Feminism and Fitspiration

Fitspo/Thinspo Trigger Warning*

One night during a period of mind-numbing un-productivity, I did the worst thing I could have possibly done: I logged onto Tumblr. I scrolled aimlessly through my feed, following link after link and wound up in a neighborhood of Tumblr that I had never before encountered. A popular search tag is #fitspo, short for fitness inspiration, in which primarily women (but sometimes men as well) post pictures of themselves in the gym, pictures of very in shape and defined bodies, and an assortment of inspirational quotes.

Fitspo 3

I was already familiar with similar posts that use the tag #thinspo and often feature pictures of very skinny, emaciated, and clearly unhealthy women. These images of thin women are collected and used as inspiration for girls trying to lose weight or aspire to a very low body weight that often borders on anorexic. These blogging communities of anorexic and bulimic aspirants have long been lauded as unhealthy by feminists and the general population. But the “fitspiration” brand of online body policing is a relatively recently phenom and is not perceived in the same light.

We are constantly fed statistics about the obesity rate in the U.S., and fitness has become a central part of childhood education. We are told that working out is a healthy and productive activity that women should aim to in order to gain “confidence” and “feel sexy.” But what happens when workouts become obsession? Where is the line drawn between maintaing what society sees as a “healthy” body and a developing a new body disorder? There are many blog sites with names such as “Fit and Feminist” and “Feminist Figure Girl” that believe that fitness is essential to fight the patriarchy. Wut?

These Tumblr tags espouse the constant monitoring, surveillance, discipline, and remodeling of the female body as an important part of being a “strong woman.” How is this any different from images that propose a skinny ideal image of  women’s bodies?

fitspo 4Is it the appropriation of the gym as a woman’s sphere? As an avid “worker-outer” myself, I understand the importance of claiming the weight-room as a space that women can feel comfortable and welcome in. I cannot tell you the amount of times men have corrected my form or attempted to assist me, things that I am guessing they wouldn’t do for another man. The occupation of this space has significance, it is important. But establishing yet another narrow ideal body image for women is damaging, unproductive, and not progressive feminism.

Some women’s form of self care takes place in the gym, some take care of themselves by reading a good book, some talk on the phone with a friend. Confidence and empowerment can be found in all arenas, and one is not more valid than the other. Simply replacing the image of an emaciated model with the image of a toned figure does not erase the problems associated with fixation on a certain body ideal. There is still the sense of constant striving and never being good enough that cannot possibly be a healthy state of mind in which to constantly exist. Feminism should not be associated with the policing of women’s bodies in any respect, we are past this and it is time to assert that there isn’t one image of a strong or healthy body. I don’t care how tired it sounds, it needs to be said again and again: beautiful emanates from within bodies. Please say it with me.

-Patricia Ekpo, Blog Editor

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