What is ‘fitspiration’, anyway?
As defined in a published paper by Tiggermann M & Zaccardo M (2015) titled, ‘Exercise to be fit, not skinny: the effect of fitspiration imagery on women’s body image’ – fitspiration is an online trend designed to inspire viewers to adopt healthier lifestyle habits by promoting exercise and diet.
We’ve all seen it before – the hot fitness model shedding their skin with the occasional raunchy photo of their half naked body; those wash board abs, or that big booty with the caption “squat life”. Perhaps, I have fallen short of this label according to the photo of me below. This image would be quite the contrary to what it means to be “fitspiring”.
To be truly “fitspiring”, one is usually seen displaying sex appeal and peak fitness. That would be sure to sell you the idea of a healthy lifestyle, right?
This all sounds swell in theory, but what does the research have to say about the effects that exposure to these images have on one’s self-esteem and mood?
Researchers gathered a sample of women between the ages of 17-30 from Flinder’s University in Adelaide to test what sort of effect exposure to “fitspiring” images viewed on Instagram had on the women’s levels of self-esteem, their mood and their own body satisfaction.
Results showed that while being exposed to “fitspirational” imagery on Instagram did in fact inspire these women to adopt healthier eating and exercise habits, there was a significant decline in their mood and an increase in body dissatisfaction after this exposure. And even though results found that these “fitspiring” images did their job at inspiring the women to adopt healthier habits, it wasn’t a guarantee that these women would translate that inspiration into actual behavior change.
So, the results were very inconclusive. There were both negatives and positives found in relation to the sexy imagery you see every day on your Insta feed. Yes, it may be inspiring you to make those changes you have always been meaning to make for the sake of your health and body satisfaction, but how much of this is contributing to your negative moods?
In reference to the ‘Social Comparison Theory’, proposed by psychologist, Leon Festinger in 1954, this theory explains how us humans evaluate our opinions and abilities based off our comparisons with other people. By comparing oneself to another, we are able to define ourselves in our minds eye.
So then, is it fair to say that this well intentioned movement is to blame for these negative moods and body dissatisfaction, or is a platform like Instagram responsible for exposing the insecurities that were already there within us? This sounds like a discussion for another day. In scientific terms, further research is required in this field of inquiry.