If you've ever looked to the Internet for a bit of healthy lifestyle encouragement, you might have come across "fitspiration." While its origins may have been well-intentioned, "fitspiration" involves pasting affirmations onto images of "aspirational" bodies: "No excuses" is plastered onto shiny abs and the questionable command to "Keep going when it hurts" superimposed on a butt that ignores gravity. And these "health-conscious" messages can steer dangerously close to pro-anorexia/"thinspo" territory.
"Weirdly Shaped" blogger Zoë Kohen Ley has some other ideas for encouraging a healthy, happy lifestyle. Occupying a space typically reserved for body negativity, Ley created a series of "fitspirational" images infused with a touch of levity and a lot of positive self-talk.
On their own, "fitspirational" messages are emotionally damaging on so many levels -- encouraging an adversarial relationship with food and one's body, confusing commitment with neurosis and trafficking in a host of body-negative perceptions that have nothing to do with health. The "Weirdly Shaped" images, however, all include a "fitspiration" ideal that Ley has reconfigured to combat the idea of a "perfect body" as an "earned" achievement, only lost out on through "excuses" and "weakness."
On her blog "Weirdly Shaped and Well Photographed," Ley shares her struggles and triumphs living in a body that falls outside of proportions promoted by mainstream media.
"I had grown up with a figure I didn’t know how to handle; I developed early and was teased a lot about having large breasts," Ley told HuffPost Women over email. "I tried to hide in baggy clothing for a long time, but even after I started trying to be more positive about myself, I couldn’t figure out how to dress in a way that made me feel confident."
Ley eventually discovered "the world of bra-fitting and full-bust bloggers," but still noticed that most fitness blogs were geared to either the hyper-fit or those trying to lose weight. "After everything I’d been through, I thought, 'there are other people out there who are struggling with the same confidence and pain issues I’ve had -- if I can reach even one and help, having a blog would be worth it,'" she said.
By tenuous virtue of embracing "health," "fitspiration" is slightly elevated from the more insidious "thinspiration." While Ley's images show a gorgeous woman who appears candidly well-adjusted, Ley admits this wasn't always the case: "I used to use thinspo (and to a lesser extent, fitspo) images in an effort to motivate myself... but they just just made me feel awful all the time," she explained. "Cultivating more positive messages is really important to me, for myself and others. I believe that each person has to strike whatever balance is healthy for them..."
Only when we frame fitness as an enhancement to a happy life, rather than a requirement for one, are we likely to do it enthusiastically. This is what Ley's anti-fitspiration achieves so successfully: reminding us -- with a touch of whimsy -- that healthy behaviors don't have to exist to the exclusion of some of our favorite things.
What fitspiration and the larger body-alteration business ignore is that every single body is different, and insisting upon one type of perfect body is a futile exercise against basic human physiology. This is the message of some of Ley's most compelling images: no calorie deficit can undo a naturally large bust, and running an extra mile won't whittle down genetically wide hips -- and that's really, totally OK.
What will it take for women to finally dismiss the demands of a for-profit ideal in favor of how their bodies naturally respond to a healthy lifestyle? Ley admits the problem runs deeper than pinning a few positive messages.
"With sexism and gender policing so deeply ingrained in our culture and billions of dollars being spent each year by the diet and fitness industries to ensure that everyone is made to feel awful about themselves all the time, it’s a rather steep uphill battle," she said.
Still, small, creative steps like the anti-fitspiration project can give way to bigger changes. We'll be adding Zoë Ley to our "body image hero" list and are happy to take up the mantle. After we finish a cupcake.