(trigger warning for mentions of fitspo images and self-harm)
Earlier today I was having a discussion with a friend about fitspo. She is trying to lose weight and lead a healthier lifestyle, and she is using fitspo as what it claims to be - an inpsiration to be fit. She told me how motivating fitspo content is for her.
Now, I have to state that I am not a plus-size woman, I am what you would call an “inbetweenie”. Nor have I ever struggled with an eating disorder, and I have never been officially diagnosed with any mental illness. Obviously, these factors shape my experience with fitspo a great deal.
Ever since I was in primary school, I have been a perfectionist. Give me an activity that I even moderately enjoy and I will try to be the best at it. (Sometimes I can’t deal with losing in Monopoly.) I attended a very competitive school. At the time, I didn’t even realize how much of a burden this was, or how much it contributed to my personal development. They taught me that to be accepted, I have to be the best at everything. (Maybe this isn’t what they were teaching, but this is what was planted in my head.) So that was the deal: you’re either the best of the best, or you are a failure - nothing inbetween. And I had so many classmates who were good at every single thing you can imagine. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am very grateful for all the knowledge that I learned there - the foundations of my being fluent in English, my love for History, my fondness of grammar - but when the next class was going to be something I wasn’t really good at, I was on the verge of throwing up.
What I dreaded most was gym class. My first PE teacher told me he would make me fail the class. He shouted at me many times for not being able to climb a rope. Instead of teaching me, he just yelled at me. This made me loathe all possible sports activities. I was around 8 when these things happened, and the first time I was able to go jogging for the sole purpose of enjoying the activity was a few weeks ago. I turn 20 in October.
When I was around 16, my competitiveness and perfectionism really came forward and whenever I didn’t accomplish something I would beat myself up over not being good enough and I would turn to self-harm (that’s a habit that I find it very hard to get rid of). This year I have lost a friendship that was very valuable to me, but it took me a while to realize that for the past one and a half years, my ex-bestfriend acted many times like she wanted to change me, which then - unconsciously - made me feel like I wasn’t good enough. This feeling came to the surface and it crushed the friendship itself.
I don’t have a lot of friends now and I am in a long-distance relationship, therefore I deal with loneliness quite frequently. The alone times used to really kill my self-esteem and self-image, as I could not come to terms with who I was. Obviously I wasn’t good enough for one person, which - to me - meant not being good for anyone. I became pananoid that everyone was talking about me behind my back. In my head, I was constantly comparing myself to everyone - there’s a pretty girl on the bus, wonder if I look at least half as good as her, here’s an old aquaintance on facebook having more friends than me, that woman over there has prettier clothes than I do - and I kinda got this idea if I had been named “Best Person on the Earth Right Now” I would suddenly have all my friends back and all the popularity I always wished for. (I know that sounds ridiculous.)
At this time, I was already familiar with body acceptance, but regardless of that whenever I went to a spinning class I would keep comparing myself to all the other people there and thinking about the number of calories I had burned. Since I’ve graduated from school and I don’t spend every day in a group of people where I am not appreciated, I feel much better about myself, and I don’t spend my alone time thinking about my faults. I have also stopped the comparing, so when I see someone good-looking, I mentally note that they are pretty, and that’s it, end of story. I find comparisons very triggering because of what I’ve been through.
And this is why fitspo would never work for me (and also why I love all body positive content on tumblr - it makes me feel good enough). When I see a fitspo image, I get the message that unless I do two hours of cardio every day I will not be good enough. That friend whom I mentioned in the beginning of this post, had a background on her computer that was an image of a woman in a sports bra, very toned, abs visible, and it said, “This could be yours in months.” And in my head, it goes on like this: “Or, you know, it couldn’t, in which case you have failed at life and no-one will ever like you because your belly is soft like a pillow.” And obviously I won’t do 300 push-ups a day and obviously I won’t run ten kilometres every day, because I am physically incapable of that. I may be young, but I have my own small disabilities that make it impossible for me to do sports all the time. And it’s like that with every single fitspo image I’ve come across: they tell me that if I’m not like this, then I am not enough. It sticks to one ideal and preaches that nothing else is acceptable, ever. My curvy soft-pillowy body is a disgrace to the world of fitspo, and I like it this way. Because my boyfriend likes that I am soft. I am also very glad that now I can run for 4 kilometres straight, by myself. And no thanks, I don’t want to hear how much you can do, and also, I don’t want to go to the gym, unless I’m the only person there. I want to excercise only because I enjoy excercising, on my own, with no-one to be compared to. I can’t avoid comparisons in all fields of life, so let me control as much of it as possible. The least I want is to be compared to an image of a girl I see on a blog that promotes overexcercising. Also, I really like cake. (Which is essential to my mental well-being.)