Despite their claim that ‘skinny is not sexy, health is’, the new ‘fitspo’, is merely thinly veiled thinspiration. The fitness models that represent fitspiration culture maintain an extremely low level of body fat. Unlike the anorexic girls of the thinspiration era, however, their additional muscle mass provides the appearance of health.
In addition to promoting the same obsessions as its predecessor, fitspiration offers an even more impossible ideal. One article in the Telegraph summarises the danger of subscribing to the new fit ideal: ‘Thinspo, although repulsive, is honest about its agenda. Your body is your enemy, fat is filthy, bones are beautiful, starve yourself to succeed. Fitspo is the greater liar, because the motivating slogans accompanying such images imply that all you have to do is work harder, and a completely different body can be yours.’
The danger of fitspiration therefore lies in the fact that it masquerades as health and fitness. One motivational quotation inspires healthy eating and exercise by imploring the onlooker to ‘do it for the fun…confidence…satisfaction…happiness.’ Yet, these positive aspects are undermined by the remaining mantras which, like thinspiration, encourage to, ‘do it for the skinny jeans, bikinis, crop tops, stares.’ The thought patterns and behavior of fitspiration are potentially as destructive and compulsive as self-starvation, yet they are disguised by rhetoric of willpower and dedication.
While Fitspiration claims that ‘strong is the new skinny’, this is undermined by its replication of thinspiration conventions. Its followers continue to post meals, tips, and countless selfies; yet now a tighter, more muscular physique is their idol. The focus on health and fitness renders this new trend more socially acceptable than thinspiration.
‘Fitness’ is now an umbrella term that includes a multitude of obsessive exercise and food related behaviours. Like the thinspiration websites, members of the fitspo movement view their choices as a dedicated lifestyle, rather than a dangerous obsession: ‘obsession is a word the lazy use to describe the dedicated.’ The compulsive nature of this behaviour is confirmed by another meme that states, ‘once you see results, it becomes an addiction.’
It is via social media that many women, including physique competitors, are influenced by visions of the ideal body. According to one Bikini model, the ‘constant stream of images’ provided by Instagram and Facebook that track the weight loss journeys of fellow competitors ‘alters your perception of what is normal. The fitness model physique becomes the norm that you want to attain.’ The greater the exposure to these images, the more this type of body becomes normalised. These women are believed not only to have perfect figures, but also perfect lives. Their physical perfection connotes ‘self-respect and strength of character.’
This social standard of physical appearance has long been a feminist concern; critic Esther Rothblum commenting that ‘[w]e have long been made to feel guilty and immoral because we do not meet unattainable and debilitating standards of attractiveness.’ The constant comparison with the fitspiration ideal can contribute to low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness. One competitor remarked upon the difficulty of ‘seeing much better women’s bodies than yours: it’s a real struggle constantly striving to look you best but feeling downhearted when you see other bikini athletes posting their pictures on Facebook and realising you look nowhere near as good as they do.
This perception can potentially lead to patterns of disorderly eating as women strive to achieve an unrealistic physique.
 Feminist Perspectives on Eating Disorders, ed. by Patricia Fallon, Melanie A. Katzman, Susan C. Wooley (The Guilford Press: London, 1994), p.72 from ‘”I’ll Die for the Revolution but Don’t Ask Me Not to Diet”: Feminism and the Continuing Stigmatization of Obesity’ by Esther D. Rothblum