Janci: Fitsporation finds new platform on Instagram

Janci questions the effects of fitspo’s image-driven nature.

Jenelle Janci

Jenelle JanciKale, sneakers and half-naked girls fill up my Instagram timeline.

I’m not interested in horticulture, footwear or even girls for that matter. However, every summer, I find my eyes yearning for more and more “fitspo. “Fitspo,” short for “fitsporation,” describes posts, largely photos, which aim to inspire the viewer to diet and exercise. The trend has taken over Tumblr, and recently became prevalent on Instagram.

I’ve found myself in a routine where every summer, fitness becomes my main priority. I’ve yet to spend a summer in the city, so when I’m in my hometown of Phillipsburg, N.J., I tend to use diet and exercise as a way to beat small-town boredom while simultaneously undoing the damage of a semester cozying up to food trucks. Fitspo is the gasoline to this fire.

While fitspo seems to promote a healthy lifestyle, many have argued it’s merely a veiled image of its pro-anorexic predecessor, “thinspo.”

The New York Daily News cited the blog Blisstree in an article more than a year ago calling out fitspo on this matter. While fitspo Instagram accounts are mentioned, it’s pretty indisputable that its popularity on the filter-friendly network is bigger than ever. Just a simple search of the tag “fitspo” garners more than three million results. And you all thought cappuccinos donning artful foam reigned supreme on the ‘gram.

I can’t help but think there’s something in Instagram’s very nature that makes its teaming up with fitspo a dangerous combination. In a much-shared article, Slate.com deemed Instagram the most depressing social networking site, blaming its “image-driven nature” for giving us a skewed perception of our peers’ worlds.

I can think of a handful of girls’ profiles I routinely check up on in a self-deprecating manner. Often, I find myself scrolling through their new outfits and fun adventures with my right hand while my left hand is in a bag of candy. Apply this behavior to a slew of photos of rock-hard bods, and it’s nearly a recipe for disaster.

However, not all fitspo accounts are entirely vain. Healthyandfit93, an Instagram account run by 19-year-old Georgia Betts, features more images of smoothies than spandex. The account has more than 4,000 followers.

Betts, of Melbourne, Australia, said she originally started the account as a way to motivate herself, not others.

“Over the last few years I have struggled with my eating patterns and trying to lose weight,” Betts said in an email. “I was constantly dieting/starving myself, then naturally my body would rebound and I’d binge until I regained the weight and the cycle went on. Having my Instagram was initially a way of keeping motivated and accountable to eat healthy well-balanced meals.”

In the same way other fitness accounts make you yearn for a thigh gap, Betts’s account makes you crave fresh greens and lean protein. The focus on food is undeniable, and it’s no surprise that Betts hopes to break into the restaurant business one day.

“I really love motivating other girls like myself to be healthy and happy,” she said. “My overall goal is to get my name out there and one day open my own little café where I can share all my food creations with everyone.”

While Betts is familiar with the Instagram fitspo scene, she said she sees a distinction between her content and the fitspo on Tumblr.

“I’m really not that into Tumblr,” Betts said. “I don’t use it all that much, but from what I have seen, there is much greater influence on body image.”

Although I originally thought Instagram was the culprit, Betts’s comment made me realize it’s not the site, but the curator. We choose who we follow and those monitoring fitspo accounts choose what content to post.

Additionally, I couldn’t think of many times I’ve actually looked at fitspo to “pregame” the gym. Most instances I could think of involved me looking at images when I’m lying in bed, feeling lazy or already feeling less than my full potential.

I’m convinced there’s a healthy way to process the fitspo of oiled-up chicks, but I can’t say with good conscience that type of fitspo is good for my obsessive personality. I once broke a VCR by incessantly replaying the “Summer Lovin’” scene from “Grease,” consumed a nearly 20-ounce family-size bag of peanut M&Ms in one sitting at age 4 and still know more facts about Teddy Geiger than I’m proud to admit. I have no sense of moderation.

That being said, bloggers like Betts have the right idea – encourage fitness by making followers crave healthy food, not flattering selfies.

“I believe it’s so important to be confident with yourself,” Betts said. “Too many days are wasted comparing ourselves to others and wishing to be something we aren’t.”

With this food for thought from Betts, the war on fitspo is finally clear – the road to fitness doesn’t start by looking for inspiration externally, but internally.

 Jenelle Janci can be reached at jenelle.janci@temple.edu or on Twitter @jenelley. 

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