Fat vs Fit: The truth about FITSPO.

I’m married to a onetime trademark/copyright attorney.  If I weren’t below would be an example of FITSPO photos for those who may not know to what I’m referring.  Alas, I’m going the boring definition route which is guaranteed not to get my misfita** sued.

Fitspo—or fitspiration—is a relatively new term used to describe something (typically images) intended to inspire others to eat healthy and exercise.

Basically it’s an image of an uber-buff or razor-thin individual (for the purposes of this post a female) with a motivational quote splashed across her.


rsz_screen_shot_2014-04-10_at_44656_am(kinda like this)


  • We (the royal) wont be surprised to learn I’m not a FITSPO fan.

Each time I see these pictures fly past in my facebook feed (and they appear frequently. apparently I’m the DISLIKE! minority.) I think:

I ‘get’ women believe this to be a lunge in the proper direction as FITSPO rarely shouts BE SKINNY!  To me, however, it’s BElittling of those who don’t yet resemble the images.

 My reasoning is simple.

  • FITSPO doesn’t motivate me.  I appreciate the buff  of the woman with I REGRET THAT WORKOUT—said no one ever!! emblazoned across her 6-pack.  She’s just not me.  Shes not a harried 44 year old mother with a husband who works a lot, a crazy Tornado of a girl, & 13 bosses because she’s a freelancer.  I’m happy for her & her chiseled success–but seeing her wont motivate me to exercise any more than seeing these amazing images inspire me to make dinner.


  • FITSPO is frighteningly close to PRO-ANA* draped in muscled clothing.  The same way pro-ana sites feed off female insecurity FITSPO seems to only ‘succeeds’ if what I currently am is not enough. I am enough. Confidence & empowerment can be found in all shaped and sizes & one is not more “OK” than another.  For me *all* emphasis on bodies–fit, skinny, curvy, BUFF, emaciated, whatever–is emphasis on the VESSEL not the woman inside.  I’m far more interested in the woman inside.


  • FITSPO is an illusion.  As with all advertising/promotional images there exists little reality in FITSPO.  Yes it may really be Woman Y, but it’s most likely Woman Y on the day of a competition: dieted, tanned, dehydrated & carb-depleted.  It’s a fleeting moment in her life.  In addition, for my misfit tastes, FITSPO employs sexiness/sex appeal all too frequently. To my eyes FITSPO doesnt shout health! or long-term happiness!, but is a snapshot of ONE ephemeral moment in time.

The topic is highly complicated.

It’s for that reason I’ve agreed to speak at ShiftCon in October.

I’ve been offered the opportunity to sit on a panel with a group of women I admire and discuss whether or not FITSPO has a place in our Healthy Living Tribe.

  • Do these images create impossible standards?
  • Can we view them and *not* feel badly about our current state of FIT?
  • What are the long-term effects of FITSPO on our psyches?

It’s an important topic for women in general.

It’s an important topic for *me* as mother to a Tornado who currently thinks she’s unstoppable.

It’s an opportunity for you to join in the conversation. 

With me. 

At Shiftcon or follow along on Twitter as it all unfolds  ($50.00 off ticket price until May 8th 2014 with the code CARLA at checkout.)



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  1. says

    I do agree! Those images, even though impressive, show a level that 95% of the female (even male) population cannot even attain. There is no disclaimer at the bottom that states this is some who actually does this for a living so they have to be “on” all the time. I think we should start a trend of our own Fitspo images that show real women doing real fitness. Something that the majority can relate to.

  2. says

    Go Girl! These pics and sayings are almost like angry “motivation”. “Yelling” at women to get it together. Not motivating!!

  3. Michele M says

    How is the message of “make the time to eat right, exercise hard” and “stop making excuses” and “you can improve your health and appearance through nutrition and activity” anywhere near close to the idea of “starve yourself because you’re a bad person inside; no one loves you, you don’t deserve food and you should disappear” (pro-ana)?

