Friday, March 8, 2013

A Feminine Critique: Fitspiration goals lead to high death tolls

by Ruthie Kovanen, Guest Columnist
If you’ve perused health and lifestyle blogs on Tumblr or moseyed around workout inspiration-themed Pinterest boards, you’ve probably run into the so-called "fitspiration." A supposed healthy response to the dangerous popularity of "thinspiration" blogs, fitspiration has taken the web by storm.

Fitspiration blogs — filled with workout routines, pictures of very lean and muscular bodies, recipes and diet plans — often seem harmless and perhaps even positive at first glance.

Many wonder what could be so destructive about blogs that promote "healthy lifestyles." With further scrutiny though, it appears as though many fitspiration blogs are very similar to their thinspiration cousins.

Thinspiration — also often referred to as "pro-ana," aka pro-anorexia — is an idea that has manifested into an inordinate number of blogs and websites dedicated to the glorification of extreme thinness. Photos of emaciated women with protruding bones and "inspiration" to refrain from eating — such as the popular saying, "nothing tastes as good as skinny feels" — overwhelm thinspo sites.

Thinspos are often intended as weight-loss inspiration, but frequently result in disordered eating habits, low self-esteem and depression.

Many assert that fitspiration differs from thinspiration in that it promotes living a healthy lifestyle rather than restrictive food intake and eating disorders. More often than not, however, fitspos promote other agendas.

Rather than focusing on working with and listening to the body, fitspos view the body as something that needs to be altered, fixed and perfected. Instead of focusing on a well-balanced diet, many fitspos concentrate heavily on restrictive calorie consumption. Fitspos frequently promote the achievement of very thin and lean bodies — a culturally constructed symbol of "health" — rather than health at every size and weight.

Fitspos are not a step up from thinspos. They glorify the achievement of a specific body type rather than honoring the body that you’re in. They promote excessive exercise routines and often contain body-shaming language intended to act as a motivational force.

Many sites often quote the saying, "unless you puke, faint, or die, keep going." Body shaming and glorifying extreme exercise are not ways to promote a "healthy lifestyle," but rather promote obsession.

It is valuable to note that not all fitness, health and wellness blogs are inherently harmful. Many websites that promote healthy lifestyles and reasonable weight loss without employing extreme measures exist. It is possible to live well without an obsession with caloric intake and expenditure — in fact, it’s probably much healthier to do so.

In the end, it is up to you to decide what to do with your body and which information you decide to listen to. If you want to alter your appearance in any way, do it for you — not because of a feeling of "obligation" to do so. Move your body to enhance cardiovascular health and eat a wide variety of foods that enhance your well-being.

Contrary to what fitspos and popular culture have to say, your body is just fine the way it is.

Ruthie Kovanen hails from the great state of Michigan, is a sophomore at Pacific Lutheran University and is studying anthropology, Hispanic studies and women’s and gender studies. Aside from reading and writing about feminism, Ruthie enjoys chatting over a cup of coffee, baking bread and spending time outdoors.