What’s the Difference Between Thinspo and Fitspo? Absolutely Nothing.

Warning: This post contains thinspo/fitspo images and fat hate statements. 

Thinspo or thinspiration is typically seen as harmful - but what about fitspo - is it any better? No, not really.

Thinspiration

Thinspiration or thinspo is images of skinny women collected or posted to motivate oneself or others to lose weight. It is strongly associated with eating disorders and specifically with groups and people who promote eating disorders. The images feature thigh gaps and visible hip and collarbones.

I did a quick Pinterest search for some examples:

Thinspo images often accompany details of diet plans which involve eating a certain amount of calories per day in a certain order.

People who support and encourage eating disorders have come under a lot of scrutiny online. Pinterest agreed to remove images that actively promote harm, although I don’t know the specifics of their criteria for removing an image.

When I searched Pinterest for “thinspo”, I got a warning at the top of my search page, telling me, “Eating disorders are not lifestyle choices, they are mental disorders that if left untreated can cause serious health problems or could even be life-threatening,” and referring me to treatment and support options.

Fitspiration

On the other hand, fitness is becoming more and more popular to rally around online. I have seen the slogan, “Fit is the new skinny,” apparently meant to highlight that thinness isn’t the goal.

Fitspiration or fitspo is images of skinny women collected or posted to motivate oneself or others to “get fit”. These images feature things like people in workout clothes, visible ab muscles, sweat, and motivational statements.

When I searched Pinterest for “fitspo” I was not warned about the dangers of eating disorders. I was treated to search results like these:


Fitspo images often accompany details of workout plans that involve specific exercises to be done a certain number of times in a certain order.

People who are interested in fitness and fitspo would probably cringe to be lumped in with the people who are sad if they net more than 300 calories a day.

When you scratch the surface of the fitspo images, you can find the fat-hate lurking nearby.

While the text in these examples reveal the demonization of weight and fat, no extra text is needed to reveal that fitspo is the same fetishization of thinness that thinspo is.

All you have to do is look at the body types shown.

They are invariably very thin.

Fat and Fit

If your inspiration was truly fitness, it would be acceptable to show a variety of fit bodies.

For example, these images are ALSO of athletic, very fit people:

Ragen Chastain, championship ballroom dancer

Anna Guest-Jelley, yoga instructor
Pat Gallant-Charette, long-distance, open-ocean swimmer
Lisa Fisco, training for the 2012 Olympics in women’s weightlifting

If you cannot look at these women and be inspired in your fitness, then you aren’t looking for fitness inspiration.

If you can only look at one thin exact body type for your inspiration, then what you’re seeking is that body.

It’s disingenuous to try to dress up your thinspiration as having anything to do with fitness.

And frankly, it’s fat-hate.

When the fitspo images don’t include varying body types, they say, quite definitively, “Thin is fit. Thin is healthy. Nothing else is.”

That idea hurts fat people.

If you are seeking weight-loss inspiration, I challenge you to broaden your view of what an acceptable body looks like, both for yourself and for the people around you.

If you are seeking fitness inspiration, I encourage you to find your inspiration in the wide variety of athletes who excel at their activities.

Comment reminder: There is nothing wrong with the bodies of any of the people in this post. This post is about dressing up thin-worship as a pursuit of fitness. It is not about the bodies of particular women, what they eat, or how much they do or do not exercise. No comments will be allowed that insult anyone’s body or that compare their worth to other people’s bodies.



Want to read something about being healthy and pursuing greater health without obsessing over your size or the number on the scale? Enter Linda Bacon, a pioneer in research that challenges the anti-fat status quo. Health At Every Size uses scientific research to point you towards a more intuitive relationship with food and movement. It’s possible to improve your health and your self-esteem without trying to make yourself smaller. Health At Every Size is kind of revolutionary while also being utterly simple.


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11 thoughts on “What’s the Difference Between Thinspo and Fitspo? Absolutely Nothing.”

