Posts Tagged ‘fitspo’

My first introduction to Jillian Michaels, before I really knew about the biggest loser or anything related to that, was looking at workout videos that were available for streaming on Netflix years back and I tried one of hers, and I didn’t finish it because her mentality pissed me off so much. Specifically what pissed me off was she stated at one point something along the lines of “I know you feel like you’re dying, but you aren’t, so don’t stop”.


Image of Jillian Michaels with a quote “I want you to feel like you’re going to die.”

Excuse me?

Are you in my living room with me? Do you know my health background? What makes you talking to people you don’t know and can’t see qualified to actually say that none of those people are actually in danger if they push through feeling like they are dying?

That attitude and disregard for the well being of people so disgusted me that I couldn’t stand to finish the video with her. I later learned more about her and discovered that her entire fame as a trainer is based around a total disregard for the well being of others

This is also an attitude that I see often put forth  in“fitspo”- encouragement to just push through no matter how awful you feel, and the insistence that feeling “bad” is always normal.

The truth is though, not all kinds of bad feelings during workouts are normal, ok, or safe! Pushing through some of that “I feel like I’m dying” can be dangerous! “I feel like I’m dying” sometimes is the precursor to death!

The thing is, not only can someone who doesn’t know us, what we are feeling, and what our health is, say for certain if we are really ok when we feel bad during a workout, sometimes we don’t know enough to make that judgment either!

I’m thinking about this now following my brand new diagnosis of asthma!

See, after a krav maga workout last week I started coughing, which is not very unusual for me. Though the coughing kept getting worse, was far worse than ever before. and lasted longer than usual. Maybe or maybe not related to me working out around others and feeling embarrassed to stop and take a breather when I felt like I couldn’t breath.

After this I started looking up info on coughing after workouts and talked with a few people about it, since like I said- it’s far from the first time I coughed following a workout. I’ve always before though just thought that was normal. One woman replied to me online telling me she was the same, until it was so bad she ended up in the ER and found out the coughing was not normal but rather asthma. Thankfully I got in to my pcp for the diagnosis and prescribed an inhaler before ending up in the ER.

It reminds me that sometimes feeling like you can’t breathe isn’t normal out of breath from a workout, sometimes it is a serious (if not treated) medical condition!

It is really dangerous that we have this mentality that workouts should make you feel like you are dying and the correct response is always just to “suck it up” and push through anything and everything no matter what. People absolutely can get hurt by this.

So I’ve been thinking a bit about being inspiring to others, and then read a post on Fit is a Feminist Issue the other day about being inspiring and it made me want to post something here about it.

Awhile back someone commented on one of my running blogs saying:

I love hearing about your running. Each time I think ‘one day that will be me. One day I’ll be well enough to run’. It’s inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing.

And I was kind of shocked, in a happy way, reading that. First off, I started blogging my runs because I find it motivating in a way that’s hard to describe, and I wasn’t really sure anyone else would read them let alone enjoy reading them.

Also I never would have imagined it to be inspiring to anyone. It’s not like I’m running marathons or anything, I’m out there going slow and not very far.

While I can’t speak for the person who left that comment, I started thinking about it though, and realized that it makes sense in many ways to find more inspiration in seeing someone else through the process of something than just the end result, if that end result is something that you don’t feel like you could do. Just seeing someone else run a marathon would not for me be as inspiring as seeing someone else who struggles with running talk about the whole process of training for it, seeing the progress, set backs, frustrations- because that can make you think “Maybe I could do that.”

Also I looked up the commenter’s blog after reading that and it made sense to see that it was someone else who is struggling with chronic illness. It makes sense to find inspiration from someone else like us doing something we would like to do. I know for myself I also struggle with fitness being primarily dominated by people who are generally healthy- as most areas of life are. I don’t think it shouldn’t be of course, people with chronic conditions are a slight minority and even then the effects are vastly different based on condition and individual. I personally struggle though with remembering that I can’t expect my training to look just like someone else who is generally in good health. Our experiences will be different. So when I do meet other folks who lift or run and have similar health issues as me, it is really great to see other people like myself doing these things as well.

So that’s my own background and what I’d been thinking about this before Natalie’s post on Fit is a Feminist Issue. In her post she takes issue with being called inspiring, coming from a perspective in which it seems she is often called “inspiring” by people who are different than her in a key way because of the idea that people like her don’t normally do that type of thing. In her case, the main issue she brought up was body size. Fat people aren’t expected to be active and athletic, leading to the “inspiring” thought process of “if even she can do that, I must be able to as well”. Which is a very different kind of inspiration, because it’s based on seeing that person as less than yourself. If even this person who should be less athletic than me based on X characteristic can do this, surely someone like me can as  well.

