The 'What's Your Excuse' Mom Missed Some Major Points About Fitness Inspiration

Carly Pizzani

photo of woman's abs

Fitspiration is an often-debated topic in healthy-living blogland, and it obviously hit mainstream media this week with the fall-out from the ‘Fitspo’ picture Maria Kang posted on her Facebook page.

It wasn’t so long ago that people would know you’d been working out only if they happened to see you at the gym or asked what you’d been doing. Now, it’s de rigueur to post your workouts, selfies from the gym, or photos of your salad on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest ... you get the idea. Social media has meant that we’re inundated with images of our friends’ workouts. I do it all the time (I mean, it’s kind of my job, but still).

Fitspiration is different from seeing a picture of your friend’s treadmill display, though. It’s supposedly created deliberately to motivate you to work out. But does it motivate? Or is it more about using the power of guilt and shame?

Anti fitspo imageThe issue with Maria Kang’s photo was not really about the image of her in (very little) workout gear with her three young sons. It was more about the choice of words that accompanied the photo: "What’s Your Excuse?" Kang defended herself by explaining she simply meant if she can do it, anyone can. When we’re inundated with Fitspiration images that are meant to ‘inspire’ you through shame or guilt, though, it’s easy to see why Kang’s statement was misread as judgmental. You know the kind of quotes I’m talking about, usually superimposed on a close-up of a fitness model’s abs or butt:

"Suck it up now so you don’t have to suck it in later." I guess having a belly that’s not perfectly flat is so terribly awful and offensive to others I would need to walk around holding my breath? 

"Would you rather be covered in sweat at the gym or covered in clothes at the beach?" This one is so wrong. To me it reads if you don’t exercise or look a certain way, you’re not allowed to wear a bathing suit in public.

"Don’t stop until you’re proud." I find this a little disingenuous. Part of me agrees with the idea of not just dialing in your workout and putting forth your best effort. When this quote is superimposed on top of a woman’s glistening six-pack abs, though, it says to me: Unless you look like this at the end of your workout, you shouldn’t be proud of your effort.

"This is what dedication looks like." When this statement is written over a picture of a chiseled, fitness model’s body, again the message is if you don’t look like this, then you’re not dedicated. I’ve had clients of all shapes and sizes and they’ve all been dedicated to their health and fitness. The amount of hard work and dedication is certainly not dependent on whether their muscles are visible.

Anti fitspo image

Now, confession time -- I do have my own version of a fitspiration board on Pinterest. There are pictures of amazing yoga poses that require more strength and skill than I can boast. There are pictures of awesome strong women lifting weights. There’s a link to American runner Kara Goucher’s website (because I love her). There are even a couple of articles about whether Fitspo is helpful or harmful. What you won’t find, though, are the kinds of images and Fitspo statements like those listed above. Guilt and shame are never the right tactics to use to inspire people to work out.

Do you find Fitspiration images to be inspiring, or do they make you feel bad about yourself?

 
 
Images (top to bottom): mislav-m/Flickr; Vincent Boiteau/Flickr; anda (:/Flickr
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body image, exercise, self esteem