Tuesday, May 29, 2012


I’m not sure exactly how I fell down the tumblr rabbit hole but I am pretty sure that it had a lot to do with a random link under an interesting picture.

There has been a lot of chatter in the media and on the Internet about obesity, health, and (either blatantly or covertly) race.  Heart disease, diabetes, and asthma seem to be conditions that disproportionately affect people of color but the overwhelming takeaway from reading articles and watching news reports is that people either don’t know or are unwilling to make the necessary lifestyle changes to correct the problems-diet and exercise.

This is far from the whole story-probably far from even a quarter of the story, of course.  But this explanation . . . is easy.  It is simple, short, and it gives us all plenty of time to bang out a pseudo-thoughtful facebook status that ends with a subtly judgmental smh. 

Building on that basis, it isn’t surprising that people of color don’t seem to have much of a presence in health and fitness imagery.  The myth that black people, particularly black women, don’t work out seems to be a reality, especially if you look at gym advertisements, fitness magazines, and commercials.

I stumbled into fitspiration because I went looking, specifically, for people who looked like me.  I did and didn’t find them.

Fitspo, like thinspo, is, apparently, a thing that exists now.  In one sense it’s always existed.  Everyone has ideas about aesthetics that are influenced by things that we’ve seen.  The difference today is that we have Pinterest and tumblr and the ability to somewhat obsessively monitor and disseminate every new image we see.

There are positives.  Pinterest is fairly useless as a search engine, but tumblr is where the real action is.  My favorite sites are Fit Black Girls and Curvesporation.  I had to pick two because while Fit Black Girls has images of women of color, these images are almost entirely of athletes, models, or women in peak physical condition.  

Fit Black Girls
Some of them stretch the imagination as far as what “fitness” means (is perching on an exercise ball holding three pound dumbbells while arching your back and showing as much cleavage as possible a fitness move?  Never heard of it) and some cater almost exclusively to the male gaze.  

Who is working out like this?
I'm not an expert on bikinis . . . but is it safe to say that this one is too small?

Curvesporation has the same focus but it also contains more images of women who have not yet achieved goal weights, women who are not trying, and a body positive focus.

When I obsessively check these sites, I tend to look at them with a satirical eye.  I can look at an image of an eight pack and think, “I should work out.”  I don’t think, “I have got to get a fucking eight pack. BY. ANY. MEANS. NECESSARY.”  I mean an eight pack is nice and all but if I have to walk around backlit and perpetually dewed with beads of sweat to really show it off, is it worth it? 

The problem with fitspo, much like thinspo, is that these images can become goals for people and the images themselves can be made up of so much fiction.  Photoshop, creative lighting, makeup, professional photographers . . . .  I know what you're thinking, what about the cell phone photos?  If any man has ever sent you a cell phone pic of his junk then you know that angles can be deceiving.  Also, Instagram.

These images aren’t goals for me . . .  yet I check them obsessively.  Why?  FBG helps me counteract the negativity directed towards black women in the media.  There are some "WTF! For real!" images on there, but for the most part it presents a powerful, and different, aesthetic.  Curvesporation, unlike some other sites, is very real food and healthy body positive.

This article helped me gain more perspective on the issue and to pay more attention to where these images are coming from-especially the ones with ridiculous slogans.  Read it.  Please.  If you are into fitspo, please make sure that you monitor your responses to what you are seeing.  I ask myself if I feel motivated or de-motivated?  Does this make me happy?  Does this make me hate myself?  Am I becoming more mindful about making good choices or am I simply becoming anxious?

Fitness should be about self-care and your mental health is a big part of that.

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