Why 'Fitspiration' Isn't So Inspirational

By , Molly Galbraith
Warning: The images and words in this post could be triggering to anyone who has had an eating disorder.

"Strong is the new skinny."
 "When I exercise, I wear all black because it's like a funeral for my fat."
"Skinny is not sexy. Healthy is."

You've probably heard or read the quotes listed above at some point. They're known as "fitspiration" or "fitspo" for short. Fitspo pictures and posters are typically images of extremely fit, lean, and muscular women, with motivational quotes on them like the ones displayed above. 

Fitspo is supposed to be a healthy alternative "thinspo" (short for thinspiration). Thinspiration images typically display extremely thin women with motivational quotes regarding getting and staying thin.  In general, these were first created by online users who wanted to inspire and support women with eating disorders to continue with their disorders and stay as thin as possible.


Good thing fitspo became popular, huh?  At least now we have lots of healthy images floating around the web inspiring women to be healthy and strong instead of skinny, right?

Maybe not.  

You see, it's pretty obvious to the general public that thinspo isn't healthy.  We all know that aspiring to achieve a below-normal weight or developing an eating disorder to become extremely skinny is an unhealthy thing.  Not only do people who work to become unhealthily thin lose muscle mass and bone mass, but their body goes into survival mode and starts shutting down less important bodily processes like digestion and reproduction.

Fitspo on the other hand, is generally regarded as healthy.  The men and women pictured are fit, lean, and muscular.  So they must be super healthy and in-shape, right?
Not always. 

For some people, being very lean is extremely difficult to achieve and hard on the body.  Not all of us are designed to walk around with veins popping and our abs showing.  Sometimes, we can accomplish it for a short period of time, but what are we sacrificing in the long-term?  Our health? Our performance? Our sanity? Maybe all three.

This is what makes fitspo even scarier than thinspo in some ways.  Your average Jane Doe will recognize that the bodies shown in the thinspo images are not only very hard to attain, but definitely not healthy.  On the other hand, Jane usually doesn't recognize that the bodies shown in the fitspo pictures aren't always healthy or realistic for everyone, or that they're usually incredibly difficult to attain and maintain (despite what the creator of the fitspo images wants you to think).

But let's set health aside for a second.  Let's assume that the fitspo body is a healthy body.  Even then, what message are the fitspo posters sending?  That we should all be fit, lean, and muscular (not to mention tan, glistening, and busty too, right?) 

So how should you feel about yourself if you're not those things?   What if you're fair-skinned or flat-chested or can't get a six-pack to save your life, or have cellulite on your legs or extra skin from giving birth to a baby—despite doing your best to exercise and eat right consistently?

Should you feel like you aren't good enough? Aren't fit enough? Don't work hard enough? That maybe it's all your fault and you're just making too many excuses?

If this is what we look at and compare ourselves to, this is what becomes the standard by which we measure ourselves.  If we don't measure up, we feel like we are "lesser than."

I get it.  Fitspo is supposed to be a positive thing.  The images are intended to be motivating and inspiring images of strong, healthy women.  And I have no doubt that a lot of women who look at them do find some motivation to start exercising or not let excuses get the best of them.

But you know what's funny? 

The women who are inspired by those images tend to already be really fit!  Those who aren't already fit, and those who do need motivation to work out and take care of themselves feel intimidated by them and feel like they can't measure up. 

So the goal of fitspo and the feelings most women have after viewing fitspo, are in fact, completely opposite.  Instead of feeling motivated, many women feel like they aren't good enough.

Not to mention, some of these "uplifting" sayings actually put other groups of people down! 
There are dozens of "motivational" fitspo posters floating around with phrases like, "Real women have curves," or, "Real women have muscles." These posters are designed to encourage women who do look like that to feel good about their bodies.  And that's great.  But if you look more closely, they are doing it at the expense of other women.

Saying, "Real women have muscles," is extremely insulting to women who aren't muscular.  Telling a woman that she is not a "real woman" because she isn't curvy is an absolutely nasty and demeaning thing to say, too. 

It boils down to this: spreading the message that women "should be" skinny, curvy, muscular, voluptuous, fit, lean, toned, etc. is complete crap.  And that's what thinspo and fitspo both have in common.

