You’ve seen their photos posted on social media sites: fitness buffs who flaunt their hard abs, shapely legs and toned arms in their selfies. Do gym selfies inspire you to throw on your fitness gear and head to the gym or do they bring you down?
Here’s how you can determine if these images on social media motivate you or make you feel worse about your body image.
Fitspiration photos: Helpful or harmful?
Reality check: Which best describes your mood after seeing a gym selfie showcasing a fit bod: You’re more likely to throw on your fitness gear and head to the gym or you want to grab a bag of chips and sulk?
If you look up the word “fitspiration” on the internet, you’ll find tons of photos from blogs, Pinterest, Tumblr and other sites of people with ripped and fit bodies striking a pose or engaged in some form of exercise, sometimes accompanied by a motivational fitness quote.
An article on Health.com points out that while some may be motivated by fitspo (fitness inspiration), it can also send mixed messages and fuel a dangerous obsession for some women. Deb Serani, a clinical psychologist and adjunct professor at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York, states that fitspo photos can negatively affect girls and women when it comes to self-esteem, body image and perceptions of health. The article also states that Serani suspects that some fitspo enthusiasts may suffer from orthorexia nervosa, which is when “a woman is so determined to drive her body toward athletic perfection, she becomes preoccupied with workouts and healthy foods, and her body image becomes so distorted, she is never satisfied with the way she looks.”
Fitspiration photos: Hang them up or take them down?
Reality check: When hanging up pictures of fitness models or posting gym selfies of women you admire on Pinterest, are you inspired to go harder at the gym and improve your diet or do you constantly compare yourself in frustration and set unrealistic expectations?
Coach Calorie discusses the negative impact of fitspo in “Why You Should Consider Trashing Your Fitspiration Photos.” The article suggests that people look within to find inspiration instead of judging themselves against pictures of perfection. The author also recommends using quotes or a photo of yourself at your best for visual inspiration and to celebrate the beauty you see in the mirror.
The thin line between fitspiration and fat-shaming
So you’ve reached your fitness goals, your body is fit and you want to post photos on social media to inspire others. Sounds like a great and harmless way to motivate other women, right? Not necessarily. Maybe you heard about the controversy surrounding fitness enthusiast Maria Kang last year. The mother of three was temporarily banned from Facebook after posting what many referred to as a “fat-shaming” photo of herself dressed in workout attire that showed her toned physique, surrounded by her children. The question on the photo read “What’s your excuse?” The photo went viral and had people in an uproar. Kang had stated in previous articles that she was trying to do the opposite of fat shaming — she wanted to inspire women with a fitspirational photo. Apparently, thousands of people who responded to her photo didn’t think so.
On the flip side, fitness enthusiasts like Kang or others who use social media to show their toned bodies that they’ve worked hard for may experience fit-shaming for the way they look. Some may frown upon them for showing their bodies and accuse them of making other women feel bad about their self-image.
SheKnows.com and Shape.com conducted a survey of 1,329 people about social media’s effects on health, fitness and body image. Based on the survey’s results, readers reported that social media sites and online communities affect fitness and eating habits positively.
- 41.9 percent of users feel more motivated to make healthy eating choices.
- 39 percent are more motivated to work out.
- 15 percent feel guilty if they don’t stick to their diet and fitness routine.
When asked how they felt when friends shared updates via social media about their fitness, 53 percent feel inspired and motivated to be healthier, while 22 percent feel envious. It was also noted that users feel more animosity toward celebrities’ diet and fitness updates than those of their friends.
Make the decision
Any source of inspiration should fuel you in a positive way. If you find that gym selfies and fitspo images make you feel discouraged or frustrated with your fitness progress, make a choice not to compare yourself with others, focus on your own goals, visualize your finish line and celebrate your journey to becoming the healthiest person that you can be.