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FitSpo: Motivation through Self Hate?

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Does FitSpo perpetuate self-hate like ThinSpo does? FitSpo “motivation” is often temporary and sometimes comes from belittling messages

FitSpo Title

No doubt by now you have bumped into FitSpo (short for fitness inspiration) while minding your own business on the internet.

FitSpo can be tricky, making you want to work out but making you feel bad about yourself all at the same time.

Blogs, Tumblr, Facebook, and Instagram, and more are chock full of “fitspirational” messages about the exercise life, often featuring hard bodies wearing dental floss and featuring snarky messages.

There are so many FitSpo images out there that it’s enough to make your head spin, and your heart sink.

One such fitspo meme by Maria Kang has come under fire recently and sparked a controversy among women. 

On the surface, Maria is challenging women (moms in particular) to set aside excuses and get fit. As a personal trainer, I agree with the message…sort of.

I know that if you want something bad enough you will make the time for it.

But I also know that staying fit and eating right can be really hard, and not everyone has the same challenges in life.

I know that it’s not always about excuses or even about motivation, but its about helping people find their way through obstacles so they can feel better and enjoy life. 

From a Personal Trainer’s Perspective

As a fitness professional, FitSpo memes and messages make me wonder: does the creator of the meme really understand what kind of message they are sending?

Sure, as fitness junkies we get the gist, but people who are not surrounded by the fitness lifestyle can be easily turned off by messages like the one above.

Would I call my clients lazy because they are out of shape? Nope. Listing a person’s shortcomings is the worst way to motivate (basic psychology, right?).

It may work short term, but the motivation will eventually fizzle because it’s superficial. Some (not all) FitSpo works like ThinSpo: motivation through self-hate.

It is not enough to point out that people have flaws (excuses). Where is Mrs. Kang’s solution to excuses? The image below might be a better motivator for parents:

Fit Tip

Maria’s message could even have said “If I can do it, so can you!”.

It’s tempting to tell people that they are lazy. But it’s not always effective. I am responsible for leading people in life long health habits, not constantly pointing out their flaws.

Most people that come to me already know that they need help – that’s why they are meeting with me. People who have a passion for fitness should find ways to help others overcome obstacles.

As personal trainers and fitness enthusiasts, we can balance being straightforward with people and having empathy for different life experiences.

From a Mom’s Perspective 

To be completely honest, there are times when I have no motivation to work out. I really do enjoy working out, but sometimes I am tired, stressed, not feeling well, etc (yes, I know they are “excuses”).

Even as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor, it can still be hard to muster the energy to do any exercise especially when your health goes to crap. Even fit people struggle with excuses.

Fitspo doesn’t always provide very good examples of proper form.
An arched back and underwear are the perfect way to workout…..
Source: Pinterest

A few years back I worked with a nationwide company doing wellness assessments for a local organization. During brief interviews, we would touch on the topic of making time for exercise.

Most of the people who struggled with getting more activity expressed that they had no energy to work out. They were completely drained at the end of their long work days.  

I completely understand that. I personally struggle with bouts of fatigue that make exercise seem like a joke. Growing up, my Dad had a physically demanding job and he worked hard to build his own business – he still does. 

If anyone had ever told my Dad that he was lazy because he didn’t exercise, I probably would have punched them in the face. It simply isn’t true.  

The folly of many fitspo messages lies in the assumption that everyone is the same – that everyone who doesn’t have an amazing body is lazy, and that everyone has the same goals in life.

Not everyone wants to do CrossFit. This one should say “Do what YOU love & Don’t be a b**ch”
Source: Pinterest

I’m not kidding myself – I know there are lazy people out there. But we can’t assume that everyone is lazy. It’s simple logic: doctors can’t assume that every patient has the same illness, why would we assume everyone has the same “excuse”?

I don’t believe that Maria is a fat-shaming bully, and I don’t believe people are blaming her for being overweight.

I do believe that she (any many others) should rethink their messages – they can definitely do a better job motivating people if that’s their goal.

I think the real reason people are offended by Maria’s photo and message is that it seems to come across as arrogant. Motivation like that doesn’t really stick.

