A few years ago, I had never heard of the term 'fitspiration'. Or 'fitspo'. I certainly had never contemplated a kale smoothie or a detox tea. My Instagram feed was filled with sunsets, make-up and decadent meals in fancy restaurants. The only food afforded 'superfood status' was broccoli. We still cooked with olive oil and didn't spend hundreds of dollars on activewear. (I know you want to sing the song now, so here it is for you.)
Fitspiration is supposed to inspire people to live a more healthy lifestyle, and with slogans like 'strong is the new skinny', it seems to place importance on fitness and equate the fitspirational lifestyle with health. However, fitspiration seems to be taking us down the same pathway as every other body trend. Instead of focussing on health, fitspiration may do more harm than good.
The basic problem with how our society defines health is that we focus heavily on the outside appearance. We see slim or slim-athletic women and muscly men as healthy. We admire those who run many kilometres or enjoy kale smoothies. We are not promoting health, we are promoting a lifestyle and the two are not inextricably linked. Tans and abs are not health. Obesity is not health. Health cannot be defined by what you post on Instagram.
Body image is a big part of our lives for men and women. The health and wellness industry makes a hell of a lot of money telling us all that we are not thin enough, not fit enough or not muscly enough. Just think about how much money you last dropped on a workout outfit. Actually, maybe don't -- it's not worth the anxiety.
Images of fit bodies are not selling normal blood pressure or a life free of diabetes. They're selling a lifestyle. Wellness experts take amazing photos of their amazing lifestyles and give you lists of tips on how to stay motivated when exercise seems tough or squat variations to get that just-right booty -- preferably with a photo of Warrior III asana and a motivational quote. Quite often, they are paid or sponsored by lifestyle brands to do so. Added to that, their qualifications are often dubious. What is sold as healthy can be downright dangerous in some cases. Belle Gibson, anyone?
Celebrities are jumping on the wellness guru bandwagon. Even Leonardo didn't lunge at an Oscar with that much gusto. Their (often genetically blessed) slim frames from 'yoga, sleep and water' are idolised as a healthy ideal. What we don't see is the carefully crafted image, just like our instafamous wellness experts. Or the cheeky cigarette they have between smoothies. Queen Goop Gwyneth Paltrow herself freely admits she has a nicotine hit every week. Just like 'health warriors', we are equating their outside image with health, not seeing or understanding what goes on between Instagram posts.
Here's the deal. Health is not just about what your body looks like. Marrying body image and health is fraught with danger and misinformation. Our society often has no idea what is actually healthy. If push came to shove, I doubt many of us could actually say what is healthy or unhealthy about ourselves, independent of how shredded we are.
So many modern diseases are directly linked to our lifestyles; what we eat, how often we exercise or if we smoke. More and more information is available in the scientific literature that shows us what we do in our early adulthood impacts greatly on our likelihood of nasty diseases like heart disease or cancer. For women, the more risk factors for heart disease you have in early adulthood, the more likely you are to actually have a heart attack in mid-life.
Health is not about flexing. It's about eating a healthy diet (superfood smoothies optional) and exercising sensibly. It's about maintaining a healthy body weight. A healthy waist-to-hip ratio is strongly associated with heart health. Your selfie is not. Health also encompasses feeling good in our minds, and judging ourselves against unrealistic and possibly misleading ideals of beautiful bodies does not a happy human make.
I wish I knew how to make health as sexy as abs. Fact is though, a picture of my uncoordinated running style will never get as many likes as a hot girl in a crop top. My boring breakfast of a poached egg on toast will not trump the $18 acai bowl. But even more un-sexy than a badly cut avocado is disease. Think cigarette packet style disease; lost legs, open heart surgery, cancer or stroke.
I am spending my life fighting disease. It is my enemy, day in and day out on the battlefield. If most of us worried less about what we looked like or if our meals were beautiful and complex enough, we could start actually doing the simpler things that make a real difference to our health and wellbeing. Do you know what your blood pressure is? How about your cholesterol? Is your poo normal? Unsexy to the max.
Close down Instagram. Stop longing for legs that never end or the latest activewear and start longing for a long, healthy and happy life that is full of quality and satisfaction. Join me in being unsexily healthy and work towards health, not just a butt that won't quit.