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After spending several years in social services, Nicole has finally followed her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer. In addition to her work for The Hudsucker, Nicole is also a staff writer for Womanista. An avid comic book fan, BBQ aficionado, professional makeup artist and first-time mom, Nicole can be found exploring Kansas City rich history when she's not blogging about suburban life at Suburban Flamingo.

Inspiration by Hashtag: Fitspo

We live in a hashtag world. From Twitter to Facebook to Instagram, that little “#” sign has permeated large swaths of our culture and communication. Some people are even incorporating hashtags in their text messages and, improbably, spoken conversation. Everything has a hashtag it seems and some of those hashtags go from more than just witty observations or category markers to full-on trends.

Fitspo (#fitspo) is one of those hashtag trends that is all over Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and even Tumblr and Pinterest. Fitspo is short for “fitspiration”, a portmanteau of fitness inspiration. It’s a popular buzzword used to tag images and messages that have the intention of motivating people towards a healthier lifestyle. A quick hashtag search of fitspo on Instagram brings up a variety of different and health-motivated pictures: healthy-looking meals, some green smoothies, motivational mantras, and lots and lots of toned hard bodies sweating it out.

Image Credit: Our Daily Fitspo

It sounds really good and it looks pretty on the surface, but there’s a lot more going on. A closer look reveals two very different sides of fitspo, one that draws criticism from those concerned with body image and mental health. Part of the criticism comes from just the name “fitspo”. Critics point out that the name is eerily close to a much more negatively perceived movement of sorts: thinspo. Thinspo, thinspiration or thin inspiration, is a popular hashtag for images and content driven intended to be motivational for those with eating disorders within the pro-ana (pro-anorexia) community. Thinspo was actually banned as a hashtag by Instagram because of the content: pictures of skinny women I various poses that were often sexually provocative in nature, tips for getting through the day, and motivational mantras such as the disturbing “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”.

This fitspo/thinspo comparison isn’t entirely without merit. A quick search of the fitspo hashtag on Instagram pulls up countless images of thin, allegedly “healthy” people in semi-provocative poses (many of women’s backsides with shorts or underwear pulled up to expose the area more. Other images have general workout tips. Still others have mantras, such as “strong is the new skinny.” Very few feature average people, unless those people went from average to fitness model levels. It’s supposed to be inspirational, but it feels more like aspirational, less of a motivation and more of a directive that being skinny and hard-bodied is what is beautiful, not actual health.

That is the crux of the problem with much of what passes for fitspo: instead of motivating people it is, instead, shaming people who don’t look like that. Many of the mantras or funny quotes make mention of overeating in a pointedly funny way (think along the lines of “…a fat kid loves cake” superimposed over a skinny woman eating something decadent.) Many of the images are of half-naked women in provocative poses that border on being not safe for work. There are very few larger fit bodies featured, a plethora of people posting about working out up to five times a day and disturbing directives such as “unless you puke, faint, or die, keep going.”

There is nothing particularly health or fitness inspirational about that message. That message sounds like abuse. Fortunately there are other voices in the fitspo movement that stay true to what fitness inspiration should be. Yes, there is good fitspo on the internet.

Image Credit: Finally Alive After 25

Good fitspo focuses on the benefits of a healthy lifestyle as well as is open about the challenges to get there. The images are much the same in general type. There are lots of workout shots and food shots and tips/mantras, but the difference is how they are presented. The workout images show people actually sweating it up at the gym with their less-than-toned body parts on display. Many also talk about how much going to the gym sucks, but how important it is to do that in balance with a healthy eating plan. And about the food? Good fitspo talks about the ups and the downs, sharing dietary successes in equal measure with those cupcake binges that sometimes happen. Those “failures” often lend to supportive comments and posts to encourage others to not give up the next day. One particular “fitspo” figure, Katie of Finally Alive After 25, does a lot of supportive inspiration with her posts. She shares the successes, the struggle, the outright failures, and never hesitates to show what going from “fat” to “fit” looks like in the real world. She also posts positive quotations, such as those from Maya Angelou, to encourage people. She is even part of a far more positive hashtag movement: #operationloveyourself.

Love yourself. Isn’t that what taking care of the body really comes down to? Being able to love the body you are in is ultimately what fitspo is about as the desire to be happier in your own skin for whatever motivation or reason is what leads people to change. That is what should drive one’s well-being journey. And it’s a personal journey. It isn’t about competing with others or putting others down. It isn’t about exploitation. It isn’t about an us versus them, fit versus fat dynamic. It’s about being better. Fitspo and its images and messages can be part of that if one is selective about the motivation chosen.

For more #operationloveyourself, visit Finally Alive After 25.

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