    What if there were a bunch of pro-academic memes showing high test scores and award-winning school projects and a before and after report card plastered with sayings about studying hard, minimizing exposure to video games and TV, and being proud of your brain power? Would that be setting “impossible standards” because most parents are hands-off, and would rather let their kids stagger through school doing far less than that of which they’re capable because “it’s too much trouble” to actually help a kid develop discipline and a sense of responsibility where there are so many hand-held electronic devices available? The same way a lot of adults say it’s “too much trouble” to clean up their diets and trade an hour of zombie time in front of the TV for an hour of exercise a day? Why is wrong to encourage people to make better choices in the short term for a better life in the long term?

    Why is it wrong to encourage people to up their standards for themselves?

    Never have I felt that a “fitspo” graphic, a fitness magazine, or a more-fit woman at the gym has in any way lessened MY efforts and accomplishments and fitness…these images remind us (truthfully) that “someone busier than I am is training for a marathon right now” and that my “Oh, I got up late; why bother doing 10 minutes of intervals…I’ll make up for the missed workout tomorrow” is a LIE, is BULLS***, and I have NO EXCUSES for NOT using the 10 minutes I do have to better myself.

    I’m also a 44 year old woman (closer to 45), who was obese from my teen years until I was 38 years old. My body bears the scars of the way I treated it for over 20 years. Stretch marks, loose skin, fat deposits that won’t go away without plastic surgery. I am never going to look like a fitspo graphic and I am never going to wear a bikini but I AM extremely fit, very strong, and VERY HAPPY because I WORK for that and I make the choice every day to keep doing it. So…as for “impossible standards,” please. Should we never watch HGTV because the homes are clean, clutter-free, energy efficient and perfectly decorated and ours never will be? Should we never open the pages of a fashion magazine because we’ll never afford the $450 shoes? Should we not watch the Olympics because we’re never going to perform at that level? Does the saying, “Do not sacrifice the good for the sake of the perfect” apply here? 90% of us, no matter how well we eat and how well we exercise, are never going to look like a photoshopped, airbrushed, headless six-pack in a fitspo meme. Does that mean we should keep eating Oreos on the couch?

    The best part about my fit life is that I have learned to NEVER be satisfied with the status quo. I know I’m not physically or mentally capable of training for a marathon; I accept and understand my limits. But I will never use TOO BUSY as an excuse for anything. Just because I know I can’t run a marathon doesn’t mean I won’t run five miles today.

    That is fitspiration.

    Taking that hour for yourself.

    Taking an active role IN YOUR HEALTH.

    Showing your kids that the easy way is probably not the best way.

    • Runner Girl says

      I agree with you about the upping of the standards!!!
      I do struggle with the images not the words. When I see how lean and razor thin the women are (I am not even though I am a marathoner) I want to quit and I don’t get inspired.
      I would love to see bloggers make their own FITSPO with their photos?

    • Courtney B says

      Yes! Thank you! I’ve never felt discouraged by any of those things and I feel the same way!

  4. says

    I’m more inspired by REAL stories of REAL people! i know I’ll never have ripped abs unless I eat UBER clean and I just don’t. It just isnt me. I inspire myself through my own journey and knowing I can accomplish anything I set my mind to with focus and life changes – word.

  5. says

    EVERY now and then, probably 1 out of every 2000, I will like a “fitspo” type photo. If they motivate someone to get off their bum and go workout, then awesome. But to me, they’re just silly. The Chive used the memes and put them on photos of people drinking.. I think it accurately shows how ridiculous these fitspo photos are (http://thechive.com/2013/09/19/if-you-put-inspiring-fitness-quotes-over-pictures-of-drinking-they-get-significantly-more-awesome-32-photos/ in case you wanted to see them)

  6. says

    Completely agree with you about the vessel part. Same reason why I loathe all the Hollywood “secret to how I got my body back 2 hours after baby” articles. It’s all hard, unglamorous work.

  7. says

    there are some words I just wish were banned from our vocabulary! like fitspo. It’s all wrong in so many ways. defines nothing. It probably meant to be something more than a vanity shot, but unfortunately, it turned into that.
    keep it real friend!

  8. says

    I wish all women and girls (including myself) could be happy with who they were on the outside as long as they were happy with who they were on the inside. Even when a woman decides to “get fit,” it would be great if, instead of wanting to look like some ideal, she just wanted to be stronger and healthier? It’s such a complicated issue for women though.

