The 6 Most Shockingly Irresponsible “Fitspiration” Photos

SadMuscleman

A fitness expert talks about six images that do more harm than good.

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The Reembody blog, up to this point, has been a thoughtful exploration of human movement, a subject about which I am extremely passionate.

Today, however, I’m mad and I’m going to tell you why.

I have been planning a blog post for a while on fitness misinformation and it was originally going to be the same kind of thoughtful deconstruction found in my other installments. But then I read this and it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever found in my newsfeed. So beautiful, in fact, that the rest of the health and fitness propaganda floating around Facebook like turds in a pool started to really, really piss me off.

So thoughtful deconstruction has been postponed for another day. Instead, we’re going to take a good look at a few of those turds and get pissed off together because, when someone preys upon your insecurities in an effort to manipulate or even harm you, “fuck straight off” is a totally appropriate response.

Join me now, as we stare in shocked incredulity at the worst of the worst:

#1. Your Body is the Enemy

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What They Think They’re Saying:

“Don’t give up! You may think you’ve given all you have, but you have so much more! You can make it if you just grit your teeth and push!”

Why It’s Bullshit:

Getting mad at your own limbs sounds less like the behavior of an Olympian and more like the crazy-eyed hobo who lives behind my building’s dumpster.

It is absolutely true that, if your muscles finally reach the point of failure, an emotional response like fear or anger triggers the release of adrenaline, which can keep you going. It’s called the fight or flight response and it’s been attributed to everything from moms lifting cars off kids to soldiers who refuse to lay down and die.

It’s also not something to fuck around with.

Pushing your body’s limits just because you want bigger biceps is sort of like setting your house on fire because you’re cold.

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Central heating is for quitters! FITNESS!!

Routinely stressing your body’s physical capacity is called overtraining, and it’s a massive problem in the fitness industry. It is linked to everything from joint degeneration, ligament tears and bone spurs to depression and—no joke—post traumatic stress disorder.

The fight or flight response only kicks during moments of impending danger precisely because the response itself is potentially dangerous. It’s a calculated risk on the part of your own biochemistry: turn it up to 11 and risk the joint damage or become food for a cave bear. When invoking that kind of biochemical gambit becomes less of a do-or-die, last-ditch effort to survive and more of a “Tuesday-at-the-gym-is-chest-day” scenario, you’re inviting in a whole mess of future problems.

[Addendum: It has come to my attention that the guy in the first picture is Rich Froning, a 3-time CrossFit champion and a generally respected athlete. It’s not clear whether the text is directly attributed to him. I mean no personal offense to Rich but I stand by my observation that the text is silly. You can line up respected athletes all day long saying that they “get angry when [they're] tired” and I will still say it’s silly.]

#2. You Should be Ashamed

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What They Think They’re Saying:

“Aren’t you tired of not being as pretty as you deserve? Well all it takes is perseverance to be everything you’ve ever wanted to be!”

Why It’s Bullshit:

First of all, speaking as the father of a little girl, fuck whoever made this.

This is an expertly lit, no doubt digitally enhanced image of a girl in her mid-twenties presented here as the definition of what a woman is allowed to be proud of; “until you are proud” seems to mean “until you have six pack abs, perky, squeezable breasts and the terrible burden of finding size 0 jeans with a 34 inch inseam”. If there were a male equivalent of this photo, it would have to be Iron Man to really capture the shocking lack of realism. It’s the “don’t stop” part, however, that earns this photo its place on my shit list. The message here is that it’s excusable, nay, it is advisable that the ladies in the audience disregard whatever else they were doing, you know, like having some self-esteem, and do whatever it takes to be fuckable. If it was explicit that “don’t stop” meant “hire a professional lighting crew and a makeup artist and maybe a wizard” it would be one thing, but it’s not. “Don’t stop” just ends up meaning “nope, you’re not up to these heinously unrealistic standards yet; keep running, fatty!”

Oh, and speaking of not stopping…

#3. Fitness as Socially Acceptable Neurosis

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What They Think They’re Saying:

“Commitment is important! People who lack the ability to commit will always try to bring you down.”

