The massive uptick in wellness and #fitspo content in social media communities isn't an inherently bad thing. Seeing your peers posting their workouts and quinoa bowls can be inspirational and inform your own life choices. The problem begins when the images veer away from inspiration and into the grey area of unhealthy aspiration.
"My main issue with [fitspo] is the perpetuation of the idea that there is a single type of healthy body," writes personal trainer and physiotherapist Sarah Cremen. "When aesthetics are the main/only motivating factor for engaging in exercise, you're ultimately setting yourself up for failure."
A quick scroll through my personal feed lands me among pictures of models in crop tops and bikinis, flaunting bodies I wish I had, which instantly instills feelings of self-doubt. Even though I work out and eat healthfully (most of the time), I don't have the same lithe, sinewy figure as these women and while I know this doesn't make me less-than, it's hard not to give the thought some air time in my brain. But when I recently came across a post from Ireland-based fitness influencer Maeve Madden, my mind was opened up to entirely different way of thinking.
On the left, Madden is flaunting a six-pack, toned arms, and an all-around muscular physique. On the right, she's still toned but appears to be at a heavier weight but also healthier. In each picture, she's captioned them "Fit?"—a question I grapple with myself.
Even when Madden was at her fittest, she explains in the post's caption that she had low energy, thinning hair, anxiety, and no menstruation. "Lowering our body fat with extreme exercise and restricting calories causes our bodies to go into shutdown mode. It lowers our metabolism, and when our bodies are under so much stress, it messes with our menstrual cycle. If your periods have stopped or become irregular and you're not on a contraceptive method, don't ignore it. Go to your doctor and find out what's going on." In another post, Madden explains that her weight fluctuates often, and although she's gained weight, she's happier (and healthier).
This isn't the only time Madden's pulled back the curtain on false fitness pretenses: She often experiences intense bloat from IBS and PCOS (which she shares pictures of) to let others know that carrying extra weight and experiencing inflammation aren't signs of being out of shape—they're common conditions millions of women face every day. As such, she peppers images of her bloat among her toned-stomach shots to let her followers know her fitness journey isn't "perfect."
The thing is, we all have different bodies and are genetically predisposition to carrying our weight in different ways, so tormenting our bodies in an effort to fit inside a specific mould is not only detrimental to our health but, in the long-run, probably unrealistic. Says Cremen, "A certain aesthetic is not necessarily proof of performance and productivity." Amen.