Society doesn't get to dictate how our bodies should look, and putting other women and their bodies down in order to feel better about our own is NEVER a good thing.  The more that we spread negativity and hate, the more the negativity and hate will come back to us.
So what's the solution?

The solution is actually my life's mission:

To help women have grace and compassion when it comes to their bodies.

You see, when we have grace and compassion for our own bodies, then we afford that same grace and compassion to others.  We don't need to insult anyone's body to feel better about our own.   

Now I'm not saying that this is an easy task, but here's a tip to help. Next time you're tempted to turn to a fitspo poster for inspiration, why don't you sit down and think about your unique body, what you love about it, and what it allows you to do.

Can you run far? Jump high? Lift heavy? Move around without getting winded?

Can you change the water cooler at work without anyone's help or hoist 50-pound bags of dog food over your shoulder?

Does your body allow you to nurture and take care of yourself and your family?

Does your butt look absolutely killer in a nice pair of jeans?

Figure out what you love the most and are most proud of about your body, and don't forget it.  Then, share the wealth.  Give a friend a genuine compliment.  Tell her what you think is awesome about her body.  Not in relation to yours, or anyone else's.  Make it about her.  She will feel good, you will feel good, and the "good" will keep spreading.  

And that is more inspiring than a fitspo poster any day of the week.

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FIRYMIST 4/12/2021
good article! Report
CECELW 1/12/2021
we need healthy muscles all through out life Report
SUSANBEAMON 12/10/2020
All those "inspirational" posters shame someone. The only way to deal is to ignore them. Report
ZRIE014 10/27/2020
good article Report
ZRIE014 10/27/2020
good article Report
_CYNDY55_ 7/5/2020
Thanks Report
GRITTYBEAR 5/14/2020
This is a very good article. I agree that with some of the comments that we go too far with being too "PC" and why get angry at the saying "real women have muscles", but that is not the point of the article. In the article it states that pictures such as those shown in this article are not motivational for most women. They are more motivational for fit women and those that don't have as much to lose. For me I find them extremely intimidating and not motivating at all. I also know that my body will NEVER look like that no matter how much weight I lose or how much I workout. I don't have that type of body. I have been extremely thin and played sports year round and I never looked like any of those photos. Very good article, thank you! Report
Really good article, thank you! Report
Good article. Thanks. Report
I am going for healthy Report
Why do we need to shoot for the supposed gold ring of fitness when the picture we have in front of us is actually a person who has never had a weight problem in their life and they've been working out since they were in their teens every day of the week?! I don't need a skinny model telling me that I'm supposed to look like her. Our body types are due to a genetic disposition, not a choice. If you think you can beat the genetics then, by all means, give it a go, however, the majority of us are not meant to be naturally thin.

Ask yourself this, do I have naturally thin relatives living or dead who didn't go through starvation because they had to pay their rent or their farm didn't produce? Many people don't want to bother with their ancestry but it's good to know from what stock you came from. If you come from a line of short, stocky people then your chances are you're going to be short and to some degree stocky.

Remember, getting healthy does not mean becoming "American's Next Top Model". Report
I don't agree with this article. Ultimately it comes down to what inspires YOU. If you are inspired by seeing fit models, then use that. If YOU are sensitive about seeing fit models, use something else to motivate you.

I am overweight and I find the fitspo images and sayings motivational. I don't feel offended or stressed by them. They're not shaming me. They inspire me to keep going, keep working on my plan.

And similarly, we should NOT be shaming people who ARE lean or thin or fit or muscular. Sorry but I would NOT feel inspired by seeing “real bodies” a.k.a. images of large, overweight or obese people, people who look like where I am now. I want to keep an image in front of me that acts as a goal post for me - obviously not the exact body of the model, but to work toward achieving my own healthy body.

