(Trigger warning: unsafe dieting practices; ‘clean eating’; excessive exercise)
The popular wave of fitspo, or fitspiration, has taken over our social media outlets. Whether Instagram is suggesting I follow Kayla Itsines or my friends are liking Ashy Bines’ Facebook page, the message of toned, strong and fit bodies is in full force, especially as summer is approaching.
The fitspo movement is based around a simple principle – encourage body change by dominating social media with photos of what you could look like should you commit to their program of fitness and clean eating. Promotional shots of the founders feature year round tanned skin donning well-coordinated uniforms of the latest Nike fluoro sports bra and shorts, whilst carrying out daily activities of working out, doing the groceries, or household chores with their abs on show. Visual food diaries consist of the latest food trends, including activated almonds, kale smoothies and acai bowls. Got a sweet tooth? Have a date to kill that sugar craving whilst sticking to your clean eating regime.
Follower’s share their before and after shots for *insert fitspo’s name* to give them a shout out on their social media platform on how they’ve achieved exercise greatness by completing their program. So what happens if you’re human and don’t achieve these drastic results?
Fitspo has become the latest body image standard that many of us find impossible to achieve. Whilst their message follows the mantra of “strong is the new skinny”, the connection between washboard abs and clean eating can be a trigger for obsessional eating habits and unhealthy exercise demands, particularly for those with a history of disordered eating.
Research carried out by the University of the Sunshine Coast (2016) has found that participants who viewed fitspiration photos experienced similar levels of body dissatisfaction, if not worse, than those who viewed photos of fashion models. Dr Kate Mulgrew, psychology lecturer at the university, believes that the fitspiration body type is just another variation of the one body type that is plastered across the media – slim, young and attractive. There has also been links between fitspiration followers having tried drastic weight loss methods such as diet pills and laxatives (Carrotte, Vella & Lim, 2015).
With many fitspo’s plastering “inspirational” memes on their platforms to further motivate clients, their millions of followers are drinking the fitspo kool aid and contributing to their multimillion dollar fitness empires. Kayla is reportedly worth $2 million AUD and has celebrity friends Jessica Alba, Alison Williams and Rachel Zoe (who I might add, have all been linked to eating disorder behaviour in the media) singing her praises.
So is there room in the exercise world for us mere mortals who want to improve our fitness, whilst having our cake too? Dr Mulgrew thinks so. “This study shows that women should value the body for more than just what it looks like. Women should engage in a healthy lifestyle, but don’t take fitness models as another ideal to aspire to”.
For help and support with eating or body image concerns, contact us.
Carrotte, E. R., Vella, A. M., & Lim, M. S. (2015). Predictors of “liking” three types of health and fitness-related content on social media: a cross-sectional study. Journal of medical Internet research, 17(8).
The University of the Sunshine Coast. (2016). ‘Fitspiration’ photos cause body image strain. Retrieved 28 June February, 2016, from http://www.usc.edu.au/explore/usc-news-exchange/news-archive/2016/january/fitspiration-photos-cause-body-image-strain