Sunday, March 27, 2016

Workout Memes

I'm linking up (a little early this week) with TOTR!

There's one kind of meme that drives me absolutely nuts. It's the "fitspiration" meme. You know the's the meme with a picture of a skimpily dressed body-builder emblazoned with the words "strong is the new skinny".
Sure, let's shame ourselves and pit women of different body types against each other. Sounds like a plan.
To me, these are barely a step away from the body shaming of "thinspiration" memes that trumpet the superiority of being thin.

Sometimes fitness memes get it right, but all too often they take on a kind of self-hating tone. They make exercise seem like punishment. They take joy in the pain of accomplishment. And personally, I don't think that stance is healthy at all.
This is the picture that started my rant today. It was posted in one of my running groups and many of the women liked it - and I get that. I understand that fitness can turn you into a new person in a way, physically and mentally. But we shouldn't be discarding the "old us" or fighting the "old us" as if she's an enemy. Why do we feel we have to hate ourselves in order to make positive changes in our lives?
How about this one, that shames your current body and basically suggests you beat it into submission because the way it looks right now is embarrassing and unacceptable?
Or this one, which normalizes the unhealthy idea that pushing yourself to the point of crying, sacrificing form, and puking is a good, healthy way to work out? Am I a total baby for thinking that you're going overboard if you've pushed yourself to that point? (I know this is a badge of honor for some runners, but I think it's unnecessary and unhealthy.)
Here's an exceptionally bad's borrowing the pro-anorexic phrasing of "nothing tastes as good as thin feels" in an attempt to make it about fitness instead of starvation, but the underlying message is still there.

Some fitspiration does it right. It promotes being healthy and working out for the right reasons, and I wish we saw more of this rather than memes that give credence to the cruel, bullying voices in our heads that tell us we deserve to suffer because our bodies aren't good enough and need to be brutalized and pummeled into shape.
See, this one gets it right. Eating healthful foods and moving our bodies should be about celebrating what we're capable of. It should be about realizing that our bodies are the only one we get, and we want them to keep working - and working well - into our golden years.

You don't need to hate your body or yourself to strive toward making changes; in fact, I think we get further when we treat ourselves with the respect we deserve. How hard is it to do something that feels like punishment everyday, compared to something that feels like a celebration of our worth and value?

Honestly, if I never saw another one of these types of memes ever again, I'd be happy. Give me motivational blogs and running groups over this tripe any day!

What do you think of fitspirational memes?



Megan @ Meg Go Run said...

Just like you pointed out, some fitspo memes get it so right and some get it sooooooo wong! I definitely don't like any of the wording on the memes you posted except of course the last one. And I don't really get motivated by just seeing someone pose, but more by seeing them in ACTION. Like if there is a meme of a strong girl in the act of lifting weights, that makes me want to GO LIFT WEIGHTS and get all sweaty and strong like her. But when they are just posing it sort of makes me anxious.

Christine said...

I agree, I'm not a huge fan of the memes. My current pet peeve is the action running selfies. I love pictures of people running, but not when the entire instagram account is running selfies and a motivational quote.

James Douglass said...

Cool rant! It looks like these (community created?) memes spread some of the same body-negative perspectives as the (industry created?) content in popular womens' health/beauty magazines. I don't know if that's surprising or not.

Kristina Allen said...

One Saturday morning when I was out on a long run this male runner came up next to me and said, "better speed up, she's coming for you?" I was so confused. I looked behind me and didn't see anyone so I said, "Huh? Who?" and he was like "SHE, the old you!" I had no idea how to respond to that. I'm sure he was trying to be motivational but it stuck me as so bizarre. What does he know about the old me? Or the current me? There are so many other things we can say to encourage each other that don't have negative implications. Ah, I'm sure he meant well and I guess it's the thought that counts.... hm.

I'm not a fan of most fitspo memes. I have a few boards on Pinterest for motivational running graphics and some funny fitness graphics, but thinspo disguised as fitspo is cringe.

Hanna @ TheMillennialNextDoor said...

I don't really like any fitspo. Some of them are good and get it right, but motivational quotes just don't really motivate me.

Because I'm so conditioned to just ignore pretty much every Fitspo meme I see, I guess I never really noticed how bad and negative some of these really are. I mean, I've never thought that pushing yourself to the point of near-death is something to be proud of and I definitely agree that exercise that comes from a place from self-loathing is dangerous and unhealthy. What I think is sad is that the people who created these memes probably thought they were going against the unhealthy-stereotype grain but really they are just buying right into it. I think this is part of the new trend of "laziness shaming" that pops up in so much fitness messaging these days. I mean yes, laziness does suck but dear god people, settle down. It doesn't have to be one extreme or the other. What are you running from??

Montana Ross said...

I get your point. I've liked some things like that in the past but never looked at it the way you described. I agree with an earlier comment though, I'm more motivated by seeing people in action than I am by someone posing for an ad. It means more when you showcase what you can do and how strong you've become, not just what you look like IMO.

chocolaterunsjudy said...