Seeing images of fit or muscular people is not going to suddenly cause me to starve myself or work out 6 hours a day. They also will not cause me to feel 'shamed" and give up. Because I'm realistic - I understand transformation takes time and commitment. Because ultimately I don't want to look like a magazine model. I want to look like the best version of ME that I can. Report
Great article! Thanks! Report
I would feel more inspired by an image of fitness than "curvy." I think it is a shame that this article suggests that people who are fit and thin are not real women. Stop body shaming those that are lean. Double standards are not attractive on anyone. Report
I'm overweight but for the most part I find fitspo very motivating. There's some that's too negative or restrictive certainly, but there's also a lot that focuses on healthy actions, rather than bodies. Images of people going out and running, reminders of beautiful places to see, inspired me to start running. Images of delicious food filled with veggies helps remind me to top up on healthful nutritious food. We're all inspired by different things. As long as people are aiming to be healthy, I say let them go with what works for them Report
Pleasing platitudes. Nice to hear but of questionable value! Report
Thank you! A lot of great information. Report
Interesting article Report
I quite agree with you there and sometimes I think men or women can take being muscular too far. I have seen pictures of men and women with bulging muscles and it looked unattractive to me. I have compared myself with others for a long time because I am still out of shape. I cannot lift over my shoulders because of bad shoulders. Report
Great perspective. Report
Very inspirational! Report
Very good advice! Report
Thanks for sharing! Report
I love this article! Yes I like what my body and I can do together. I'm kinder to my body. I want to nurture it and love it. I'm proud of the way 'I' look. That he likes it to just makes victory sweeter. Report
Thanks for sharing. Report
Thank you. Report
If someone takes these poster words and images to heart so deeply it affects their lives, help is needed for far more than that and by a professional , not Spark People. If you are able to recognize you have a problem, then you are the one to decide to use it as a reason to do better or an excuse not to do a damn thing. Go to SparkVideos to watch the model be air brushed into a beauty by the camera's opinion. Seriously? Get healthy step by step...and don't forget to be forgiviny, laughing, and realistic! Report
Great article! Report
A very good article! Report
Such a fantastic article! Report
Hmm; personally, I find these photos and slogans VERY inspiring. Having lost 67 lbs. by now and still going strong, I'd say they're working for me. Report
Thanks for this great info! Report
Thanks - great article. Report
I think this is a great article. And for those people accusing people of being "sensitive ninnies" and those who find offense over the "only real women..." obviously never had anyone ruin their self-esteem nor had anyone tell them they are not a real woman. I don't have kids and for years I was told I was "not a real woman" for not having them. So before name calling and putting people down, try to have some compassion about where that comes from. It took me a long time for me to have the self-esteem I now have and I'm still very hard on myself. Women and girls are constantly being bombarded by images of how we're "supposed" to look. I know I will never look like those images however I do know I can work hard to get the best body I can. It won't look like the images I see, but I will be better and healthier for it. Report
Excellent article. Thank you for these words of wisdom! Report
I guess I'm a little "insensitive" because I think the Fitbo ads are fine. I certainly see nothing offensive about them. Perhaps if I had a major self-esteem problem, I would be bothered, but I am aware that I am not physically fit and will have to work to get there. I will never be thin or muscle-bound but I will make the effort to get stronger and healthier as the ads indicate we all should. Report
I begin to wonder if it's possible to be too PC. ANY statement can be offensive to someone looking for offense. But I AM grateful for this article and the comments submitted because I honestly find "fitspiration" very motivational and empowering; it never occurred to me that others could find it negative.
Thank you. Report
Great article! Thanks. Report
These kinds of so called “motivational “ cutesy posters and sayings are on the daily community feed on here, as a matter of fact...apparently no one from SP monitors them. People pushing semi starvation, or drinking nonsense mixtures, elixirs made from recipes known to be toxic, cleanses, etc. Report
GREAT article! Thanks! Report
Great Article
I looked online and found pictures of women that look like a realistic goal, for me and my body type, to use as inspiration. At 46 I know I won't look like a supper muscular/fit 20yr old once the weight is gone, but I do know I can reach a fit/strong and healthy 160lbs. I enjoyed the article and even liked the web page articles on her site. Report
My husband and I work every night delivering. We have a good friend whom has been really helping inspire me. He's young, he's very positive and he is very fit physically. He started working out and is helping with my challenge. I started at 300 lbs. I had lost 126 lbs 8 yrs ago, was feeling so good and fit but I did not have a body that I wanted. I would feel good then be reminded by a trainer that I needed a lot to work on to have a fit body. I started really hating how I looked again. I gained slowly for 5 years and here I am.

