The 6 Most Shockingly Irresponsible “Fitspiration” Photos

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.

Central heating is for quitters! FITNESS!!

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 in 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.

#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 component 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 a stubbed toe, 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 Norman 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 won’t 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:

Kristin Rhodes, folks . . .

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 warm up.

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!

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What 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 great. Change is healthy. The desire to change stems from the admirable ability to introspect and to 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.

Addendum

It has come to my attention that the guy in the first picture is Rich Froning, a three-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.

900 thoughts on “The 6 Most Shockingly Irresponsible “Fitspiration” Photos

  1. Thank you for this post. I came to it quite by accident, but very much appreciate the reminder that images and sentiments like this often serve only to propagate self-loathing (and some of us don’t need any help with body hatred, thank you very much! lol).

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  4. Thank you, thank you THANK you for posting this. I get so annoyed at seeing these. I love sharing motivational imagery on my facebook page but a lot of the stuff out there is offensive and negative.

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  7. Wonderful article. I have never struggled with weight problems or body related self-esteem issues but I’ve realized many of my peers are severely affected by their own distorted views of their body. It is such a terrible shame that so many beautiful people cannot see themselves that way. I truly thank you for writing this.

  8. Thank you for expressing so eloquently what I have been observing for the past 15 years. Recently my body gringed with anxiety and pain by simply reading the class titles on a gym flyer: “thigh blasters” and “abs pulverizer”. Thank you for reminding us of all the bullshit.

  9. I am so very grateful to have someone put into words what I have thought for so long. And I am grateful, that I am not completely alone in feeling this way. Every aspect of health is about balance. Unfortunately, there are those who are supposedly “experts” who lead those less-informed to believe that if they aren’t killing themselves each and every day in a workout, they are weak and not worthy enough to be called “fit.”

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  11. Thank you so much for voicing what I thought were selfish opinions. There was a time in my life, when I would pour over images like these and I made myself ill trying to achieve perfection. I got hurt and ended up back where I started.
    I know what I want and how to get it. Taking my time, listening to my body and appreciating who I am and the journey I have had and will have.
    So again, thank you x

  12. Remember when there was as saying “don’t believe everything you read on the internet”? What happened to that? And what happened to common sense? Let me start by saying this is not written in an angry tone, so please don’t read it that way. I am a fit person, and a skinny person. I admit I have great genetics and a thin family, but I also have a disease that predispositions me to gain weight. So I fight it, every day. I find MANY memes disturbing (not these though), but I CHOOSE not to let them bother me. The internet is not made for one specific person, or one type of person. It is made for all people. You think differently than I do, and while I do not fault you for that, you would fault me for liking these meme’s. For using them as inspiration to push myself rather than settle for what society expects me to believe is “ok”. It has and always will be society vs media. You post was very well written, but a part of me feels like I *should* feel guilty for not feeling the way you do. You and other bloggers who are saying how wrong these are, are no better than that the magazines saying how right they are. It’s time we take responsibility for ourselves, if you don’t like something simply call yourself the bigger person and walk away. “Sticks and Stones….”

    • You apparently think you are immune to the expression and promotion of commonly held social values. It takes emotional and cognitive work to resist representations that are designed to promote certain ways of thinking, even when they result in physical and emotional damage. Note that you felt it was important, while supposedly talking about not exaggerating the power of such images, to start by describing yourself in a positive context as fit and skinny, as well as associating that with these images, thus actually proving the author’s point.

  13. Thank you for this. Truly. I was once over 300 lbs. Hired a trainer and pushed myself harder than I ever did in my life. Lost 9 lbs in 6 months and was very depressed because “I couldn’t work it harder”. I now am 150 lbs down due to changing my diet and lifestyle. Next goal…fitness and strength. For me. I may never have ripped abs and that’s great as long as I am entering the second half of a century strong and healthy!

  14. Wait until you’re 80. Age is nature’s cruel and jokey little trick that tells you, “yes, you’re gonna die!” no matter what you do, think or are. Please, by all means care for yourself. Your body is all and the only thing you’ll ever own so be nice and kind to YOU.

  15. This is rad. Thanks for putting these thoughts out into the world of the internet!
    As someone just getting out of the territory of anorexia and now battling with overexercise I particularly liked the very accurate and succinct way you dealt with that! Having been through what I have I can spot the exercise compulsives a mile off at the gym :( Don’t even get me started on the instagram accounts of girls who clearly have problems themselves perpetuating these to others who either don’t yet or do already, and instead of getting help receiving bulk likes and admiration from people who might be headed down that path themselves (or are at least feeling totally inadequate looking at very skinny toned girls holding bowls of fruit wearing expensive workout clothes).
    Sigh. I’ll stop, but thanks!

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  17. thank you. I am a solo, 54 yr old woman farmer with a B&B as well, and I don’t look like any of these buff chicks. I look like a normal human being and I also very tired!…lol…. 5’6″ & 160 lbs. And Im pretty sure I could outwork any of them, (maybe not arm-wrestle them) with working being THE key physical aspect of farming. Producing actual and tangible results from work.

    I don’t find people going to gyms in order to be “buff” to be adding anything to society’s greater good. It is all about internalized ego & self.

    Also I take great exception to the whole “push yourself past your limit” idea. Why? Why do that to? Limits are there for a reason; so that you don’t over do it & hurt yourself. The more realistic idea is to work while listening to your body. If you are tired, take a break, drink some water, listen to your animals and the birds and insects sing. Or just sit and look at the trees and at LIFE all around you and freaking celebrate being part of it a few ties a day. Be present whether you are in a city or on a farm. I was 30 yrs in Chgo……..look up at the sky if nothing else.

    Then go back to work rested and able to continue.

    Why are we constantly beating ourselves up and worse yet- setting up our beautiful children to do it as well is beyond me. Im so glad that -as a dad especially- you see how harmful these things are for your daughter and women to have to constantly aspire to.

    http://www.gosherdcottage.com

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  19. I am seriously so tired of these despicable “fitspiration” posts. They are mostly all body shaming campaigns and give horribly dangerous “advice”. Special thanks for showing the “strong is the new sexy” posts and pointing out that playboy model shots and 1% body fat models are not showing “strength” it’s just pathetic. Show me a girl like the one in the alternative photo any day. This was truly a breath of fresh air! Thank you!

  20. I don’t think these are “irresponsible” we should push our limits because we need to in order to know what we’re capable of. There comes a time when you know you can step it up and then there is the time when you know you should stop because your body’s hurting

    The key is knowing the difference

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