Why It’s Bullshit:

So there’s this thing called anorexia nervosa. It’s kind of a big deal. As a matter of fact, it and other eating disorders collectively have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness, killing 5%-10% of those afflicted within 10 years and a bone-chilling 18%-20% within 20 years. Oh, and it affects between 1% and 5% of women in the US so, like I was saying, kind of a big deal.

But with better public education and awareness, it’s getting harder and harder to starve to death without anyone noticing and, as it turns out, not wanting to be noticed is a key factor in the anorexic’s psychological profile. As a result, with the kind of nuance and ingenuity that is horrifyingly common among the mentally ill, exercise anorexia, or hypergymnasia was born.

It works just like anorexia and is caused by the same factors, only instead of restricting calories going in, hypergymnasiacs dramatically increase the calories going out. The benefit—if you can look at it from the self-abusive perspective of the afflicted—is that, instead of frequent, attention-grabbing trips to the bathroom, all they have to do is go exercise a lot! Oh man, easy! People LOVE exercise! Friends and family will just think they’re getting in shape, taking care of themselves, self-improving. The culturally accepted language associated with working out is moderately self-abusive anyway, so all the self-deprecation won’t raise any red flags and obsessing over exercise will blend right in to the normal cultural fabric of fitness.

And if someone does start to question the wisdom of a 10k run after CrossFit and two hot yoga classes? Well, the hypergymnasiac can just high five their fellow gym-goers and say, “I’m not obsessed, you’re just lazy!” And to a soundtrack of enthusiastic support, go right back to killing themselves.

So, no, obsession is not the same as dedication and creating a vocabulary that makes it easier for the mentally ill to cloak their illness in normalcy is not doing anyone any favors.

#4. Disregarding Your Limits

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What They Think They’re Saying:

“Do what you have to do to get the job done. Don’t be afraid to show your struggle, only be afraid to fail.”

Why It’s Bullshit:

I can’t believe I have to write this next sentence but here goes: crawling on the floor weeping while you puke all over yourself is not healthy.

Your body has limits. Those limits are there so that daily function—up to and including heavy manual labor—requires a relatively small amount of physical stress and sacrifice. This means that, if you get into a spontaneous bar fight with a group of neo-Nazis and must defeat them to protect the beautiful tattooed bartender with the dark secret—I’m not the only one who has that fantasy, right?—well, it means that you’re not going into action with a bunch of used-up joints. Your back may look like a gunnysack full of angry pythons, but that won’t mean squat (ha!) when you herniate a disk.

The trick is to know your limits. Pain is helpful in this regard. Of course, there’s pain and there’s pain, but part of being healthy is knowing the difference. Training so hard as to induce vomiting and uncontrollable sobbing is to slowly undermine the basic human judgement of what constitutes challenge versus what causes injury; It’s a fundamental component of self-control. Toddlers learn it when they figure out that they don’t need to cry over skinned knees but that a broken arm is a big deal.

Basically what I’m saying is: don’t let your training routine reduce your level of self awareness to what it was when you still wore footy pajamas.

#5 Strong is the New Buzzword for Manipulating Women’s Body Image

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What They Think They’re Saying:

“Beauty used to be about getting thin but not anymore, ladies! We’re not after waifish waistlines, we’re after strength!”

Why It’s Bullshit:

Quick! What do all three of the women pictured above have in common? If you said, “they’re all skinny”, you’re exactly right!

The fitness industry—from gyms to clothing manufacturers—collectively produces more propaganda than North Korea, a lot of it just as crazy. This particular class of ads is almost comically absurd because what’s written on the picture directly contradicts the picture. It would be like if Oscar Meyer produced an ad saying “vegetables are awesome, eat those instead of hot dogs!” printed over images of freckled Normal Rockwell kids happily stuffing their faces with hot dogs. It shows just how little credit advertisers give the public: they assume that if they tell you what you’re looking at you wont actually see what you’re looking at.

“But Kevin”, you might argue, “the women in those images have great muscle tone! They’re totally strong!” They certainly are. So is she:

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Kristin Rhodes, folks . . .

And you’re not going to find her in a Nike ad, even though she’s a stone-cold badass who probably deadlifts the combined body weight of those other three ladies as a goddamn warmup.

Now, before I get bombarded with angry comments from skinny people, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with being skinny. I’m also not suggesting that being skinny and strong are mutually exclusive. I’m only pointing out that strength only sells when it’s sexy and, make no mistake, advertisers want very badly to make you feel like you are currently failing at both.

