements are twins. The only way these two sister movements really differ is the body type they accept as dogma.
Perhaps the most concerning aspect of fitspo is its perceived legitimacy. Unlike thinspo, the figure heads of the fitspo movement are typically professionals in the field. Blogs and instagram accounts run by personal trainers, weight lifting coaches, sports brands and even athletes often promote these images. This gives power and status to the attitudes endorsed by fitspo as a movement and makes people who consume these images feel like they are the ‘other’ who doesn’t fit into this world yet (but they hope that they will one day). This creates an aspirational relationship in the fitspo community that places everyday people on the bottom of the pyramid.
It is my hope that one day online communities can genuinly encourage people to be fit and healthy and their best version of themselves without making people feel bad. Unfortunately, these movements we have seen so far have failed to celebrate the individual and their journey whilst overemphasising the ideal. In this sense, I think the online communities surrounding health and weight loss need a reality check.