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#fitspiration Can Be the Opposite of Inspiration

social media Jul 15, 2021

Research finds viewing #fitspiration posts can harm body image and make exercise feel harder.

As a female athlete performance physiologist, I work with women of all fitness and age levels to optimize their physiology and help them feel and perform their best. I know all too well how many barriers we women face to achieving our goals. One of those barriers that doesn’t get enough attention is self-image.

As women, we are bombarded with images of what the “ideal woman” should look like. Worse, the “ideal women'' we see don’t even look like the images we’re shown. They’re Photoshopped, airbrushed, filtered, and Facetuned to “perfection.” The result: We never feel like we’re enough. Those images have always existed, but now thanks to ubiquitous social media apps like Instagram and TikTok, we can also put a steady stream of them in front of ourselves. A recent study on #fitspiration—a hashtag used to tag images and videos intended to inspire you to get physically fit—shows just how damaging that can be.

The research published in the journal Body Image found that viewing “fitspiration” Instagram images increased negative mood and body image among young women. Exercising improved their state of mind, but physical activity actually felt harder to them after viewing these types of images.

For the study, the researchers had a group of 108 women view either fitspiration or travel inspiration images and then either work out on a treadmill for 10 minutes or sit quietly for the same amount of time. In the end, the women who viewed the fitspiration images reported higher negative moods and body dissatisfaction compared to their peers who looked at images of pretty places.

Though both groups performed similarly on the treadmill test, those who had viewed the fitspiration images said the bout felt harder compared to the women who looked at travel inspiration shots.

The take-home message here: #fitspiration is the opposite of inspiration. It doesn’t fire you up; it brings you down. I hear women talking about “cleaning up their diet” to support their training and reach their goals. Instead of overly obsessing about their food, they might be best served to “clean up their feed,” meaning cutting the unrealistic #fitspo from the accounts they follow and filling it with real inspiration: mountains to climb, oceans to swim, rocks to climb, and trails to run. Then go out and live through your body and all the amazing things it can do rather than burning time and energy on how you want it to appear. 

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