How the “Fitspiration” Movement Really Inspires Women

As adolescents explore their values, ethics, spirituality, and bodies as well as their likes and dislikes, and as they learn to appreciate their own unique qualities, they begin to form a clear sense of self. It is a clear sense of self that serves as an adolescent’s guide through experiences in life and encourages resilience. Family, peers, and the culture in which they live are among the most significant pieces of the puzzle in the formation of an adolescent’s sense of self. As media consumption increases in our culture, especially among adolescents, more and more the media is playing a significant role in the identity formation process and affecting in particular adolescents’ experiences in their own bodies. Beauty ideals in our culture are ever-changing, and shifts in what is considered acceptable in terms of body size and shape are highly dictated by the media, especially for women. Without a clear sense of self and an appreciation for their bodies regardless of others’ judgments of and expectations for them, adolescents are not equipped to weather and separate from the constant shifts in our culture’s media-driven beauty standards, and that problem persists into adulthood.

A recent shift that we have seen in the media is the emergence of a new trend called “fitspiration.” Made more widespread through social media outlets such as Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest, which are very popular among adolescents, this trend is marked by the proliferation of images like the ones above featuring women that are not only thin but also muscular, strong but also desirable, tan, and scantily dressed. The images are rarely full-body shots; they often focus on specific body parts and omit the woman’s face. The images are often paired with messages that encourage women to measure their self-worth only by their ability to punish their bodies, to fight through pain, and to exercise willpower. At its core, the “fitspiration” movement, like so many others, is intended to inspire women to be better, to chase what the media wants them to never achieve, a true sense that they are good enough. Because doing so would eliminate an enormous consumer base. Inspiring women, especially young women, in this way, further encouraging them to put all their energy into and to base their self-worth on their appearance continues to “entrap women in an endless cycle of cosmetics, beauty aids, diets, and exercise fanaticism and makes women’s bodies into prisons (Kimmel, 372, The Gendered Society).”

The “fitspiration” movement does inspire, but the truth is that its insidious messages inspire women of all ages to believe that their self-worth and value depends more on their appearance than anything else. Moreover, the messages illustrate our culture’s narrow definition of beauty, feed women’s drive for perfection, breed competition among women based on appearance, discourage connecting with and listening to our bodies, lead women to believe that exercising willpower, pushing their bodies harder, exercise longer, and lifting more is the key to their happiness, further the dichotomy between health and aesthetics when it comes to fitness, and encourage women to continue to view themselves through others’ eyes rather than their own, giving others power over their sense of self.

Allowing the media’s ever-changing expectations for women, and pervasive “fitspiration” messages in particular, to play such a large role in the development of an adolescent’s sense of self leads to a never-ending struggle to be skinny enough, to be sexy enough, to be pretty enough, and ultimately to be good enough and to be perfect, which continues on into adulthood. Young women dedicate so much of their lives to this drive for perfection, which detracts from their ability to find their true self-worth, which has nothing at all to do with their outward appearance.

Written by Jessica Betts, MS, RD, LD & Jamie Nottberg