So ty SP, I have lost near 30 lbs in 7 weeks but moreso, I feel hopeful and I want to exercise again. I start to love me as me. But my friend, a very sweet young man, said to me I was doing awesome and to keep pushing to make my body firm and fit again. He said, I dont want to be rude, but women with those firm, toned bodies are 'hot'. The more he said, the more my really happy feeling went down. But I won't be that again and I found it disturbing that this is what it comes down to for inspiring weight loss. It's discouraging.

The previous comments simply implying people aren't strong enough and are ninnies for choosing to take them seriously aren't understanding real eating disorders. They are much deeper then simply a diet. Many women here have depression, abusive relationships and have been put down all their lives. Self esteem doesn't come from being born and saying I will be stronger then that. You may be stronger from where you come from but this world has many people whom deserve a little more understanding.

I am strong but not always and I'm worse for those years when I wasn't. My health isn't so good now and I think I gave up some years for letting those people with the mindset of 'perfection' and 'fit' rule me but that's not something I asked for. It's not something anyone asks for. Aren't we supposed to be teaching our daughters to love themselves for who they are and not live a in a world where they're always judged by what media tells us? Yes at 45 I can look back and say sure, you can choose. But at 20, lets be real, it's all about peers, boyfriends and what young friends like ours said.

My 16 yr old daughter fights challenges she got from being my daughter. She goes through days of horrible teen pressure and self esteem that we try to build up but these ads; they don't help anything.
In a similar vein, I find the photo attached to Day 4 of SP's 30-Day Jumpstart Your Workout Challenge to be very disturbing. From the back, dressed in a tiny sports bra that looks loose, is a woman with a knobby shoulder bone poking up, and loose skin wrinkling on her skinny body--perhaps because she has no fat on her body at all or has lost lost an excess of weight: she does not look healthy! Yet I'm supposed to be inspired by her or want to look like that? Oh, heck no! Please feature real people with real bodies more, Spark People! Report
Loved your article. I recently shared on my Spark teams that I thought it was sad that a great article about 17 yoga poses that can help you alleviate pain mainly featured pictures of young, tiny, extremely flexible yoga teachers. I fear that most of the overweight, inflexible, older people who saw that article would take one look at the first couple pictures, think "I can't do that!" and be turned off to the possibility that they might ever develop a yoga practice or derive any benefit from it. I wish Spark would do a better job of using "real people" photos for their articles, and modifications for the less fit, less flexible and older members. Report
Why would a comment like "real women have a six-pack" demean me? I have the choice to buy into that or not, and I'm not the kind of ninny who would take offense at that. Are women really so fragile and easily offended that words like that actually hurt them? If so, it doesn't say much for my sex. If someone says real women have whatever, it is NOT at my expense. It takes absolutely nothing from me, nor does it invalidate anything about me. I can't imagine how any woman with anything between her ears would think it did. What the hell has happened to feminism that sought to empower women? This just encourages the crybabies among us. Report
What profanity? I liked this article. Report
First of all, I really don't like the profanity that you used in the article. I think you can do better! I don't use profanity when I write, or when I talk to others. Show some respect for yourself and your audience by leaving it out.

I think there might be some good fitspiration memes. People should feel encouragement to pursue fitness as a lifestyle, and not just a means to an end, like with the thinspiration memes. But people should definitely not be putting down others. And super thin people aren't all that inspiring, because they may be working out too much. If the saying on the meme is mean to others or gross, or if the model looks anorexic, pass it up! Don't post those.

"Real women have muscles" is a parody of "Real women have curves." It was written in response to something that left people out, as a way of muscular women to feel good about themselves. I'm not so sure we should demonize anyone for that. It's a classic literary device, songs are parodied, TV shows, movies, books, short stories. Going after anyone for writing a parody, going after women for doing it, is like saying we should all be airheads. I actually take offense that you don't think it's okay to parody anything. As Americans, we have free speech, and that includes writing something that is inclusive of a group of people that take care of their bodies and are proud of being muscular. Report