    • Carla says

      SO SO SO VERY COMPLICATED which is why, for me, FITSPO is so toxic. For me the message is IM NOT ENOUGH WHERE I AM TODAY—which is different, again for me, than wanting to improve and wanting MORE (whatever the more is!)

      • says

        I don’t love them, but I don’t take offense.

        Because, in my head, I don’t see them as “I’m not enough”, I just see “I could be more”. I don’t know that it’s motivating to me (I’m more motivated by my race performance than how I look in the mirror) but occasionally I’ll see one that’s like – YEAH! Woohoo!

        But yeah – I get it. I’m probably not going to look like those ladies because I’m not going to put in that specific effort. For me though -I just realize it’s my choice. I am not willing to make those sacrifices to be that. I like beer and french fries and while I eat generally healthy, I’m not willing to starve myself or give those things up. So, I’ll let it go. I will be the best me I can be while living the life I want to live. Nothing more, nothing less.

        However, put some motivation quotes over triathlon ladies (would that still be fitspo) and it MIGHT inspire me to skip the cake and maybe do some core work instead of sitting on the couch at that particular moment. :)

  9. says

    I have mixed feelings about the photos. I think celebrating the female form in all it’s shapes is a good thing. I don’t like how it can make some of us (including me some days) feel less than.

  10. says

    The older I get, the more I don’t like BUT I do know for some it motivates without bothering them & for others it is not good for them. I guess people have to choose for themselves BUT I would rather not have girls grow up thinking that they have to be perfect or they are never enough or they will never a=be able to get there. Even now, that is what “wins” in this world. Carla, you know me. I am tired… I am not giving up n=but walking away to a different course I guess. I am just tired I guess. I have been doing the 50+ thing since 50 & now it is everywhere… but yet we still can’t be shown unless we are pretty or looking somewhat like those fitspo pics.. I am glad you guys are going to talk this at Shiftcon!

  11. says

    Parenting a daughter is so complicated and I question all of my own decisions frequently. While we try to focus on strong v. skinny – having a daughter who dances is also complicated as costumes are skimpy and show everything – – it’s so complicated, but I also hate the angry fitspo messages… There is inspiration in the sayings, but seriously, the pictures behind the sayings are usually awful and unattainable by mere mortals.

  12. says

    I’m so glad you’re going this! Wish I could be there to join in the convo.
    As a fitness professional, these images do a number on my psyche. They make me feel as if this is what other people think I should look like if I’m to be good at my job. :(

  13. says

    The topic definitely warrants it’s own talk! ‘d love to be there. I agree with all your points and my personal experience is it makes me feel “less than” as a fit woman. Why do we still look at them? Or follow those IG accounts or whatnot? I’ve deleted a few because it just wasn’t worth it to me. Thanks for putting this out there. I love the Tornado’s unstoppability. :)

  14. says

    This is one bandwagon i’m not thrilled about, either. It inspires me more to go to the gym and see a regular Joe or Jane simply working out, or the nice ladies and gentlemen who walk or run in our neighborhood.

  15. says

    I don’t like how these images show just one type of woman/body type. I’m much more likely to be inspired by a range of women, from all walks of life! Show me a postpartum mom who’s fitting in a few push-ups while her baby naps. Show me a size fourteen yoga teacher who’s embracing her body just as it is. Show me a seventy-five year-old woman who still goes to the gym every morning. THAT is my FITSPO!

    • cherylann says

      I am 60 and hope to continue to be in the gym when I am 75! (And doing triathlons!)

  16. says

    I’ve actually never heard of FITSPO. I don’t think many people fit into the category that these images portray, unless they get paid to look that way;) Shiftcon sounds fun! Will have to check into it:)

  17. says

    Fitspo doesn’t motivate me. The pictures don’t necessarily bother me because they have no effect on me. However that just me! I know what it takes for people to look that way, they do NOT walk around like that year round and many do not understand that and that is my issue with the whole Fitspo era. Sort of like with Body building, many young men look at these Pro IFBB body builders and aspire to look like them….. Many of them do not know it’s impossible to look that way unless you are taking certain drugs along with all the training, nutrition, etc.

