Lost in a Smartphone

Fitspiration, Thinspiration, and Personal Health at Odds

Sounds great, looks great, not helpful. That’s how we would sum up the evidence for “fitspiration” social media posts and their influence on personal health. Oxford defines this genre as “a person or thing that serves as motivation for someone to sustain or improve health and fitness.”

But a recent systematic review puts a harsher light on it. Kayla Nuss, Rebecca Coulter, and Sam Liu summarize what they found:

“Fitspiration is an overwhelmingly popular form of social media that users often look to for motivation for physical activity. It appears, however, that fitspiration posts feature women more often than men, thin and visibly muscular bodies, people posing rather than exercising, and objectify the subject to a degree. It also has no discernable effect on physical activity by those who view it.”

More Thinspiration Than Fitspiration?

Renee Engeln is a professor of psychology at Northwestern University who studies how media influences body image. She told the New York Times:

“Much of what could be called ‘fitfluencer’ content is really just ‘thin-spiration’ in disguise. An influencer might post a useful tutorial on how to safely do squats, but then follow it up with content promoting ineffective (or even dangerous) weight loss supplements.”

Indeed, experimental research suggests a real problem with fitspiration imagery on Instagram. It can have negative effects on mood, body image, and exercise behavior for young women who view it.

All About Image

Researchers at the University of South Australia conducted an audit of fitspiration Instagram accounts. Their findings cast doubt on the idea that fitspiration influencers are promoting personal health. Lead author Rachel Curtis explained:

“In this research we found that many fitspiration accounts contained hyper-sexualised images and videos, as well as potentially harmful or unhealthy content. Many of the accounts promoted unhealthy or unre­alistic body shapes – with a strong focus on ultra-fit, slim physiques – implying that only thin and toned bodies are considered healthy and beautiful.

“Such a focus on appearance can drive outward-based reasons to exercise, and this can lead to body image issues and concerns.”

When we confuse appearance with health, problems ensue.

Click here for the study by Nuss et al, here for the study by Curtis et al, and here for further perspective from the Times.

Lost in a Smartphone, photograph by pixellaphoto / Wikimedia Commons

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December 8, 2023

One Response to “Fitspiration, Thinspiration, and Personal Health at Odds”

  1. December 09, 2023 at 3:00 am, Mary-Jo said:

    So true. Many of these online fitness apps feature people who are young and fit already. Many of the exercises and movements with repetitions urged, even pushed, may actually do physical harm to people who can’t do them as instructed. Of course, also, it leaves people who can’t do the exercises psychologically vulnerable, feeling more hopeless than ever that they are capable of getting fit, improving their health, let alone their appearance.