health

Stop pretending that these pictures of your bum are 'inspirational'. They're not.

If you’ve ever ventured into the health and fitness world on social media, you’ve probably come across #fitspo.

It’s short for “fitspiration” – and basically covers off on any kind of social media post that encourages people to be fitter and healthier.

Which is good, right? It’s never really a bad thing to encourage people to eat better and move a little bit more.

But there is a dark side to fitspo, and it’s come into the firing line today. New research from Flinders University’s School of Health Sciences has found that “fitspo” is having a seriously negative impact on how teenage girls view their own bodies. Professor Claire Drummond has found that pictures of fitness models – which are all over social media – make teenage girls feel both guilty and negative about the way that they look.

The dark side of fitspo

This from The Australian:

Professor Drummond said girls were put off because they did not look like the fitness models they saw online a dozen times a day, compared to leafing through magazines irregularly in the past. She said girls were also dropping out of PE in senior years when it was no longer compulsory, because it did not help their academic record and they did not want to play sport in front of their male peers.

“Girls seemed to be concerned about making fools of themselves doing sport, but a lot of it was about how they looked and how fit girls were perceived on social media,” Professor Drummond said.

Professor Drummond’s findings didn’t surprise me. I’m not a teenage girl, but I’m still a self-conscious girl who spends far too much time on social media. I follow all of the online fitness models – partly out of interest, partly from a “screw you, how can you be so hot” kind of mental headspace.

And what I see on social media is, frankly, pretty depressing.

These fitness models spend their time posting endless photos of themselves, in which they’re either posing in bikinis or teeny-tiny Nike crop tops and matching Nike booty shorts:

These fitness models all have impossibly perfect bodies. They’re lean without being too skinny. They have muscles, but they aren’t body builders. They have six-packs, but incredible boobs. Their hair is always perfect and their tans are always immaculate.

Nat #keepingitreal

And I know that there are copious amounts of spray tans and make-up involved. I know that they probably spend six hours a day working out. I know that they spend hours posing for the perfect photos, and probably Photoshop those images once they’re taken. I know that many of them are rumoured to have gone under the knife at some point to attain those sexy-but-slim curves.

I know that they post these half-naked photos because half-naked photos are what get the followers and the likes. Ashy Bines, for example, has 325,000 Instagram followers; Hannah Polites has 463,000. I know that their fitness qualifications are generally quite dubious.

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I know ALL THAT – and yet I look at their photos and still feel super-shitty about myself. Because I work out, and I eat well, and yet I’ll still never look like any of them.

I’ll never be that slim, that perfect, that fit. With the exception of plastic surgery, nothing I do will ever make my bum look that good in a bikini. I will literally never, ever, ever walk around in just a crop top and booty shorts.

And if I’m feeling like that, then what hope do our Instagram-obsessed teenage girls have? What kind of feelings will these fitspo pics trigger?

Eating disorder counsellor, Paula Kotowitz, has previously told Mamamia:

For individuals who are susceptible to or have experienced an eating disorder (ED) in the past, these types of images can effectively become ‘triggers’ into ED behaviours – like restriction, binge/purge cycles, over exercising. These images can not only trigger behaviours but provide motivation, commitment and a goal for the individual, keeping them hooked into the illness and behaviours.

But there is hope when it comes to the fitspo world. Because the fitness models are the bad side of fitspo – the side that is destined to send you spiralling into self-doubt and hopelessness.

There’s a good side. The fitspo that is designed to be lovely and motivational and pleasant. The fitspo that wants to give you ideas on how to workout, ideas on how to make a delicious smoothie, ideas on how to put together a tasty salad.

The good kind of fitspo is based on inspiring you to get out there and be your best self – rather than guilting you into thinking that you’ll never be fit or hot enough. It encourages you to love yourself, regardless of your size, and realise your self-worth – even if you’ve had a Magnum instead of a salad for dinner.

I rely on the good kind of fitspo to motivate me to work out and eat well. And it’s the kind of fitspo that I’m constantly pushing on the Mamamia Health and Fitness page (cough, shameless self-plug, cough) in an attempt to inspire people to be happier and healthier – but also be confident within themselves, regardless of shape and size.

If you’re sick of seeing all those fitness models on social media? If you’re tired of constantly feeling shitty about yourself?

There’s a really simple solution. Click the “unfollow” or “unlike” option. And then find people who make you feel better about yourself. That’s what you need in your life.

Do you follow fitspo? Do you like it, or hate it?