The hashtag #Fitspiration is often seen on social media. It is a combo of two words: fitness and inspiration. Search for that popular hashtag and you will be faced with more than 16.5 million posts of images and videos of bodies in motion, nearly naked toned bodies, and before and after weight loss photos. While the posts may appear to be a positive movement, encouraging people to stay fit and healthy, a new study finds that it does the opposite.
#Fitspiration and women’s well-being
A team of researchers from Flinders University's College of Nursing and Health Sciences shared in their study, which appeared in the journal Body Image, that fitspiration images increased the body dissatisfaction and negative mood of women. A sample of 108 female undergraduate students between 17 and 25 years old with a mean age of 20.24 participated in the research that examined their well-being, exercise behavior, and social media usage. The participants were randomly assigned to a two-image type, either travel inspiration of fitspiration, and two-activity type, either quiet rest or exercise.
The results showed that exposure to fitspiration Instagram photos did not lead to greater exercise behavior among the participants. Flinders University SHAPE (Sport, Health, Activity, Performance, and Exercise) Research Centre’s Co-Deputy Director Dr. Ivanka Prichard said that the fitspiration photos appear to have no beneficial effect when considering the participants’ actual exercise behavior. Although the hashtag was created with positive intention and is popular nowadays, it just makes the female population feel worse about their bodies and themselves.
Impact of idealized imagery on young women
The study shows that nearly 90% of young Australians are using social media and other platforms, such as Snapchat, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook. This is of concern, knowing that idealized imagery has an impact on young women as to how they view their bodies. Prichard highlighted via medical research platform Medical Xpress that media depicts that the ideal body type is fit and thin but the photos shown to the public are often unobtainable and are the “idealized” version of young women's body shape.
Prichard and the team compared their result to young women who were shown travel inspiration images rather than fitspiration photos. Some participants were also instructed to exercise after showing the image type and the activity type images. Those who viewed the fitspiration photos said that they felt the need to work harder but did not work harder on a treadmill.
The team also found that women who viewed the fitspiration photos but did not follow up with an exercise but simply a period of quiet rest helped return their mood level and body image perception to normal. Dr. Prichard said there is a need for further research, highlighting body diversity and body functionality that can help promote a positive body image among women.
Ideal fitspiration subjects: men vs. women
In a 2017 study that appeared in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, authors Elise Rose Carrotte from Burnet Institute in Australia and the team also concluded that the ideal fitspiration subjects among women looked athletic or thin, whereas men are typically focused on the muscular body type ideal.
Our World in Data, a scientific online publication that focuses on large global problems, shares that Facebook is now the largest social media platform globally with more than 2.4 billion users. In 2018, there were about 2.26 billion monthly active Facebook users, 1.9 billion YouTube users. Other popular social media platforms are Instagram (1 billion monthly active users), WeChat (1 billion), Tumblr (624 million), TikTok (500 million), Weibo (431 million), Google+ (430 million), Reddit (355 million), Twitter (329.5 million), and Pinterest (246.5 million).
Fitness-focused influencers on Instagram
Among the billions of people using Instagram, 31% of them are men and 43% are women. Others are shared accounts and business accounts. Influencer marketing agency Mediakix also gathered the list of top fitness influencers on Instagram and their number of followers. First on the list is @Jenselter, a fitness, nutrition, and lifestyle social media influencer with 11.1 million followers. Second in the list is @Michelle_Lewis with fans ranging from casual gym attendees to hardcore fitness enthusiasts. She has 10.4 million followers. Other fitness influencers are @Anacheri (9.7m followers), @Anllela_Sagra (8.4m), @Kayla_Itsines (6.7m), Juliagilas (4.6m), @Eva_Andressa (4m), @PaigeHathaway (3.9m), @UlissesWorld (3.5m), and LaurenDrainFit (3.4m).
Why women are so focused on body image
Body image describes how we think and feel about our bodies. Our feelings and thoughts about our bodies can impact us throughout our lives and affect us more generally, including our well-being and mental health. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, the media focuses on showing women who are young and thin as attractive. This causes young women and girls to try to reach such a standard of beauty but the body ideal may not even exist in the real world.
Database company Statista conducted a survey to find out how happy people are about their bodies. When asked “how happy are you regarding your weight and body image?” 78% of participants from Indonesia said they are happy and 21% said they are unhappy. 72% in Saudi Arabia said they are happy when they take a glance at their weight and body in the mirror while 25% said they are unhappy. In Qatar, 70% of the participants said they are happy and 27% said they are unhappy. Others included in the study were Egypt (68% happy, 30% unhappy), Australia (63% happy, 36% unhappy), United Kingdom (61% happy, 37% unhappy), Germany (60% happy, 37% unhappy), United States (57% happy, 37% unhappy), and Hong Kong (49% happy, 50% unhappy).
Both men and women can get preoccupied with how they look, but this can also lead to body image issues. Although people cannot automatically turn their negative body thoughts into positive ones, there are thought patterns they can practice to feel better about who they are and the body that they naturally have. For example, they can start by appreciating all that their body can do, look at themselves as a whole person and not just focus on certain body parts, remind themselves that true beauty is not just skin-deep, pay attention to social and media messages that make them feel bad about themselves and their body, and do something nice for themselves.