Strong isn’t really replacing skinny; being skinny is no longer enough. Now, ladies, you need to be skinny and ripped. It’s an additional layer of self-loathing  (perfectly suited for hypergymnasiacs), just in case people had started to get desensitized to the omnipresent and psychologically crippling display of corpse-thin women in the media.

And what’s with the Playboy cover poses? The one on the bottom is basically a picture of an ass. The young lady on the top right is either confused about how to wear pants or the ad was meant to double as a promotion for whoever did her impressively thorough bikini wax. According to these photos, all this notable strength that is the new standard of beauty is only useful for the exact same thing being skinny was: sex appeal. Not adventure or longevity, or even ability; Nope, just for sexy times.

So I guess “strong is the new skinny” is, in fact, a totally accurate statement, just not so much in an inspiring way as in “the gears of modern culture crushing young women’s dreams” kinda way.

#6 Fitness Assault!

972317_545184485541956_806468334_nWhat They Think They’re Saying:

“The part of you that wants to give up is the weak, lazy part; dominate it with the strong, committed part and work your way to success!”

Why It’s Bullshit:

Please tell me I’m not the only person made terribly uncomfortable by this. I mean, doesn’t that strike anyone else as a little, well, rapey? I think it’s safe to say that, if your inner monologue during a workout even slightly resembles the script from a poorly translated hentai comic (no I will not include a link) there might have been a little mix up somewhere regarding this whole exercise thing.

If your body or your mind says “it hurts” or “I need to stop”—and I’m going to be as clear as I can about this—FOR FUCK’S SAKE STOP. It isn’t even a joint health thing at this point, it’s just creepy.

I get that lots and lots of people enter a gym wanting to change: weight, BMI, strength, performance, whatever. Change is cool. Change is healthy. The desire to change stems from the admirable ability to introspect and see that, currently, we are limited in ways that we want not to be. If that desire to change, however, becomes a desire to change at all costs, you will be sorely disappointed with what you end up paying. Work out, have fun, get tired, fail occasionally, wake up sore and set your next goal. Whatever you do, just don’t do it like these poor suckers.

You might also like: How to Have Flat Abs, Better Sex and Rule the World in 8 Easy Steps

This article originally ran at Reembody.me.

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About Kevin Moore

Kevin Moore is a Pilates instructor and movement therapist based out of Hong Kong. He also lectures for the Evidence-Based Fitness Academy as a Barefoot Training Specialist (BTS) Master Trainer. You can read his blog and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Comments

  1. This would have been more impressive if, at the bottom of the article there hadn’t been a link that said “You might also like: how to have flat abs, better sex and rule the world in 8 easy steps.”

    • ‘And rule the world the world in 8 days’ I think you missed the sarcastic tone. Another very good article and definatly along the same lines as this one.

  2. One of the pics used in your article is of my friend….used with his permission?!!!

  3. These comments are comical. You wouldn’t put a fat person eating McDonald’s on a poster and have any of these slogans on them. Having a fit person on them is now all of a sudden a bad thing? I thought we were trying to get people to be fit and take care of themselves instead of sitting on the couch being lazy. Let’s keep it in perspective. I doubt very highly that someone is going to read these and say that I have to be crawling and puking for it to mean that I had a good workout. That is just stupid to take it literally.

    • ThePaleKing71 says:

      There’s a difference between a fit person, and an aesthetically pleasing, photo-shopped image that doesn’t have much basis in reality. Like the author said, you’re not going to see Kristin Rhodes on any “strong is the new skinny” memes.

  4. Aaron Claypool says:

    It’s so easy to get caught up in the image and mindset those kind of ads convey. With nearly 2/3 of Americans actually overweight or obese, it does feel like the message those ads produce ends up driving more people away from a fit lifestyle. It’s saying “if you’re not gonna look *this* good, don’t bother stepping up”.
    That’s not to blame the fitness industry. It’s just to say that those types of ads are meant to sell a product to a very limited group. They’re not meant to be sage advice.

