By Caroline Robertson

When did we all suddenly begin wanting abs?! When did Adriana Limas workout schedule become more valuable information than her calorie intake? When did people start having avocados for breakfast?!

Urban Dictionary defines thinspo’ as an ‘abbreviation for “thinsporation”, aka pictures of bone-thin women that girls with anorexia/bulimia use to remind themselves of their goals to become thin.’

Whether this was the intention behind thinspo sites when launched or not, it faced a huge public backlash and soon a rival tag launched as a (literal) healthy competitor. ‘Fitspo.’ AKA, “Images of active, strong and fit women that promote proper exercise and diet. Much like thinspo but healthier.’

Both share one common notion: They promote a bank of ‘body ideal’ images for girls to look to as motivation for their goal body, be it super-skinny or super-strong. So thinspo has gradually disappeared (thank God). But what has fitspo brought to the tables in its place?

Role models are now strong, lean women boasting impressive six packs and weight lifting tips. Public desire has followed suit, and now instead of weight-loss tips, the Internet is packed with muscle building tips. Eating is no longer cheating, and healthy fats and proteins are to be consumed liberally.

But is fitspo simply replacing one unhealthy obsession with another? Is it swapping out obsessive calorie-control with obsessive protein-intake? Is it trading careful meal-skipping decisions with relentless gym sessions? Arguably, this body image being promoted by fitspo sites is just as difficult to achieve, and despite it being physically healthier and a better image to promote, is it creating an unhealthy mindset and feelings of inadequacy amongst young women?

thinspo vs fitspo
thinspo vs fitspo
thinspo vs fitspo

I spoke to marathon runner Caitlin, who beat a difficult struggle with anorexia that saw her dangerously ill. Caitlin believes that as far as fitspo is concerned, “it should be about women being empowered through sport rather than being inspired by “perfect” bodies on Instagram”. She argues that women should be empowered through their own personal experiences and achievements, rather than through images of an ‘ideal’ body. Unfortunately she accepts this is not always the case, and that the problem with fitspo is that “it’s becoming more about image ideals than enjoying fitness and sport.” Ultimately, fitspo is promoting a lifestyle change, whereas a lot of girls see it as merely promoting a certain type of body shape.

Powerlifter Leanne Conroy is testament to the idea that the fitspo body image is difficult to maintain, and she trains up to 5 times a week. She eats between 2000-3000 calories a day, and points out that a lot of the ‘fitspo’ pages you see promote ‘quick fixes’ for followers, or money. The popular tea-based detoxes is one example, ‘If it’s too good to be true, then it’s most likely fake!’

Leanne does see the positives of fitspo pages though, such as creating a community of strong women and support groups, which she finds empowering. A band of women grouping together to encourage the change of the ‘desired’ body shape is positive as long as it’s about a healthy, steady change rather than a rapid and extreme change which can become dangerous, and reflect aspects of thinspo.

Regarding the promotion of healthy eating and a clean diet, Leanne explains ‘ it can make you feel more energized, happy, positive and improve your skin and nails.’ (All good things, I think we can all agree!) ‘Promoting these things can only improve societies health problems’, she continues – and it’s difficult to argue against this. Ultimately, Leanne uses Fitspo pages as encouragement rather than pressure. ‘I use it to motivate me if I really don’t feel like going to the gym. There’s a girl who can back squat a ridiculous amount and if she can do it, then so can I!’

But are all girls this healthy in their mind-set, or do some see it as another pressure to conform to what society deems as an attractive body ideal? The truth is, to achieve the bodies of these women, it take years of complete devotion and training, and it’s not realistic for us mere 9-5 mortals to get there unless we are willing to sacrifice a hell of a lot of time, our weekly booze night and on occasion, a bit of a social life. As Leanne puts it, ‘there is no quick fix! It takes years to change your lifestyle and make it sustainable.’

So don’t feel disheartened when after a month you don’t see the changes. You should feel better on the inside, and if fitspo is making you feel inferior or down about yourself, then it’s not doing its job – just unfollow! If comparing yourself to these women with a completely different lifestyle makes you feel bad about yourself, you don’t need it.

Fitspo should be about feeling healthy on the inside as much as on the outside. You shouldn’t beat yourself up over a missed gym session, or cancel fun plans with friends to squeeze in some cardio. You shouldn’t feel guilt-ridden for eating a pizza when you didn’t fancy a salad on a Friday night. Be realistic, and remember it’s a slow process. Don’t feel pressured to try and speed up the process, because it won’t work. Eat, indulge, and stop feeling guilty.

We need to keep a healthy mindset, and fitspo should be used as Leanne uses it – a motivation tool rather than pressure us to the gym because we feel so bad about ourselves. It was created to promote a healthy, active lifestyle to combat eating disorders. It should be about these things rather than about the body image.

Stop comparing your body shape to others. Be healthy, and happy. Life’s too short.