Fitspirations in Popular Media: Helpful or Harmful?
The word “fitspiration,” the portmanteau of “fit” and “inspiration” may have only been coined recently, but the phenomenon has been going on for quite some time. According to an Huffington Post article, fitspiration or fitspo for short represents success stories and photos that encourage people to live a healthier, more active lifestyle.
The message seems to be good on the surface. After all, it encourages people, particularly women, to get fitter. Furthermore, it is a step up from “thinspiration,” a dangerous trend that effectively pushed the message that “thinner is better,” which led to girls worldwide suffering from eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia. The Campus Trainer referred to a 2010 study, which showed that 84 percent of the participants reduced their calorie intake after browsing through thinspiration websites.
However, a look at these images would show that most, if not all of them, feature people with only one body type – slim bodies with lean muscles – which not everyone has. In fact, the people who are presented to be fit and healthy by popular media do not represent all body types. You only need to look at how they are portrayed to see that there is homogeneity in their builds, which are as much a result of genes as hard work. The problem with fitspiration is that it implicitly says that by working hard, you can achieve that body type, which is simply not true. Unfortunately, some people will never be able to achieve such figures, even if they slave away for several hours in the gym everyday, by virtue of the fact that their bodies were not built to look that way.
Lara Croft in Tomb Raider is a good example of an unrealistic fitspirational goal. The video game character became an instant hit, not just because of the good gameplay featured in the series, but because of the titular character’s appearance: small waist, big breasts, and legs that went on for days. The popularity of the video game series was so much so that it led to spin-offs, including a film series starring Angelina Jolie, and even other games, including a Tomb Raider casual slot game by Slingo. The shift from casting Angelina Jolie to Alicia Vikander as the live-action version of Lara Croft is an indicator in the change of mindset. While the Vikander’s build is still somewhat slimmer compared to most women, it is a more realistic frame – based on the promotional photos, anyway – compared to Jolie’s portrayal, which was more loyal to how the video game character looked like. Popular media should also take this a step forward, by presenting people of all body types pursuing a fitter, healthier lifestyle.
Her Campus put it stated: every body is different, and this still rings true. Instead of promoting the attainment of a certain build – which is not always realistic – the message should instead be focused on boosting people’s morale to be fit and healthy.
The bottom line is, fitspiration shouldn’t be used to pressure people to workout or go on a diet to try and attain an unrealistic body type. Instead, they should use these images and messages to inspire themselves to achieve better health, and not for any other reason.