First published in The Telegraph 14th October 2013
Fit and healthy bodies in the real world come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. They are often more muscular than thin. The images found under the tag of ‘fitspo’ do not reflect this, they are virtually identical to ‘thinspo’ pictures, save for the addition of a set of weights or a sports bra. The same flat bellies, sharp hip bones and obvious thigh gaps are present, along with the captions that promise happiness, love and success just as soon as you look like the girl in the picture. The idea that there is one body ideal that all women should strive for, be it through restricting food, vomiting or compulsive exercise, is both unrealistic and causes women to feel devalued and not good enough.Similarly to ‘thinspiration’, ‘fitspiration’ encourages an obsession with diet, exercise and weight. It is about the external appearance of thinness rather than internal health. Its motivational value lies in urging the viewer to push themselves that little bit harder when exercising, something that is actually discouraged by professional trainers because it can cause injury and prevent trainees reaching their fitness goals.
The way ‘thinspo’ can so easily be rebranded and passed off as something ‘health conscious’ is unsettling. I contacted Instagram to discuss the current proliferation of ‘fitspo’ hashtags, but they declined to make any meaningful comments on record.
A popular Tumblr account that describes itself as ‘healthy fitspiration’ and ‘body positive’ is paradoxically filled with near-emaciated bodies and one of them is mine, which I submitted as a test. My body is permanently damaged by anorexia and I am medically advised against any exercise other than brisk walking. The idea that ‘fitspo’ images have anything to do with health or fitness is entirely spurious and the use of my picture is proof of this. Thin does not necessarily mean healthy and neither does it mean fit.
There is no meaningful difference between ‘fitspo’ and ‘thinspo’. Both terms glorify a body ideal that is unrealistic for the majority of women and is unlikely to be achieved merely through exercise. So please don’t be fooled by ‘fitspo’, it’s merely a sneaky rebranding of something inexplicably linked to illness, disordered eating and body dissatisfaction.