Let’s offer up some real motivation:

Mountain Motivation

P.S. When I stopped spending so much time looking at FitSpo, I actually started liking my body. Give it a try and go on a media fast and see if you are happier with your body and your life

6 thoughts on “FitSpo: Motivation through Self Hate?”

  1. I know this is an old article, but I had to comment. I went for years without real exercise. Years. I ‘got away with it’ because I’m not a very big person naturally and my diet is pretty healthy, so I was slim but I wasn’t fit. I had had a very difficult pregnancy ( much spent on bed rest), followed by a difficult post par tum period with a sick baby and PND. Like lots of new mums, I was utterly overwhelmed and lots of my life ended up on the back burner while I worked everything out. Before I knew it, my daughter was two and I never really got back into being active beyond walking with my daughter to the park. I felt so, so guilty at the thought of focusing on my own health, and yes, there were plenty of excuses. But there was also a good heavy dose of lost confidence too. I eventually 4 months ago I got myself a temporary gym membership ( I had never been to a gym before) and nervously turned up at the gym for a class in brand new gym shoes and an old t shirt. It is completely humbling to be the least fit person in a room, and if I had had fitspo quotes or images shoved in my face after that first class which left me wrecked it would probably have been my last visit. Thankfully I received support, empathy and encouragement. I now have a full membership and now work out 4-5 times a week. I’m not all the way at my fitness goals, but I have put on muscle. I can lift heavier weights. I can run without feeling winded. I can do push-ups and box jumps now. And when I see a new person looking like how I felt at the end of that first class I tell them great effort and it gets better. And better and better…

    • That’s so good to hear, Kate! Keep going to that gym, it sounds like they have some amazing people there 🙂 I remember going into our training office one day where we take our new clients and someone had plastered fitspo images all over the room, probably to motivate their clients. Since it was a shared space, we promptly took them down. I don’t know about their clients, but most of my training clients wouldn’t be motivated by those things, they would be intimidated and feel discouraged more than anything.

      People online have taken the need for motivation to a new level of condemnation and criticism. I have met my fair share of fitness elitists and their attitudes make me angry and discouraged, not motivated! I love to see people at the gym lifting each other up and encouraging each other regardless of their fitness level. Having that support and friendship makes fitness more enjoyable!

  2. Wow, when her page was suggested on FB as one I might like, I saw the message and moved on..that is not motivating and I wouldn’t support that message to other moms. I think that often about Fitspo… And like you I am in the fitness industry. I just come from a different perspective, one that was overweight, and one who does not make excuses but I also know others have reasons they may not be putting their fitness first. these are valid and make for a wonderful mix of people. I wondered how my facebook cover page might annoy people, I chose not to put any caption, just my before and after pics and let them speak for themselves…she should have done the same, the message would have been accepted much better I think.

    Found through Lynda from fitnessmomwinecountry.com 🙂

    • Thanks for stopping by Melissa! I agree that so may people have reasons not to put fitness first and that’s okay – not everyone want the same things out of life. I used to have more motivation than I do now, but I am busier with family and other pursuits these days so I am okay with that 🙂 They aren’t excuses, just wonderful things!

      FitSpo just comes across as so arrogant sometimes, and that’s a huge turn off for me. My favorite fitness motivations are images of people being active and of healthy food. They don’t even need words – they just make me want to move more and enjoy it 🙂

  3. Good article Sarah. One should also be aware that you can eat all the right foods and work out forever and never lose any weight or a good amount of inches. This is a huge frustration. As you know I have for the past two years experienced this. People who are like me should be encouraged to look into food allergies, nutrition absorption, and other possibly underlying problems. I found out that there are other issues that my body is trying to deal with. 🙂

    • Thank Shawna! Excellent point that I forgot to mention. There can be so many other underlying health issues that people deal with, like thyroid problems, arthritis, PCOS, food allergies, chronic illness and disease. It’s really quite unfair of people like Maria to lump everyone into one category. That’s why cookie-cutter workouts and diets don’t work for everyone – they are too broad and they don’t cater to the individual. 🙂


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