  1. Thank you for this article. I have had an eating disorder since I was 15. I appreciate you pointing out the harm in thinsp and fitspo images that focus on being lighter, smaller, and having gaps and bones.

    Reply
  2. I find the photos of fatter people more inspiring than the photos of thin and ripped people. I have absolutely no delusion that I will ever look like the ripped, athletic people in the “fitspo” posts. They’re nice eye candy, but they alienate me more than they inspire me, because they just remind me how far I fall short from society’s beauty standards. The fatter people are inspiring because they send the message that even somebody like me can be fit and athletic.

    Reply
  3. Thank you for posting this and taking the time to put it together. I’ve been having a struggle with the fact that I want to be fit because I want to stack the deck in my favor of being able to move around like I want for a long time. The last pictures were actually the only inspiring ones to me; not just because the women weren’t super thin, but because in every picture they are clearly physically engaged, look strong and happy. *That* is freaking motivational. I may give up the idea of complicated shoes and decide that I just want to get to a point where I can wear that kind of strength and joy on my face and really mean it.

    Reply
  4. [Removed one sentence. -Issa] Those sorts of images are spawning grounds for not just eating disorders, but for emotional problems of all kinds. I’m glad Pinterest is at least attempting to control it, although I have my doubts.

    Truly, size and fitness do NOT go hand in hand.

    Reply
    • I took your first line out; I thought it went over the line in criticizing the individual photos. There’s nothing wrong with pictures of women, regardless of what their body looks like. The problem comes in the use of a collection of images and with people “inspiring” themselves to have bodies they don’t have.

      I remember reading a lot about the Pinterest policy change on harmful images, but I’ve not read anything since then on what kind of images they’ve actually removed. I did have some of my fat body photos removed because they showed breasts. The horror!

      Reply
      • I have a good feeling that ‘unacceptable’ nudity is about all they took down. Funny how on social media you can find joke naked pictures or some celebs, but art, breastfeeding, and unpopular bands with pasties-wearing female members are edited out or deleted entirely. But that’s a different conversation.
        Thinspo nudity (the infamous pic of the naked emaciated woman, for example and most likely) is accepted on some sites though…

        Reply
  5. Wow! I love those last photos. Incredibly inspiring! You should make your own “fitspiration” contributions with photos like that. 🙂

    Reply
  6. If you want images of fit and larger framed people, look no further than Serena Williams. She’s a prime example of sheer muscle mass!

    Reply
  7. I have had anorexia since I was eleven. I’m now fourteen, and have only just reached my goal body weight and recovered from my eating disorder (quite early, actually; the forecast was five to seven years). Thank you so much for this; I am afraid I was about to relapse, looking through the fitspiration pictures on Google Images, when I found this, and it completely turned me around and realised that I didn’t want to go back and spend my birthday in hospital with a feeding tube down my nose (I refused to eat, so they forcibly inserted it down my nose and into my throat); didn’t want to go back to looking that emaciated. Thank you so much for this.

    Reply
  8. this is an old post, but i still want to say this was a good article. i myself am skinny by nature (tiny bones and a fast metabolism, and years of just being too “lazy” to eat enough or eat healthily, as well as exercise) and have been trying to become fitter lately. searching for fitspo images and finding bodies that i can see myself realistically achieving is pretty easy, but it quickly made me confused as to how many other women would feel. health and fitness looks so different for everyone. my sister, who does twice to thrice the amount of exercise i do and for longer than i have, constantly calls herself “fat” (with negative connotations) and still “not as fit as other girls” when she has more strength, stamina and stability i’m not sure i could ever achieve. and it’s because almost everything that comes up when you google “fitspo” is just a more taut version of what you see when you google “thinspo”. they tell you how to get abs when visible abs are not actually a sign of a stronger core, just lower body fat. they tell you how to get rid of cellulite and rolls, when those hardly determine the size and strength of your muscles beneath. everything is about getting rid of fat.

    Reply

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