An Open Letter to My Fitspo Obsessed Friend
Dear Fitspo Obsessed Friend (FOF):
This is hard for me to write. We’ve been friends for a long time, but I don’t think we should talk anymore.
I don’t want to give you some cliché “It’s not you, it’s me!” crap, because truthfully, it is you. And please don’t take this personally, but I don’t want to see your before/after photos showing how much weight you lost. I don’t want your guilt, your passive aggression and your constant questions about when I’m going to join your next detox challenge.
I get it. You’re proud of yourself. You’re feeling better and you’re happy with your body and I’m certainly not about to undermine what an achievement that can be. But I just don’t want those photos shoved down my throat every time I message you.
And I know, I know, you’re not the first person to ever take a #TransformationTuesday photo and proudly DM it to all of your contacts. We’ve been seeing before/after photos ever since the first infomercial harnessed the power of fear and comparison. But that doesn’t make me okay with it.
Your typical transformation photo usually features a headless “before” shot of you, bloated and hunched over with rounded features, while the “after” image shows you with great posture, a confident pose and looking more lean. I understand why you’ve posed this way; you want to accentuate your results.
If I really zoom in, I think I can see where you’ve edited your waist to be smaller. I’m not going to pick at that thread, though. You’ve captioned your photo with some cliché fitspo phrases like “Don’t stop until you’re proud!” and “Sweat is just fat crying!” as you wax lyrical about how you’re a much better person now.
These phrases are meant to inspire others — because if you can find their worth in a smaller pant size, so can everyone else! If you only have to make five easy payments of $49.99 for the latest miracle product to obtain the Patented Dream Body, why wouldn’t everyone else?
It’s a sham, a scam, totally transparent, totally unethical and unfortunately, highly effective. Particularly on those with low self-esteem or those who are vulnerable to particular weight-based triggers. I fall into the latter category. As a recovered anorexic, my self-esteem doesn’t suffer anymore. But it’s a mental illness and relapses are very real, so when you preach how [Insert latest MLM teatox craze] has totally changed your life and can change mine too, it’s a little hard to swallow. It can bring up some very negative past thoughts and send things spiralling for me. I’ve worked incredibly hard to get myself to a point of good self-esteem, and I work actively to keep myself in a positive headspace. Part of that includes choosing very carefully what I consume on social media. Your relentless #TransformationTuesday pitches in my inbox don’t make the cut for me.
FOF, you’ll readily critique those who unfriend you and those who don’t succumb to your sales pitches as “fake friends” and “not dedicated enough to their health” but today, I’d like to offer you an alternative perspective.
Maybe, just maybe, some of the people who’ve unfriended you have experienced negative feelings because of your posts.
Maybe, just maybe, your friends don’t want to feel like your sales target.
Maybe, just maybe, you’re not as big an expert in everyone’s health as you’d like to believe you are now that you know a NutriBullet.
1. It’s great that you’re loving exercise now, but it’s not so great that you equate it with pain and negativity and punishment. And personally, I don’t consider sacrifice and pain to be an attractive prospect. What if I want to find joyful movement that makes my body and mind feel great without staring at the calorie counter? Is my exercise any less valid than yours? Does my body not benefit from my cardio even if I didn’t push past the pain barrier to the point of exhaustion and post a sweaty selfie afterwards?
“No pain, no gain” isn’t the way I want to live my life. What if I could gain all the physical benefits of health without sacrificing my mental wellbeing? Is that not an acceptable goal?
I’m profoundly uncomfortable with perpetuating the idea that women should suffer — that beauty hurts. Ultimately, this sets us up to feel unhappy when we’re given the condition that we’re not successful unless we’ve overcome agony. Health and suffering aren’t synonymous and never should be.
2. You might preach, “Why choose to fail when success is an option?” as the (not-so) great Jillian Michaels once said, but to me that’s less inspiring and more bootstrapping. If you believe that you fail only when you don’t try hard enough, that’s not dedication – that’s bootstrapping. And it’s a cornerstone of thinspo AND fitspo, which is part of what makes it incredibly deceptive and incredibly dangerous.
Success or failure is not absolute. Our bodies are good enough the way they are — and if someone who sees your #TransformationTuesday selfie hashtagged to infinity with fitspo tags suddenly loses less weight one week than they did the week before, it’s likely not because they just aren’t dedicated enough. And if you can’t emulate the abs of your fitspo idol, similarly there’s a lot more going on (like genetics and your individual health) than simply not trying hard enough. Your health isn’t a matter of just pushing and pushing and pushing.
