I’ve discussed the issue of disability and being a Spoonie a bit previously here. Today I want to look at the ways in which fitspo is actually shaming, ableist, and hurtful.
Fistspo, or fitness inspiration, has become very popular on all social media platforms. Fistpo’s “goal”, as touted by those who create and share it, is to “inspire” you to get fit. Usually this is done with “inspiring” statements encouraging viewers to get off their asses and go work out, plastered across pictures of washboard abs or rock solid glutes. “What’s your excuse?” is a popular phrase, brought into the media spotlight by Maria Kang. Click to read the ABC news story on her picture, but be warned, she makes no apologies for her fat-shaming or how it may have hurt anyone who saw the image.
The problem with fitspo, and especially with phrases like “What’s your excuse?”, is that it leaves out a lot of important considerations. First and foremost being that no one needs an excuse for not looking like a fitness model or even for not exercising. Why? Because it’s no one else’s business but your own what you choose to do with your body. Period. Full stop. I don’t need an “excuse” because I do not have to justify my existence to anyone, TYVM.
Fitspo can also be highly problematic to anyone who suffers with eating disorders, body dis-morphia, or self-esteem issues. For someone who is struggling to love their body and is doing the very hard work of learning how to take care of their body again, images such as these can cause major setbacks. According to the ANAD, “up to 24 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder) in the U.S”. In addition, “95% of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25.8”, and “The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate associated with all causes of death for females 15-24 years old” (emphasis mine). These images do nothing to help millions of young people who are already bombarded every day with media that tells them that in order to be pretty/popular/or worthy, they must be thin, at any cost.
Now, relating to how fitspo plays into ableism, its images and messages ignore the fact that many people, especially those dealing with disabilities, both visible and invisible, may not be able to participate in fitness, especially to the degree required to achieve washboard abs and roch hard glutes. For someone like myself, who is dealing with fibromyalgia, or for those who deal with diseases such as lyme, lupus, or CFS, our disability is likely less visible. So according to proponents of fitspo and the like, we have “no excuse”. Never mind the fact that there are days when I debate with myself for 10 minutes about whether taking a shower is worth the pain it will cause, let alone going to the gym for a workout. Even people with visible disabilities such as those that require them to use a wheelchair or prosthetic limbs, have no excuse thanks to so-called ‘inspiration porn’, images of disabled individuals doing Crossfit and lifting a barbell with one arm, wheelchair athletes, and the like. Now, I’m certainly not trying to downplay anyone’s athletic achievements, able bodied or differently abled. My point is that no matter your ability, the only acceptable body is still one that is fit and active. And the inspiration porn featuring disabled folks is hardly celebrating their achievements. Rather it serves as a message to able bodied folks that says “Look at this poor disabled person. He only has one arm but he can lift weights and have a muscular body! If he can do it, then you have no excuse!”
I am all for finding things to inspire you to find enjoyable ways to move your body, if you so choose. However, I would like to see more positive images, rather than images meant to shame you into doing what other people think you should. I believe in finding ways to move your body, simply because it makes you feel good. I also believe that no one knows your body better than you, and therefore no one else knows what you can or cannot handle on any given day. Some days I can hop on the treadmill, zone out, and walk/jog/run for 3 miles, and love every minute of it. Some days I can get off the treadmill, do 20 minutes of work on weights, and then hop in the pool for a 15 minute swim, and finish up feeling tired but great. Then there are some days where if I can manage the drive to the gym, all I can handle when I get there is a 10 minutes of gentle movement in the warm pool. Or maybe I just go and sit in the steam room or hot tub to loosen the knots that seem to have moved in to every muscle of my body. Some days I can’t even manage the drive to the gym, and just do my best to get from my chair to the bathroom when I need to pee!
Fitspo and its proponents seem to forget that all bodies are good bodies. They forget that it isn’t anyone’s business but my own whether I exercise or sit of my duff. They forget that not only is body shaming cruel, but it does far more harm than good.
My hope is that one day we will celebrate the wonder and beauty in EVERY body, rather than just those that fit society’s narrow standards of beauty.
I want to encourage you to celebrate your body today (and every day) for all the crazy-cool things it can do. Take some time today to check your sexy self out in the mirror. Find those spots that bother you, those spots that the media says are “trouble spots” and need to be “slimmed/smoothed/reduced”. Really look at your body, especially any areas that you have trouble loving. Touch those spots and find something about them to compliment. For me, my belly has been a source of shame for too many years. Now when I look in the mirror, I like to look at my belly (from the front AND the side!) and tell myself how much I love it’s soft curves that look like a big, rolling hill. Some nights I lie in bed and caress my belly and focus on how soft it is, tickle the little happy trail that lets from my big round belly down onto my pudgy pubic mound.
Today, whether you are able-bodied or not, whether you have all the limbs or are rocking some bionic bits, whether you have all the spoons you need or are struggling to find a stray spoon that might let you wash your hair….take a little time today to love yourself. Celebrate the body that you are in, right here, right now. Because no matter what, you are alive. And that, my friends, is pretty damn cool.