This is pretty common with both fat and disabled athletes. Many disability activists have also spoken out about “inspiration porn”. Stella Yound in her Tedx talk says these “inspirational” images of people with disabilities “objectify one group of people for the benefit of another group of people.”  This gets to the heart of what I think is the difference between when inspiring someone is great, and when it’s kind of icky. Seeing someone who is like you, such as someone with a similar disability or another fat person, doing something that you didn’t think you could, or that you are often told you can’t do because of that characteristic, can certainly be inspiring and it’s why it’s great to see more representation. Seeing more fat athletes or athletes with disabilities is great when it comes to providing encouragement to other fat people and people with disabilities, who can feel empowered by that to be more involved in aspects of fitness they enjoy.

It becomes kind of gross and really rude though when it’s taken as “inspiring” to people unlike the person in question.

This is so often the case of how images of athletes with disabilities are used. I see all the time people sharing images or video of athletes with clearly visible disabilities- typically people either born without certain limbs, or who have had them amputated, and the message is clearly stated- if this person can do it, then so can you. So can you because you are better than this person already because you aren’t disabled. The intended audience who are meant to be inspired aren’t other people with disabilities who think “that person is like me!”, it’s people without disabilities. And the reason it should be inspiring to people without disabilities is predicated on the social belief that people with disabilities are less than able-bodied people.

I’ve been getting more and more frustrated lately with certain messages I see on fitness based websites and from people I follow on various websites who are into fitness that are all about fitness and diet being all consuming of their lives.

And I understand some of it and can relate, on those days when friends are trying to get me to come out to a party and I just want to stay home and lift weights, it’s nice to connect with other people who do the same and joke about having no social life in favor of weights. I get that. Just the same as I like connecting with other doctoral students and academics and joking about having no life because of school, staying in to write papers or read, or thinking you can go out and read while you are there (I tried this when I started my program, lol. “I can go out to the bar and just bring my kindle with me and read while I’m there in order to do it all!”

But there is a point when it goes passed this joking about spending time with your barbell instead of at a bar, into this idea that the only thing in life is working out and eating.

It’s been more of a slow thing for me. The first few times I see people talk about their whole lives revolving around their fitness and diet it didn’t seem like a big thing. But being around it over and over I’m getting so annoyed with it. And again, I’m talking about the idea that one’s whole life revolves around fitness and diet- can’t EVER go out because you are either working out or sleeping. Can’t ever drink because it doesn’t fit your diet. Only friends are at the gym.

One example of this:

Well there is also a problematic message here about not trusting your girlfriend. If your girlfriend is out at the bar with her friends, that shouldn’t be a problem. She should be allowed to have a life outside of you, the gym, eating, and sleeping. Actually that kind of reeks of the way abusers seek to isolate their victims from all other areas of support in their lives :-\

But it’s also frustrating the idea that fitness means it’s your whole life.

So this “everything has to be about fitness” trend is bugging me. But when things annoy me I do try to stop and work out why it annoys me, why do I feel that way about it. So I was thinking about this. Because I’m questioning myself, why does it bother me if other people make fitness the center of their life? Why does it matter if everything revolves around that for them? It’s their choice and their life!

So trying to work through it, I realize what really bugs me about it is the way is seems to suggest that this is what fitness always looks like. A “fitness girl” never does anything but workout, sleep, and eat… and spend time with her significant other. Apparently she doesn’t even have a job! (unless she works at the gym?)  She has no friends outside of you or the gym. She has no other hobbies or interests. Just the gym and food. This isn’t speaking to one single person’s life choices, it’s suggesting this is what fitness always looks like. This is the only way to be involved in fitness it to take it to the extreme of having everything else in your life revolve around it.

That’s not the case! You can enjoy fitness and still have a wide variety of other hobbies and interests! You can enjoy a night at the barbell on day and a night at the bar drinking and singing karaoke with your friends another. You can track your macros and still enjoy some beer or wine here and there. You can workout and still have friends! Or even a family! You can enjoy fitness and whatever else happens to be part of your life!

And the reality is, people who enjoy fitness come from all walks of life. We all have a wide variety of other interests and hobbies besides working out and eating food.

