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Opinion: Are #FITSPO bodies inspiring us?

body stories Jan 05, 2021


It's topical, apparently. You may have seen some coverage on the news or around social media on research that shows using the hashtag #fitspo and constantly seeing a barage of bikini bodies with 14% body fat is actually causing many women to feel negatively about their bodies... and instead of being 'motivating' (ie, I'ma head to the gym right now and do 1,000 crunches) it ends up causing feelings of inadequacy and may even be a trigger for disordered eating and unhealthy amounts of exercise.

This opinion piece articulates something I have felt for quite a long time but have never put down on paper. Partly because I'm a feminist and I believe that women should be able to display their bodies - whatever they may look like - in whatever way pleases them. I also firmly believe that women are capable of doing anything men can do, so to see strong women training at the gym, in a way, is inspiring. But in the age of social media and 24/7 connectedness, I think the pendulum has shifted to being far too focused on what our bodies look like, and not focused enough on what our bodies are capable of.

"Despite the Instagram followers and semi-celebrity status of Instagram influencers, working out for the sole purpose of attaining a 'hot body' isn't a great primary motivator for most of us."

Jordana Blackman (Chief Chick at Chicks Who Ride Bikes)

Deep down, we know it doesn't mean anything

I've been managing a women's community for 6 years so I've seen and read my fair share of the insecurities and anxieties many women face. Sadly, many women feel pressure to look a certain way before they even feel comfortable turning up for a bike ride or the gym. What's even more sad is how prescriptive 'looking hot' is these days - tanned, taut skin pulled over rippling abdominal muscles, toned arms, slim thighs and posed sporting the latest 'active wear'. Extra points for a high pony tail. Bullseye if it's a selfie taken in the gym mirror.

Not only does it encourage all of us to basically look the same, it's a standard that not only doesn't make sense for 99% of body types, but it just isn't something that's motivating or inspiring. Just read some of these statistics:

Inspiration isn't the same as admiration

I can admire a fit, hot body as much as the next person, but that's really all it is. Admiration. It's something that's deep within my cavewoman brains that tells me someone is attractive. Is it simply getting abs or attaining a thigh gap that inspires me to get up every morning and lead group road rides for beginners? Not even a little bit.

What inspires me is the mother of 2 year old triplets that wants to find some 'me time' amongst what is probably the world's craziest schedule. Or how about the young woman who suffers from severe social anxiety but is making the effort to get out and make friends by riding bikes? Does that get me up in the morning? You bet!

The most inspiring person I know is my 35 year old sister. She had both of her breasts removed a year ago after a huge tumour was found in her left breast. She now has stage 4 breast cancer as it has spread to her liver and now can't be cured.

Here she is, pictured below, having finished her first triathlon, sporting grey hair and scars across her chest. What's inspiring about Alana doesn't have anything to do with how her body looks. In fact, this image couldn't be a more stark contrast to the gym selfie. She's inspiring because of what her body is capable of.

What SHE is capable of.

And with a now limited lifespan, her outlook and willingness to give anything a try is what's inspiring.

People are going through real shit in their lives

I think that, somehow, being obsessed with getting a 'bikini body' for no other reason than we think we'll somehow be happier, is demeaning to our very souls. Why are we reducing ourselves to particular body parts, when the whole is equal to so much more than the sum of the parts? Is this really how we want to spend our time, the most precious thing we have? Is this really how we want to be remembered at our funerals?

My dad died a year ago. Actually, it will be a year ago on March 20th. He was an incredible man, loved the world over. Literally hundreds of people turned up to his funeral, and even more tuned in through FB for the live stream (it was his request)... we talked for hours about the incredible adventures he went on. We talked about how special he made people feel in his company. We talked about his sense of humour, his love of the ocean and how dearly missed his cooking would be.

You know what we didn't talk about? How hot is body was in his twenties. How chiseled his abs were. What a strong broad chest he had.

What do you want people to say about you?

Deep down, we all want to live meaningful lives that contribute to society. Some of us are lucky enough to do it through our work. Some of us don't have that option and have to work 2 or 3 jobs just to get by and support our families. Some of us choose to find meaning through being the very best friends we can be, or supporting family members through a tough time. Some of us do fun runs and raise money for charities and causes we believe in.

The real reason #fitspo is a flop is because we know, deep down... despite the Instagram followers and semi-celebrity status of fitness models... that it doesn't really have any true meaning.

Because what we really want in our lives is goodness.

I'd like people to remember me as someone who gave their time to help others feel great about themselves. I'd like people to say I was inclusive, and encouraging and supportive and kind. I'd like them to say that I was a wonderful, caring daughter and sister and wife. That I made people laugh. That I was always there to help them through tough times.

So while you're scrolling through Instagram or Facebook, why not look outside of #fitspo for inspiration? Seek content that makes you feel great. Ride bikes, be weird, hang out with your friends and sure - go to the gym and get strong... but why not reframe it so that you're doing it to be able to conquer life's greatest adventures, whatever that might mean to you.

After all, none of us get out of here alive.