Shaming yourself into believing that the burden of your physical self is a direct result of your lack of drive and ambition? Sounds like psychological warfare to us – which doesn’t fit ourdefinitions of “health” and “inspiration.” — Virgie Tovar and Melissa A. Fabello.
It’s hard to go out there and strive for success when you feel like a failure, and all-or-nothing feelings certainly don’t help us overcome that. They teach us instead that the little victories don’t count. It’s a dark and gloomy message putting on a cheery facade. You are more than the sum of your body parts and how little those parts weigh. I don’t think that you can see that, FOF. I wish you could.
3. I’m less concerned with your jean size and more concerned with your overall wellbeing. To you, maybe the shrinking number on the scale and on your size tag holds a significant value (which is another dangerous body image minefield, by the way), but to me, you’re the same wonderful person that I’ve grown fond of, no matter your size. Your body fat percentage doesn’t change how you make me laugh. Your calorie count doesn’t make you a worse person. You’re still you, regardless of how many times you’ve been told that you’d be better smaller.
That stuff doesn’t change my opinion of you.
What does change my opinion of you, however, is how your insecurity has made you fall victim to your new transformation-focused mentality. I want you to find self-love, but I’m sad for our friendship because your newfound fitspo lifestyle means you see it as somewhat of a personal mission to convert as many people as possible, drowning out anyone who tells you that they’d rather go about health another way.
“Don’t try to look like anyone you see in a transformation photo. Be inspired, but don’t be disappointed if you don’t see yourself the way you see those models.” — Andrew Dixon
It’s your way or the highway, and you don’t recognise that health is not a one-size-fits-all situation. I really hope that you wanted to be healthy for reasons beyond taking a bikini selfie. You’re worth so much more than the physical value that you assign to yourself.
You might think that your “after” version is amazing, but please don’t discredit the wonderful person you were “before.” You were still you, still worthy, still loved. And your “before” might be someone else’s “after.” What message are you sending by slamming your former self as awful?
4. You’ll never be perfect. Sorry, but it’s true. I know you don’t want to hear it, and I guess how many stories you’ve told yourself about “just a little bit more” until you reach your idea of perfection. But you’re human; flawed, real and imperfect. So am I.
I’m okay with that, really. In fact, I love that I’m not perfect. I’ve worked damn hard at finding acceptance with that. And for you to tell me that I have a shot at perfection if I join you on your detox is not only plain insensitive; it’s scientifically inaccurate.
“Even when women report that they find these images motivating (and many women say that they do), they often acknowledge that the comparisons with their own bodies leave them feeling worse about themselves and their appearance.” — Clinical psychologist Olivia Patrick.
I hope, dear FOF, that you won’t wind up hating yourself when you’re unable to achieve perfectio, as so many other fitspo followers before you have done. I hope that some day you realize that condemning your former self doesn’t help your current self. And more than anything, I hope that one day you realize that we’re all on different paths, health-wise.
If you can motivate yourself to be happy and healthy, that’s a good thing. Even if I don’t personally agree with the means that you take to feel healthy, it’s not my place to make those decisions for you.
Your before/after photos might be seen as widely acceptable and even healthy for you to share as inspiration. Sure, they might get you a lot of likes. But there’s a darker side, and I don’t think you see it.
I don’t think you see that the fitspo you hold so dearly can be incredibly damaging for others. To me, it’s no better than a slightly dressed up version of thinspo. That’s like replacing one kind of body shaming with another — it’s never as “healthy” as you want it to be.
I’m happy that your transformation photos give you motivation to eat good foods and move your body, but I’m 100 percent not okay with the hefty side-serving of shame that you project onto everyone around you who doesn’t immediately jump on the bandwagon.
I’m just fine being my imperfect self — the version of myself that enjoys working out and eats a balance of foods. The version of myself that may not be the leanest person at the beach in a bikini, but knows that she worked damn hard to overcome her demons and is thriving today. The version of myself that is perfectly content with not feeling guilty every time I don’t meet my squat goal and doesn’t beat herself up if she eats a big bowl of ice cream for dessert.
And I’m sure as hell not going to be berated by you about that.
So for now, FOF, this is goodbye.
As much as I like your friendship, I love myself more.