That’s what bugs me about this. The redefining of “fitness” to exclude the vast majority of people who enjoy some form of fitness activity, and the message to anyone thinking of starting a fitness routine that the only right way to do it is to give up everything else that you enjoy. That’s bullshit. If you want to make fitness your whole life, good for you, it’s your life, but don’t pretend that’s what “fitness” inherently is.

So I saw this article on facebook, posted by the girls gone strong facebook page, and one reason I love following them! I love that they a promoting fitness and weight lifting for women but from a perspective that is more cognizant of the health messages around it.

This article is by Jen Sinkler about the “no excuses” photos of women with kids and 6-pack abs.

That’s the thing about both Pell and Kang: Both wholeheartedly appear to believe they are spreading positive messages. And I applaud them for demonstrating a commitment to their fitness in spite of busy lives. But the ripple effect of the many photos they post of their ripped abs—or, more to the point, their challenging, abrasive “no excuses” captions—is not as clear.

An increasing number of teen girls are steering clear of high school sports because Facebook and Instagram are making them feel body conscious, according to a 2014 study out of Flinders University in Australia. “A lot of the girls who were interviewed actually spend a fair bit of time on ‘fitspo’ [fitness inspiration] pages,” said Claire Drummond, Ph.D., associate professor of social health sciences, in a post about the study on the Flinders site. “The problem is a lot of these pages contain images of fitness models with six packs and skinny bodies that are completely unattainable to everyday young women.”

. . .

Our bodies are our own business, and truly empowering messages revolve around what we can learn to do with them rather than how we can shift and starve and shape them to look a certain way. If Kang and Pell want to truly motivate others, they would be better off dropping unwittingly combative, shame-inducing comparisons. When it comes to real inspiration, “Come with me” always trumps “Look at me.”

This has also reminded of a few other articles I read awhile back, and meant to blog about but didn’t get around to, about “fitspo”.

There have been a number of articles written asking the question “Is fitspo just as dangerous as thinspo?” (TW for… well, thinspo)

And, well, I feel like we should be asking why “fitness” is modeling terminology after something associated so strongly with eating disorders? Who thought that was a good message for promoting health?

And this article (5 reasons “fitspo” is bad for your health) states that “fitspo” started gaining popularity right around the time sites like instragram started banning thinspo/thinsporation. For many, “fitspo” is “thinspo” but hidden behind the guise of health to make it seem more ok.

It also brings to mind though the recent blog post from the blog Fit and Feminist: A Coach is Not a Therapist. One thing she talks about is seeing women who seem to be struggling with mental health issues including eating disorders recommended diets or hiring fitness coaches. There are people who turn to “fitness” and “fitspo” to support an eating disorder, and what is the fitness community doing, or should be doing, to help support real health (which means not supporting eating disorders, body dysmorphia, and the idea that happiness means a certain body size)?

I gotta say, I don’t know the answer. It brings to mind some photos I’ve seen on a fitness website that I said nothing about because I don’t want to say something negative about someone’s body and I don’t know how to express this concern without it coming across that way- but I have seen women post photos of their stomachs where every rib is visible and pushing out against their skin, and they comment how they just need to lose a few more pounds to get their abs to really pop.

I know the mantra- “abs are made in the kitchen”. (And my “excuse” for not having visible abs is primarily that I don’t want visible abs!) But come on! When I can see all your ribs that clearly, if your abs are not as defined as you think they should be, the problem is definitely not too much body fat.

And maybe one way to combat is to take over “fitspo” with messages that are actually healthy though? I don’t know.

I do know that I see people use “fitsporation” and “fitspo” for things that do not fall into the “thinspo with abs” category. There was another article on everydayfeminism  about the good, the bad, and they ugly of “fitspo”.

The term is out there. It exists. And people, including young girls, are following these hashtags. So maybe one of the best things would be trying to drown out the negative ways it’s used with images and sayings that actually promote fitness from a healthy perspective, and have a well-rounded focus on health that acknowledges that being healthy means more than just being fit and active, physical health includes so much more than that, and health overall includes our physical and mental health.

As a side not though, I came across a little unintentional body love in an ad that popped up on that women’s health article.

No thanks I already have a bikini bodyThis ad popped up offering me a 21-Day Bikini Body Plan. I am not interested, and I notice that the no thanks button is not simply “not thanks” or “not interested” but says “no thanks, I already have a bikini body”. And my first thought was actually “really, that’s the only reason you think I could not be interested?” And then I thought of this:

So I clicked “No thanks, I already have a bikini body” because- yup! 😛