|Typical Thinspo image|
Supporters of the website claim that it’s designed to inspire women to lose weight. That may be so, but scrolling through and comparing yourself to pictures of sexualized, underweight women is not exactly healthy inspiration.
|Typical Fitspo image|
Similarly, no one seems to have a problem with people using bodybuilding forums to recommend supplements banned by the FDA, encourage each other to work out through the pain (mind over matter!), or manipulate your water intake to unhealthy levels before competitions. Young women use blogs to document their fitness evolutions and every calorie that enters their bodies, in a way that closely mirrors the pro-ano sites that people are concerned about.
While there is consensus that Thinspo is bad for young women's self esteem, there is genuine debate concerning whether fitspo type sites are unhealthy. For example, Cynthia Bulik, Ph.D., director of the University of North Carolina Eating Disorders Program and author of The Woman in the Mirror: How to Stop Confusing What You Look Like With Who You Are, argues that “a lot of fitspo is a thinly veiled version of thinspo, promoting the same obsessive tendencies and impossible appearance ideals, and that’s a trap.”
Conversely, fitness trainer Valerie Waters explains, “when you’re trying to develop the drive to get active and healthy, you need motivators, and pasting inspiring pictures on a board, online or otherwise, has really helped [her] clients.”
|Fitspo motivational meme|
As I discussed last week, our society champions the ideal of fitness and health. It is difficult to fault criticize someone for being healthy. Amanda Mellowspring, an eating disorder specialist, explains, "One of the things that's tricky about our culture is that orthorexia is socially acceptable and often even heralded as a great statement of self-control and doing the right thing for your health."
My personal antidote about Vanessa was meant to illustrate the ways in which eating healthy and working out can be used as a cover for dangerous obsessive behavior. Dr. Bratman, author of Health Food Junkies, agrees. He argues that there is often a hidden agenda behind orthorexia: "A dietary theory can allow women to seek the culturally accepted norms of beauty without admitting it to themselves. … You can 'accidentally' live up to the Barbie image without admitting you believe in doing so." Dr. Bratman also highlights the underlying problem of people receiving positive feedback for their obsessive behaviors.
My friend Vanessa has a profile on the popular website fitocracy. She uploads pictures of her changing body, and gets "points" for how long she works out everyday. She has amassed a following of people who comment on her pictures and encourage her progress. While this type of positive feedback may be a great motivator for some to lose weight, it has led her down a path full of jack3d, OxyElitePro, and endless hours at the gym.
There has been little research concerning the dangers of obsession with health and fitness. Most of the scholarship focuses on male bodybuilding and steroids. With increased focus on exercise and strength training for women, it seems a new ideal of "perfect" is emerging. Through my research, I found that it is all too easy to fall down the rabbit hole of reading blogs and forums that inundate you with dangerous advice and pictures that are terrible for your self esteem. I am not arguing that such these websites should be taken down, but I do think that we need to be conscious of young women's workout and dieting behavior. An overemphasis on any type of "perfect" body is unhealthy.