Healthy Living

The Unspoken Costs Of 'Fitspo'

To begin to heal and move past our collective obsession with the thin-ideal, we have to understand what we’re up against.
01/27/2017 04:38pm ET | Updated July 8, 2017
Scott Webb

Do you ever feel that your life revolves around your body?

The way it looks. The way it doesn’t look. The way it could look.

Have you ever attached meaning to a number?

A number on the scale. A number in your pants. A number of calories you’re allotted.

It’s exhausting.

And you’re not alone.

A survey conducted by Glamour found that losing weight has remained women’s top priority in their quest for happiness. In fact, the survey discovered that since their previous survey in the ‘80s, women’s body image has actually worsened. Significantly.

There are many factors that have contributed to the ongoing and growing trend of self-loathing that leads to obsession with diet and size. Social media being a primary culprit.

64 percent of women report that looking at images posted by “fitspos” actually makes them feel significantly worse about themselves. And with a reported 1.8 billion photos being uploaded to Facebook and Instagram everyday, it’s hard for women to avoid falling into a comparison trap.

As a consumer, I can say that I’ve fallen victim to comparing myself to, and longing for, the body that so many accounts proudly display. And, this sparked my curiosity. I wondered what it was like to be on the other side of the account.

To gain some insight, I recently interviewed Heather* a personal trainer and social media phenom whose Instagram account has boasted thousands of followers and “likes” on pictures displaying her a lean physique.

“I feed off of the positive attention I get for my muscular physique, but at the same time as I’m receiving a compliment, I feel like a fraud because people don’t know how much emotional pain has gone into the process.” I often envy people who can wake up and feel comfortable in their skin *no matter what they look like or weigh.* Even at my best conditioning, I’m afraid to see myself in the mirror, because it’s still not as good as the next woman’s” she shared.

At first glance, Heather’s account appeared to be similar to the many “fitspos” within the social media world. But when looked at carefully, she had scattered posts speaking to an ongoing and deeply rooted struggle she has with her body image and relationship with food.

“I avoid restaurants as much as possible and spend a considerable amount of time per week prepping food to ensure control and abstinence from day to day. This time could be spent doing something more meaningful. It consumes my thoughts and time, distracting me from quality thoughts and experiences,” Heather disclosed about her drive to maintain her lean physique.

She continued, “I haven’t eaten a meal with my family in over a year. This Thanksgiving, we went to this beautiful buffet and I sat and watched my family eat. I knew that if I were to partake, that I would get so caught up in self-loathing and fear that I would disconnect.”

In recent months, Heather has deactivated the popular Instagram account. Instead of posting frequent physique updates for the public, she has committed to unraveling how she arrived to this point of body and weight obsession. Beginning therapy, she shared, has been a critical first step.

This is the side to the “fitspo” phenomenon that being on the other side of a screen, oftentimes halfway around the world, we aren’t privy to. This is the side that so many women around the world can relate to: feeling not-good-enough based on the way we perceive our bodies.

In a way, these “fitspos” aren’t so different from us after all.

To begin to heal and move past our collective obsession with the thin-ideal, we have to understand what we’re up against. The diet industry is a 60 billion dollar per year industry that is invested in luring us into a belief that weight loss is the cure all to disease, to confidence and to self love.

Between the “lose weight,” “get fit,” and “beast mode” messaging relayed from this industry, along with the “fitspo” images we habitually expose ourselves to, it’s no wonder why body-loathing has become a global epidemic.

But, there are effective strategies that you can implement to begin to shift away from this, for lack of a better word, trap.

Seek help ― From a counselor who specializes in body image and disordered eating.

Awareness ― Take a moment to become aware of how the “fitspo” images are making you feel. Do they make you feel better, or worse about yourself? Are they motivating? If so, is that motivation coming from a place of self-love or a place of self-loathing?

Question ― Would you want your daughter, niece, or little sister to be longing for (and doing whatever it takes to achieve) the type of body you’ve seen glorified on the ‘gram and in the media? Would you want her speaking to herself the way you have spoken to yourself?

Unfollow ― Remove access to as many images as possible that send you into a self-deprecating spiral. Yes, this includes the “fitspo” accounts that we follow, like, and have longed to become.

Follow ― Accounts that promote body neutrality and body positivity. Expose yourself to bodies of all shapes and sizes. Studies have demonstrated that when women are shown pictures of other women with a range of body sizes, they quickly begin to become more comfortable with body diversity.

Research ― The Body Positive Movement and Health at Every Size. Familiarize yourself with an evidence based philosophy that focuses on a life of wellness and the countless health benefits that come along with ending your war against fat.

Sarah Herstich is a therapist and coach in Horsham, PA who works with women struggling with anxiety, self-esteem, body image and disordered eating. You can learn more about Sarah and her work at sarahherstichlcsw.com.

*Names have been changed to protect identity.

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