  18. says

    I think the idea that one photo can represent all is bogus. I am inspired by the women most like myself. Im not inspired by the women doing a bikini competition. I can’t relate. I am inspired by the 30 something mom who lost all the baby weight and works hard. Someone commented about and the words “hard, unglamorous work” stuck out for me. Most working out is not a still shot of perfection. Its dynamic by nature and so maybe videos are better…… regardless fitspo is a fad and will pass. the hard unglamorous work will stay the same.

  19. says

    Glad you’re speaking on this!

    Do mention that too many of these images chop off the woman’s head, leaving a brainless meat-sack to inspire real women to “be better”…

    Subtly implying that we’re best when we’re anonymous and don’t demonstrate the ability to think.

  20. says

    I agree that some of the messages just come off as wrong–and make the goal seem unattainable. Not going to lie though–some of the quotes are pretty hilarious 😉 I guess the images are just what bother me the most….mostly because they are probably photoshopped and the story behind the person is missing (as in–what life are they giving up so they can look like that?) The images don’t inspire me…I inspire me! 😉 Great post!

  21. says

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this. Fitspiration drives me crazy — who’s to tell us what’s an inspiring level of fitness and what’s not? Also, so many women are now bashing those who prefer cardio over heavy weights, and that’s not okay either! We have to do what works for us, and only we as individuals know what that is! There’s way too much comparing as a result of fitspiration images.

  22. says

    I ranted about thinspo before. It is so unrealistic. It worries me most because while *I* understand it is really not attainable for the majority, and even really unhealthy if you do attain it – it still can make me have doubts about myself. And that is what worries me because my impressionable nieces don’t have the same life experience as me, so how does it make them feel? Or any young male or female.

  23. Janis says

    I’d trust fitspo more if it looked like this and less like some softcore porn bullsh*t of someone whose obviously never lifted weights in her life holding dumbbells, wearing a thong, and shoving her *ss into the camera.

    Gimme the astronaut debugging mechanical failures while running around outside, thanks. You can keep little miss Fitspo and her buttcheeks out of my face.

    Sorry, I know the tone here is a little sharp, but the conflation of “strength” with “SPEND 34 HOURS A DAY MURDERING YOURSELF TO GAIN MALE APPROVAL” just plucks my last nerve. How about we all start doing sh*t because we like to do it?! Whoa, crazy talk, there!

  24. says

    I don’t pay attention to Fitspo. I like you, find it to be more negative than positive. I find it to be a form of “bragging,” which makes other feel badly about themselves! Instead I focus on the positive attributes that I have and put a smile on my face :) You are given what you have for a reason – embrace it!

  25. says

    I share the passion of fitness and health.

    While THINSPO is something that I think is actually wrong, I think that SOME FITSPOs are actually motivational and helpful. It really depends on the content and, in general, how it is perceived by its audience.

    These images called “FITSPOs” are called as such by individuals who probably envy the structure of the body or the strength the person in the photo has. Just as long as it doesn’t convey the message for people to starve themselves just to acquire the same body structure and physique; and instead inspire others to “Work hard and train hard”, I am all for FIT-spirations.

  26. cherylann says

    I am so glad I have no idea what you are talking about. I don’t use quotes/view images to “motivate” myself to workout. Started WAY before the internet or glossy magazine age-
    and continue for my own reasons and no one else’s.
    So sad that we have to even have this conversation.

  27. says

    Okay, so here’s what I think…

    The FITSPO movement should not be stronger than our own personal ideals and mindsets. I admit gaining inspiration from FITSPO to stay on the grind with my fitness goals (but not from those images of razor thin chicks).

    We need to own with confidence the badassness of who (we should know that) we are, and not allow FITSPO to crush that with negativity. On the other side of FITSPO, let’s consider the person in the pic. Let’s consider that maybe they’re proud of the end result of the hard they put in, thus, why they took the picture. I’m not sure that’s ever been part of the FITSPO conversation.