  5. I’ve written two book about this subject baseed on 10 years of extensive research and Kevin is absolutely correct in every aspect. I applaud him heartily for speaking out. Wish more people would see the stupidity behind what we’re told about health. One other point: in order to increase muscle size, you must tear those muscles. It is this that then causes the body to repair them stronger and bigger. Tearing them repeatedly is what you have to do to get the size of body builders. However you look at it, deliberately tearing your muscles can’t ever be a healthy option.

  6. wellokaythen says:

    Wow. Doesn’t anyone actually, you know, have FUN when they exercise? Seems like some part of it should be enjoyable.

    Isn’t it supposed to be fun on some level?

  7. Frustrated says:

    I wholeheartedly disagree with this article. Strong means different things for different people, just like fit means different things for people in different sports. To discount anyone’s form of motivation seems silly. Everyone needs motivation, it’s not going to be the same thing for everyone. Rather than anyone trashing someone else’s motivation, it would seem better to find alternate forms of motivation that DO motivate that person instead. Just my two cents.

  8. As an ex-competitive cross country skier with coaching qualifications, I know what its like to go past my limits, and I also know what its like to be truly healthy. Here’s what I hate about those images:

    1) Bulk Isn’t Health

    To feel healthy and in shape, you’ve gotta work on your cardio. Work on running 5 or 10 kms. Do free weights to get toned. Strictly anaerobic training won’t make you feel any better during your day to day, and isn’t something you can maintain your entire life. It will release more endorphins too.

    2) How to Train

    Unless you’re being competitive and judged, pushing past your limit is dangerous. Train TO your limit, then recover. You will still improve on your results, but won’t have to overcome injury. I’ve raced to the point where I can’t stand up after the finish line, a and I can’t distinguish a bus from a tree, but to do that each day in training would be absurd.

    3) BULK DOESN’T MEAN YOU’RE HEALTHY!

  9. sanctifying.victory says:

    I saved all of the images to my iPad as inspiration.

    And you really need to get a sense of proportion. One minute with a real existential crisis would disabuse you of your silliness.

  10. @sanctifying.victory DITTO!

    When I went from obese chips chomper to working out for health, sport, entertainment, many former friends called me “obsessed”, “gym rat”, “spinach breath”. A few saw the changes in me & changed, too. The rest still content themselves into greater obesity, into heart disease. I like the photos, love anything motivating others toward fitness goals.

Trackbacks

  1. […] The 6 Most Shockingly Irresponsible “Fitspiration” Photos The Good Men Project So beautiful, in fact, that the rest of the health and fitness propaganda floating around Facebook like turds in a pool started to really, really piss me off.  […]

  2. […] The 6 Most Shockingly Irresponsible “Fitspiration” Photos So beautiful, in fact, that the rest of the get betterier and fitness propaganda floating around Facebook like turds in a pool started to really, really piss me off. So thoughtful deconstruction has been …. What do all three of the women pictured above have … Read more on The Good Men Project […]

  3. […] when I came across this great article by Kevin Moore on the ‘6 most shockingly irresponsible “fitspiration” photos’, it really hit a nerve. Moore looks at a few Pinterest type images that blend a catchy motivational […]

  4. […] But let’s shift the context for photo 2.  Slap that .jpeg on a gay-only or gay-friendly website, and similar comments might appear.  The Main Site isn’t an entrepôt for gay pornography (not primarily, anyway, though there are certainly some choice cutlets on display there); we can safely assume that the posters of these images knew the difference.  Photo 1, they’ve got to be thinking at least subconsciously, is for the “spank bank,” while photo 2 is merely intended as some grrreat fitspirtation. […]

  5. […] has been a lot of talk lately, on The Good Men Project and elsewhere, about the so-called “fitspiration” posters which […]

  6. […] over pinterest.  well, i pinned an article that make some astute observations about such images: “the 6 most shockingly irresponsible ‘fitspiration’ photos’” by kevin moore, published on the good men project on 2013년09월12일.  as i said about this post […]

  7. […] And: in the last couple of days Fb friends have posted on the new, “healthier” direction that we’re heading in for women’s fitness—“strong is the new sexy”. Have you heard? Being attractive now is not about being skinny, it’s about being super-fit. And, incidentally, being very skinny, and very hungry. (Kevin Moore, at the Good Men Project, has a nice take-down of the sinister subtext of this “fitspiration” aesthetic: http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/brand-the-6-most-shockingly-irresponsible-fitspiration-ph…).  […]

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