I will preface this post by saying that I am speaking to the majority of fitness goers, not the athletes that make a living or aim to make a living through aesthetics.
“Comparison is the thief of joy.”
It’s a word that most people who are a part of the fitness industry- whether provider or consumer- recognize. When you think of “fitspo,” what is the first thing that comes to your head?
- Maybe a girl with 6-pack abs wearing only spandex shorts, and a sports bra?
- Maybe a ripped and vascular guy in tighter than normal swim trunks?
- Maybe you think of a bikini competitor.
Whatever it is you think of, you know what fitspo is. It’s fitness inspiration! Something, usually a photo of someone who is in amazing shape, to keep you motivated and on track when you feel like you’re slipping. Now, let me ask this: when you see your “fitspo,” have you ever just thought, “ Wow, good for them. They look great?” Or does the conversation usually go more like, “Wow, they look awesome. I wish I looked like that.”
More often than not, inspiration is followed closely by us putting ourselves down. So often, we look at pictures of people who are in incredible shape and compare ourselves to them, swearing that we’ll stick to this program or eat a specific way so we can look like the people we admire. The reality of that, however, is that we often are setting ourselves up for failure.
I know. Super blunt and probably disagreeable, but hear me out.
I love Jamie Eason. She is one of my “fitspos.” She is incredibly kind and she looks phenomenal. I would love to look like Jamie Eason, but I have realized that I will never look like her. Why? There are a few reasons.
First, genetics. Some people may disagree, but some people are not built to look like Jamie Eason.. I am not blessed with genetics that tighten loose skin after weight gain. I store fat in my lower stomach- a trait that runs in my family. I do not have the same genetics as Jamie Eason and it would be silly of me to think that I can override that. This is not used as a cop-out or an excuse. You can still work hard and improve yourself, but be realistic and remember that some people are literally built to be shredded.
Second, intentions. She looks good for a living. It is Jamie Eason’s job as a fitness model and competitor to look a certain way. Bikini and bodybuilding competitors look the way they do because they have to look a certain way for their shows- often to win money or gain sponsorship (again, a way of providing for themselves). This is done through a specific diet and an intense exercise regimen that is literally her job. I have no intentions of making fitness modeling my job and I have no desire to compete in a stage competition. This means I don’t need to eat or exercise the way models and competitors do. Can I take tips from them? Absolutely! Lean meats, more veggies, more intense workouts. But should I belittle myself because I don’t look like someone who is expected to look good in order to have an income? Hell no. That makes no sense. Again, having different intentions shouldn’t be used to be lazy, but it’s important to remember when you’re feeling like a failure because you did a Body Building program and still don’t look like IFBB Pro Jessica James.
Lastly, for those of you who are fitspired (I don’t know if that’s a thing, I just made that up) by actors, it is abnormal to have constant access to things that make bulking and cutting “easy.”
Example: Christian Bale. Have you ever seen the Machinist? Well, he looked like this:
Then 5 months later, he filmed Batman Begins and looked like this:
He “dropped to a weight of 120lbs for The Machinist in 2004, before bulking up to 220lbs in five months for Batman Begins.” (source)
Ignore the fact that this probably wasn’t the safest thing for a minute and think about how much help Christian Bale had. He most likely had nutritionists preparing everything for him. Trainers hired specifically to help him gain weight and mass. Science was done for him and he just had to follow directions. When there’s no guesswork involved, it’s a little easier to manage (note: easier, NOT easy). Combine that with the fact that he was going to be paid $9 million+ (source) for the part, all of a sudden things aren’t looking so tough.
This doesn’t just happen for major role changes either. Victoria’s Secret Angels, fitness photoshoots- more often then not, those celebrities are prepared by a team of people. I won’t even mention Photoshop and retouching. Unless you have access to that kind of help and unless there’s $9 million on the line, why put yourself through that pressure if you don’t have to?
So why bring it up?
I have seen so many people that I know or follow on social media sites that crumble under the pressure of looking like fitspo. I know so many competitors that have a lot of trouble in off-season because they feel like they need to look stage-ready year round (something that is extremely difficult to do in a healthy, sustainable way). I know so many friends who have looked up to fitspiration and ended up backtracking because they are so focused on looking like so-and-so that they forget who they are and they forget what their goals are.
This cycle needs to stop!
Fitspo can be so good. But you have to make sure you’re using it to build yourself up, not bring yourself down.
How can you do that?
First: know what your main goal is, and try to keep it something that isn’t aesthetic.
No: “I’m going to eat clean so I have abs”
Yes: “I’m going to eat clean so I can improve my health.”
No: “I’m lifting weights to gain mass/become leaner”
Yes: “I’m lifting weights so I can be stronger.”
Aesthetics will follow dedication, but make health your goal.
Second: Make sure your goals are realistic. If you have 10 pounds to lose, don’t expect it to be gone in a month. It didn’t come on overnight so it won’t come off overnight either. Set goals that set you up for success in the future. A 1200 calorie a day diet will work wonders for weight loss, but what happens when you meet your goal? I can tell you from personal experience that the faster you lose it, the faster it comes back. Aim for .5 pounds lost per week. Maintenance will be easier. If you work full time, attend classes, and have a family, make sure you aren’t setting yourself up for failure by vowing to eat clean 100% of the time and exercising 6 days a week. Some people may be able to do that, but for the vast majority, that’s not reasonable or necessary.
Finally, make sure you find inspiration in yourself. You can be your own worst critic but you can also be your biggest inspiration. Did you run further than yesterday? Did you lift heavier than last time? Did you buy a smaller pant size? Use those times as inspiration. YOU did those things.
Fitspo can be a great thing. Just make sure to remember that those people are NOT you and comparing yourself to others will do nothing but cause you to devalue yourself. What is important is the progress you are making.
You don’t need Fitspo to tell you that.
What do you think? I’d love to hear your feedback in the comment’s section. Please keep it respectable.