    Great topic, Carla! xo

  28. says

    Carla, oh Carla.

    How much do I agree with this post.

    I actually had to un-follow some accounts on twitter for just that. I understand some people are really excited or proud of their bodies, but if all you do is post pics of your abs and ass, that’s not inspiration for anything.

    It especially upsets me when it’s fitness professionals doing it. I mean, you are not selling fitness, you are selling something else at that point. There is one account in particular (which I won’t mention here), where the woman in question just posts pics of her butt…that’s pretty much it. And she has like 12K followers. LOL! Guess what? 99% of her followers are guys, and the comments to her are always, “I wanna f&%* you” or something like that. Excuse me?

    So yeah…not the biggest fan of fitspo pics. I do, however, like motivational quotes. :)

  29. says

    Yes! Yes! Yes! I HATE those ‘fitspo’ images that are splashed across pinterest and the web. If anything (honestly) it motivates me to grab a bag of cheetos and reese’s peanut butter cups because I will never LOOK like that. #true

    I do love the quotes and message… but really. Do we really need to see unattainable half naked, starved and dehydrated women?! Ugh… you struck a nerve. A GOOD one that I too agree with and am passionate about.

    I also don’t like seeing these images splashed on the cover of magazines at checkout lanes at the market… my boys see this… question… and it leads to unreal expectations of beauty and ‘desire’ for a future mate (IMHO).

    Okay, soap box over. YES! I love that you are BRAZEN and un-apologetically YOU and you speak the truth on this. :) Thank you. :)

  30. says

    I don’t talk about it much, but i spent a bit of time in the psych-care ward as a teen. My roommate had anorexia. I’d watch her look over my shoulder at my magazines and make comments about the perfect bodies in the dance and fashion mags, and I’d feel terribly. I was overweight, she, underweight.

    It was in that time, I realized that images like those have such destructive properties. They can cripple and belittle. Just because you pen a faux-inspirational quote beneath makes them no less damaging.

  31. Kiersten Frobom says

    Wholeheartedly agree. This is the same reason I don’t buy running magazines that feature male athletes one month, and a female model the next. We can do better. We deserve better.

    Fitspo pictures usually miss the many other terrific reasons to exercise; reasons that aren’t about pressure or self-comparison — but about joy. The Fitspo approach to perfection is tired. I’d rather see a woman feeling good about the chance to put her energy toward her overall well-being, whether that means being active on her own or with friends or family. I want to be inspired by her self-exploration, not the fact that she’s magically avoided sweating while having the most challenging workout of her life. Show me the woman who’s excited to try a new sport or check out a new trail or just thrilled to be outside after a long winter. There are such better motivators than the imaginary audience.

    Personal best is fluid, anyway, and consists of far more than our appearances.

  32. says

    Ummm, yes. Just yes. I can see how they might motivate a select few, but is it even the right motivation? It’s not the intrinsic motivation that leads to lasting change. It’s the often fleeting and superficial kind that doesn’t motivate us for the long-haul.

  33. says

    Not sure where I stand on this, as I see many pictures that I do not like. But there are some that I find inspiring! But I know my body, my mind and what I need and can handle. Lori and I are always trying to remind people they are good enough. To just be purely them. But it can be hard to find that balance of trying to be motivating yet not like some of these other Fitspo pics . It’s a fine line I guess.

  34. says

    Agreed. I’m not a fan of these either. And also agreed that it isn’t even about ME and how they make me feel, but I think about my students, my younger cousins… I hope they don’t see or feel the impact of these images.

  35. says

    I’ve often said all of the same exact things about fitspo (especially because “thinspo” predated fitspo in relation to pro-ana, like you mentioned).

    But there’s no way to make a jpeg a mirror with the words “you are enough” on it. That’s a creepy webcam if anything. Either way you look at it, it’s measuring ourselves by what we are not or what other people are versus valuing ourselves for what we are.

    It’s a vulnerability in the human psyche — a constant state of unworthiness and dissatisfaction. It’s hardwired in us to want what we can’t have, what other people have, or what is just beyond our reach. But we spend so much time obsessing over those things that we never actually live in the moment, we never find happiness where we are.