I’ve finally become familiar with the terms thinspo and fitspo.
Short for thinspiration and fitspiration, both describe inspirational images of — let’s face it — women who are skinnier than most of us. Thinspo images are sometimes associated with eating disorders (you inspire yourself to get thin by looking at them and feeling ashamed of your own body). Fitspo is supposedly thinspo’s safer, healthier cousin; these women aren’t bone-thin, after all, they’re muscular and fit. I mean, come on. They’re wearing GYM CLOTHES.
Thanks to Pinterest, thinspo and fitspo images have flooded the Internet over the past few months.
Many of the women in these photographs present us with new variety of unobtainable physical ideals; they’re underwear models topped with a thin veneer of musculature, with nary a hint of cellulite. Sometimes they simply appear to be skinny ladies standing around in their underwear, without even a pretense of any association with fitness.
One pin features a topless woman, photographed from the back, lounging on a bed with her jeans halfway down her backside. Exercise is, apparently, exhausting.
I’m torn. I like images of strong women because I WANT women to be strong. But I also fear that these images may trigger shame and self-hatred in women who don’t live up to these physical ideals (in other words, most of us).
Several bloggers, including Helena Handbasket (whose post alerted me to this controversy) and Virginia Sole-Smith have expressed similar reservations about fitspo. On The Great Exercise Experiment, Charlotte Hilton Andersen says fitspo may simply be “thinspo in a sports bra.”
To obtain the musculature of many of the women in these photographs, you’d have to follow a very strict diet and work out A LOT. I don’t mean five times a week instead of four, I mean every day, possibly for several hours. (I used to know a woman who looked like a fitness model, and she exercised three hours a day and would never go out for dinner or drinks because she didn’t dare deviate from her special diet. BO-RING.)
Admission time: Fitspo images make me feel bad about my abs — I wish that they were rock-hard and better defined. My abs are NOT a trouble spot for me, so you can just imagine what such imagery makes me think about my thighs, which feature — gasp — cellulite. Cellulite that didn’t even go away when I went through a dangerously skinny post-tonsillectomy phase in college. (I got down to a size 4, which today would probably be a size 0. You can, indeed, be too thin. Maybe not too rich, though.)
That said, my legs are AWESOME. Running combined with a healthy regime of squats and other muscle work has left them strong and capable. They’ve just got a little bit of padding up top.
This is the kind of attitude that I worry slips away when we see fitspo images. We can’t be content with “look at the awesome things my body can do” when the mantra “it’s not good enough if I don’t look like that” is running through our heads.
In the introduction to Eating Our Hearts Out, a collection of women’s personal accounts of their relationship to food, Lesléa Newman writes, “Our culture makes it nearly impossible for us as women to have a healthy, easy relationship with food. On one hand, we are supposed to be the nurturers of the world, perfecting recipes to delight our families, and, on the other hand, we are supposed to deprive ourselves of these delicious meals in order to look the way our society deems it best for us to look, which can be summed up in one four-letter word: thin.”
I argue that we also have an uneasy relationship with fitness. For many, the simple act of challenging the body is not enough; exercise without dramatic transformation toward perfection — thinness — is simply pointless. This all-or-nothing attitude has to be the root cause of the many January fitness programs that are abandoned by March.
It’s exhausting, really, this constant obsession with food and calories and carbs and measurements and weight. Honestly, what more could women accomplish if we weren’t so completely preoccupied with the scale and the tape measure?
If fitspo inspires you, pin away. Just make sure it’s inspiring you to make yourself stronger and healthier, and not prompting feelings of self-loathing.
In “A Weight that Women Carry,” an essay in Minding the Body: Women Writers on Body and Soul, Sallie Tisdale writes, “In trying always to lose weight, we’ve lost hope of simply being seen for ourselves.”
Similarly, in mirroring ourselves against the perfection found in fitspo images, we risk being unable to simply love ourselves and acknowledge the positive things about our wonderfully imperfect bodies.