I spent this afternoon talking with Jen at the Winnipeg Free Press about my Lose Hate Not Weight philosophy and lots of other body image related topics - since it's around that New-Year's-resolution-driven-fat-panic-diet-spiking time of year. And then Jen introduced me to something I had never heard of.
It's called fitspo.
It's short for Fitspiration. According to Glamour:
Fitspo refers to images and words that women post with the purpose of inspiring
themselves and others to live a fit, active life.
The fitspo trend arose after thinspiration - #thinspo - images were banned from social media sites like Tumblr and Twitter because of the images' consistent portrayal of very thin (some say unhealthily thin) women. In my albeit brief research, fitspo images don't seem much different, but now they say things like "strong is the new thin" or they say this:
In looking particularly at images that have text I found 5 major themes that were consistent in fitspo messages that I argue are ruining your day, our culture and perhaps most importantly ice cream:
1. Failure & Bootstrapping
Dear JilMike, you call the absence of a 6-pack failure; I call it cake-is-delicious. For those new to the concept of bootstrapping, it's the belief that we are each completely independently responsible for our individual success or failure. And that if you fail it is because you didn't try hard enough. Notable example of this being a big old lie: the economy.
2. Death & Destruction
Like the first image (about fat funerals), there is a distinct necropolitical bent to some of the messaging. According to political scientist Achille Mbembe:
"contemporary forms of subjugation of life to the power of death
(necropolitics) profoundly reconfigure the relations among resistance,
sacrifice, and terror."
Writers like Naomi Wolf have discussed the ways in which sexism seeks to imbue women with a desire for our own destruction.
This theme ties to the first and second themes I mentioned and is based in the very Protestant/WASP belief that nothing worth having - nothing respectable - comes without suffering. Also, naturalizing pain - saying that pain is a natural and inevitable condition of success - sets women up to be unhappy no matter what we do.
Ableism is, in part, about creating anxiety about your physical abilities and equating disability with personal failure. This image uses our cultural anxiety about aging/loss of ability to convey that you have a limited timeframe during which you can actually achieve things and that not using your body for intense exercise is something you will regret. Beyond being ableist, it's also just really manipulative.
Maybe I'm in the minority but I don't like to make things - even inanimate things - cry, and last time I checked that was called emotional abuse (or dacryphilia).
So, let's recap. I don't think that:
are inspiring. They also create a psychological link between physical activity - which should be fun and pleasurable - with really awful outcomes and intentions.
One of the last things Jen (you remember, from the Winnipeg Free Press) and I talked about was the ways that IRONICALLY the diet and fitness industry actually creates the really negative relationship that people have with food and with physical activity.
When you give foods (like cookies or kale) magical powers you create a situation in which people will act irrationally and inauthentically around food.
When you endow physical activity and movement the magical powers of success and failure you create a situation in which people will develop a really fraught relationship with movement of any kind.
I know that for me, sometimes even going out for a walk - because it's gorgeous outside and I just want to see some gorgeousness! - can trigger feelings of shame or "yay me" or goal-setting. These feelings are NOT natural or innate; they are learned.
So, Fitspo, I'm sorry but I'm going to have to say that you are anti-humanitarian, you are sexist, you are ableist and you're just a plain misnomer. There ain't no inspiration in suffering.
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Virgie Tovar, MA is one of the nation's leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp (a 4 week online course focused on helping people break up with diet culture) and the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, 2012). She writes about the intersections of size, identity, sexuality and politics. See more updates on Facebook.