“Strong is the new skinny.”
“Obsessed is a word the lazy use to describe the dedicated.”
“Pain is just weakness leaving the body.”
Sound familiar? If you have perused the Pinterest health boards, scrolled through any motivational Tumblr or even just watched an episode of “The Biggest Loser,” undoubtedly you will have heard these slogans, and then some. They are just a few of the trademark phrases behind the latest in a myriad of body image fads: fitspiration.
A supposedly positive take on the concept of “thinspiration,” in which pictures of unhealthily skinny women are used as motivation to eat less and lose weight, fitspiration promotes clean eating and exercise as ways of establishing healthy lifestyles. Weight loss is not the ultimate goal; a total lifestyle change is.
Social media websites such as Tumblr and Pinterest recently banned thinspiration images, often tagged “thinspo.” Now, the black-and-white images of hipbones and thigh gaps have been replaced with pictures of sweaty six packs and motivational quotes about working out.
In theory, it’s a good concept. And in some cases, it really works.
Sharee Samuels is an Internet sensation, known to the Tumblr universe under the username FuneralForMyFat. Through her blog, she has documented
her five-year journey to weight loss, over the course of which she lost 118 pounds and completely changed her life. She has a large Internet following, and offers kind words, encouragement and advice to those who follow her. Her blog, Instagram, and YouTube channel offer a balanced collection of workout ideas, recipes, and style tips. She even has a signature Starbucks drink, and those who have followed her story love to broadcast their own addictions to the iced grande sugar free hazelnut soy latte. However, Samuels is careful not to push her own lifestyle choices on those who turn to her. Becoming vegan worked for her, she says, but it will not work for everybody, and she recognizes that. It is that open-mindedness that makes her such a friend to her followers. Samuels represents the positive kind of fitspiration that fuels the entire concept.
However, experts are quick to point out that not all fitspiration as positive as Samuels.
In fact, when put into the wrong context, some say that fitspiration can be just as dangerous as it’s pro-anorexia counterpart.
“The images often portray dangerously thin, overly sexualized women with bodies that the vast majority of us will never be able to achieve,” Dr. Cynthia Bulik told Glamour Magazine. Bulik is the director of the University of North Carolina Eating Disorders Program. According to her, “A lot of fitspo is a thinly veiled version of thinspo, promoting the same obsessive tendencies and impossible appearance ideals, and that’s a trap.”
Nutrition senior Bernice Tomasso understands how easy it is to fall into that trap, and for that reason, she has dedicated her free time to helping young women avoid doing so.
Once a semester, Tomasso partners with her former physical education teacher at Red Mountain High School in Mesa to teach high school girls about good nutrition and fitness.
Tomasso started the program because she felt as if there was not enough information available to young girls about how to be healthy and active, and what is available is not always good.
“You go through a lot of fad diets,” Tomasso recalls from her own high school days. Her goal through her presentations is to help girls avoid those fads and develop a truly healthy lifestyle.
Tomasso wants to help girls avoid what she went through in high school, when she struggled with her body image.
“I viewed myself differently than I do now,” Tomasso explains.
While she says that she never had a full-fledged eating disorder, her perception of herself led to extremely disordered habits. She began unnecessarily taking the weight-loss supplement Hydroxycut and eventually found herself stuck in a vicious cycle of binging and purging.
“I overcame it,” she says. “I started growing confidence and going to church, and that gave me a background of accepting myself. Now, I love the muscular look. I think strength is sexy.”
Self-acceptance came for Tomasso, and she has used her new appreciation for her muscular body type as motivation for both herself and others. In addition to the presentations she puts on, Tomasso is also a certified trainer, CrossFitter, and hopes to participate in a bodybuilding show in the near future.
However, Tomasso knows that things like bodybuilding are not for everyone, but if you follow fitspo, you might think differently. A common misconception perpetuated by the online fitness community is that there is only one way or another to be healthy.
“If they’re not a dietician or if they’re not a certified group fitness instructor, then they’re probably not giving the best advice for the majority of the public,” said nutrition communications junior Abbigail Miles. “Not everybody is meant to do CrossFit.”
Unfortunately, though, quite a bit of the fitness community seems to think that there is only one true pathway to health: whatever way they’re doing it, be it through yoga or eating only raw food.
Miles says this concept is unrealistic. “You will always have different people who have allergies or preferences,” she says.
Miles also warns against the addictive qualities that she says fitspiration has the potential to hold.
“I think if they’re encouraging healthy lifestyle then it’s totally fine, but it can also encourage an addictive mindset to being fit and staying healthy,” she says.
Tomasso agreed, and pointed out that not all of the fitness inspiration found online really makes sense.
“They say a quote like, ‘strong is the new skinny’ but they don’t necessarily link the picture to the quote,” Tomasso said, referencing pictures that pair supposedly motivational quotes with unrealistically lean bodies.
And that is the contradiction that takes what could be healthy motivation too far.
“The key to succeeding in your goals is makings your own realistic milestones and hitting them,” fitness and lifestyle consultant Ashley Borden told Glamour. “Not focusing on some girl in a photo.”
Tomasso agrees. “It’s about progress, not perfection.”
Reach the writer at Tlnelso8@asu.edu