Nefarious Fitspo: Thinspo in Disguise

Warning: I post pictures of thinspo and fitspo in this blog post. They may be triggering, but reading may be worth it.

Fitspo, fitspiration, fitness goals. If you’re reading this blog, it’s likely you’re the same kind of person who’s come across fitspo images, or at least that you’re aware of it.

I’m a fitspo addict, I’ll be the first to admit. Nothing is more ED behavior triggering as photoshopped images of super slim, muscled, pretty women posing next to vaguely threatening text. My fitspo place of choice has always been Pinterest. I’ve found that the fitspo presence on Instagram, Twitter, and tumblr is just not as thorough. 

It shouldn’t surprise you that I’m a frequent consumer of fitspo images. I mean, obviously– I have a long history of eating disorders! So, my following critique must be contextualized by my current, obsessive use of fitspo. It’s the definition of hypocrisy, I know. But hear me out.

Fitspo is thinly veiled thinspo. Thinspo itself is a thinly veiled celebration of sick and eating disordered bodies, used to inspire eating disordered people. Folks looking to simply lose weight aren’t usually the thinspo demographic, because thinspo leans much more extreme and tends to appeal only to ED-leaning people. Here’s why:


Here’s a fairly typical example of a thinspo picture. The girl is emaciated. Here bones are showing. Lacking medical analysis, it’s still correct to assume that her BMI is below normal and that in one way or another, be it eating disorder or other ailment, she is not well. It’s the kind of image that would make a “normal” person cringe (and there are far worse examples, with some of the worst categorized under #bonespo (featuring, you guessed it, protruding bones). For a brain distorted by eating disordered thinking, however, such an ill body is often seen as desirable. In the depths of starvation, there were plenty of moments when I though that a body like the one above wasn’t thin enough. You get the point.

So what about fitspo? Clearly it’s not always as extreme as that. But, in my opinion, it is.

The same images are often classified under both thinspo and fitspo in the same post. Thinspo is popularly demonized by the media (and perhaps rightfully so), while fitspo is still quite accepted in the mainstream. Changing the label of your image, then, changes whether or not the body in it is an acceptable or unacceptable ideal. The images we see under thinspo we tend to recognize as unattainable and undesirable due to their sickliness (unless your brain is trapped in an eating disorder). But fitspo is different. Because they are labeled acceptable (who doesn’t support fitness? Fitness is good. Fitness is healthy), the bodies in the images, no matter how thin, are seen as attainable. This is dangerous.

Here’s one of the images I posted above:


The catch probably rings familiar to anyone familiar with thinspo. “Nothing tastes as good as being skinny feels” is a universally known saying often implemented by eating disordered folks. But it’s okay if you’re talking about fitness, right?

The woman in the above image is thin. She has very little body fat. She is not an attainable body type for most women, and yet she is used as weight loss motivation for many. In this way, fitspo functions the same as thinspo: encouraging people to lose weight beyond the point of health or attainability for most. Images like these are often triggering just like thinspo pictures, only it’s harder to recognize how problematic these images are.

It’s easy to see how damaging fitspo is to eating disorder-prone individuals when you’re one such individual that uses fitspo. Websites have been pretty proactive in banning thinspo. If you search thinspo on Pinterest, 9 times out of 10 (why not always, I don’t know), your search results will be prefaced with a warning from the site and a prompt asking, “Do you need help with an eating disorder?” A search for fitspo won’t do the same. We need to openly recognize the harm in fitspo, not just for eating disorder prone people but for everyone. Fitspo doesn’t do anything different than what we typically see: it shows us bodies outside the attainable range and expects us to change. Maybe it’s time we put aside body inspiration themes altogether. Starting with me.


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