Why Fitspiration Has Nothing To Do With Fitness

Originally published here by Jodie Glasspool for Libero Network.

I don’t believe ‘fitspiration’ actually provides inspiration to get fit. Why? Because ‘fitspiration’ is driven by aesthetics, but fitness actually has nothing to do with appearance. Zip. Zilch. Zero.

Fitness is your body’s ability to effectively and safely perform a required physical task. It includes cardiovascular and muscular elements as well as flexibility and balance. It’s entirely relative and individual to each person. What we consider fit for an athlete is completely different than what is fit for the general population, which is, again, different to the fitness of someone with a disability or disease. Our fitness isn’t determined by the weight, shape or size of our bodies.

‘Fitspiration’ exclusively features fitness models – this is a huge problem. There is nothing wrong with the body of a fitness model; no body type should ever be shamed. There is, however, a problem when we begin to associate fitness with one body type or when we strive to manipulate and change our own body type into that of someone else’s.

I trust that some people believe ‘fitspiration’ is a healthy alternative to ‘thinspiration.’ They suggest that ‘fitspiration’ is about being healthy and strong, rather than about weight or body size. Sadly, using only one body type in ‘fitspiration’ insinuates that you’re only healthy and strong if you look like that photo (which is entirely false).

Working in the health and fitness industry, I’ve often been much more triggered to engage in ED behaviours by ‘fitspiration’ than ‘thinspiration.’ My ED thought process told me that once I looked like a fitness model, people in the fitness industry would take me seriously – they’d admire, respect, and trust me. They would believe I was fit and healthy. I believed once I looked like a fitness model, then I’d be good enough.

Ironically, the closer I got to that ‘fitness model’ appearance, the less physically fit I actually was. I didn’t have the energy to exercise due to severe calorie restriction (as well as the damage to my mental and emotional health that EDs cause).

We need to keep in mind that the physiques so often shown in ‘fitspiration’ pictures are incredibly difficult to achieve, no matter how fit you are. They usually require unhealthy restrictive dieting. These behaviours are unsustainable; fitness models will tell you that they’ll specifically ‘prepare’ for a photo shoot or competition, meaning how they look in the month of the photo shoot is often different to how they look for the remaining 11 months of the year.

Unfortunately, many fitness models end up with disordered eating behaviours or clinical eating disorders due to a cycle of restriction, bingeing and over-exercising. Those who might be able to remain mentally and emotionally healthy often disrupt their body’s natural metabolism.

I’m concerned that people are now using mainly unachievable and unsustainable aesthetics as their motivation for exercising. What happens if they never reach their desired body shape/size? Do they give up exercise, thinking they’ve failed? What about the other mental, physical and emotional benefits of exercise that are healthy and realistic goals for each and every person? It’s much more realistic and helpful to set fitness goals that actually relate to fitness.

I like to set goals around the weight I can lift or the distance I can cover on the bike. These are goals which I can continue to strive toward regardless of how my body looks.

My inspiration for fitness comes from athletes that I admire for their performance abilities (Australian cyclists Cadel Evans and Anna Meares are two of my favourites). It comes from stroke patients I’ve worked with who persevere through extremely difficult circumstances and see the importance of exercise for their health.

I’m also inspired to be fit because it allows me to move easily in day to day life. Exercising allows me to go hiking with my fiancé and dancing with my friends, it keeps my stress levels down, and it makes me feel good; these things – unlike unrealistic photos focused on aesthetics – are true ‘fitspiration.’