We all have those friends. The ones who constantly post inspirational sayings about working out overlayed on a picture of a lean woman running or lifting. The ones who post things like “strong is the new skinny” or “don’t rest when you’re tired, rest when you’re done”. They’re the same ones that obsessively post their gym selfies and “clean meals” with too many hashtags. I used to be that friend. When I scroll through my “on this day” feed on Facebook I’m amazed at how many of my posts are about being at the gym, my plans for going to the gym, or how I wish I could be at the gym. I posted all those quotes about determination and discipline. I posted all the gym selfies. I surrounded myself and my unwitting friends with Fitspo.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the term Fitspo is short for “fit inspiration”. People, mostly women, share quotes and images on social networks that encourage themselves and others to live a fit lifestyle. Women especially will create social groups through these social networks where they will share Fitspo with each other to encourage each other.
On the surface Fitspo looks like a really healthy phenomenon. People get together to encourage each other to live a healthier lifestyle. For some people Fitspo really does help them stick to healthier habits, so it is a helpful tool. However, there is a darker side to Fitspo that a lot of people don’t see unless they’re trapped in it. I know because I was trapped in the darker side of Fitspo for years.
When I was compulsively exercising I always felt invincible. I felt so determined and disciplined. I often used these feelings to create a sense of superiority; like I was better than other people I knew because I was at the gym more often and I trained harder and I was more fit and I looked better. Of course in order to maintain this sense of superiority I had to maintain a compulsive exercise schedule. I had to live up to the Fitspo I was posting on my Facebook. I made being super healthy part of my identity and before long I didn’t really know who I was if I didn’t go to the gym. Fitspo became the measuring stick for my worthiness and I became a slave to the gym.
I don’t think my story is all that unique. We live in a culture that constantly encourages women to compare themselves to others. Our culture encourages women to use other women’s bodies and lifestyles as the measuring sticks for our own lives. Conveniently for this culture we also live in a society that tells women that their bodies hold more value than their voices or their ideas, so it’s easy for women to fall in to the trap of measuring their worth by comparing their bodies to other women’s bodies. It also helps that an entire diet and fitness industry has been built around this comparison.
Hiding under Fitspo is the message that women must change themselves to be happy and that they have the power to change themselves if they only try hard enough. This is a setup that leads only to disappointment. Women spend years of their lives slaves to gym memberships and diets trying to change themselves to look like other women, and when they can’t achieve those goals they blame themselves and feel like failures. The truth that the system has set them up to fail is rarely revealed.
So think about what you’re really saying about yourself and other women before you post that next piece of Fitspo. And ask how much your sanity is worth before you get caught up in the Fitspo craze.