Great post!

I've been following Kayla Itsines, and quite frankly, I find some of the after photos people post not really all that attractive, or they looked pretty darn good to me before.

I also agree that people are too apt to punish themselves with exercise for eating something "bad", and it's a terrible mindset. And yes, there was a time when I might have had that mindset, just a bit.

But if they encourage people to move more and love their body more -- sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words.

Jessie M said...

Hmm. I guess I see your point. That's just about 75% more thought than I ever put in to looking at these. Usually I'm like abs. Hmm. I should actually go to the gym this morning instead of laying here pressing snooze for another hour.

If I was less secure with myself these might affect me more. But, I just don't have the extra mental energy to devote to these. I follow all sorts of Instagram accounts, but I spend about two seconds of my day gathering motivation to go workout & that's about all they're good for to me.

Sarah said...

Thank you! You're right on the money here in a way I've never managed to articulate this well. I once did some kind of desperate search for an inspirational fitness video that had ANY women in it at all and discovered, to my horror, quite a few of guys working out and women *getting photographed* in workout gear! Nike had a good one and I've seen more since then that I liked.

I wonder if there's any cute meme-like way to capture the more complicated emotions you refer to in the blog post. I don't want to punish my body, but I ran 18 miles last weekend and it hurt. A lot. A good friend sent me a meme that said something like Quitting Hurts More than Finishing and that was the right message at the time.

Or, what about the old me? Am I trying to beat her? No, good lord, that's not a fair contest. The new me would destroy the old me. But that old me is still in there somewhere and she pokes her head out every now and then, sometimes when I don't want to hear from her. She's afraid. I don't want to beat her. I want to help her. She has become me, and that is the miracle.

Ali K. said...

I think for me, and many women who have struggled or do struggle with body image issues, the tone of these memes can be very aggressive in a negative way. It's also very sub-conscious. We don't think we're necessarily affected by the tone, but that doesn't mean it doesn't sink in.

Like you, I usually glance at and scroll past these things without thinking much about them, but the one I saw the other day really stuck in my craw and bugged me, so this rant was really me exploring why the meme bugged me so much.

Ali K. said...

I don't get motivated by memes and motivational sayings in general; I need videos (people in motion!) to really get me going.

The posing is weird too because that's not how their bodies really look. They have their perfect lighting and are flexing just right. It's not honest.

Ali K. said...

I have no idea how runners take good action running selfies! I never do simply because I'm terrible at it. (I think I took one, once, and I had to run past my camera like 10 times to make it work. Not worth it.)

Ali K. said...

Yes, don't even get me started on women's beauty/fitness magazines. They're worse in a way because they're so passive-aggressive. "You're great how you are - here's a way to cut your calories down by half!"

Ali K. said...

How very...odd. Why would a stranger even say something to you like that, even if it weren't ambiguous or anything? Anything more than "good job!" is a little weird.

And YES...thinspo disguised as fitspo...that's exactly what it is!

Ali K. said...

I totally agree with you - motivational quotes just don't do it for me. Maybe that's why when I see them, I analyze them like this instead of just thinking, "YES, I need to go run!"

I agree with you; I think people tried so hard to move away from the willowy-stick-thin look of the 90s and that's why we got the "strong is the new skinny" narrative, but it's gone WAY too far, and now it's like "if you don't work out 24/7, you're not really healthy".

Haven't these people ever heard of balance?

Ali K. said...

I think motivation, for me, is about looking at how far I, personally, have come. I don't get motivated by these memes. And maybe that's WHY I look at them this way. If they work for some people, that's great, but I think the exercise-as-punishment mentality should change.

Ali K. said...

I agree, some of the "after" pictures of the BBG women are a little much. But I do like that they're REAL women working for their results, and Kayla definitely preaches loving your body, not punishing it.

Ali K. said...

I think the way memes are meant to work is that they're simple, and they attempt to spark our lizard-brain and just get us to react. So I think the complicated feelings I have about them are unlikely to show up in a meme ;)

I understand that some memes work for certain times in our training, like you mentioned with the 18 miler. I also don't think the particular one you mentioned is negative. Committing yourself to finish is very different than shaming yourself into it, right?

I look at the old me with gentleness. She got me to a certain point. She motivated me to change my life. She deserves to be treated kindly because she allowed me to become who I now am.

Fairytales and Fitness said...

Some are great, but some do just make you feel bad about yourself. We workout bc we want to feel good about ourselves so we don't need those reminders.

Courtney @ Running For Cupcakes said...

Those are ridiculous!! My favorite "fitness" memes are the silly ones such as, Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels... except cupcakes or my favorite I did a marathon this morning, a Netflix marathon.

Kate Elliott said...

The thing that my brain has latched onto here is the idea of "old me" v. "new me." Is there really such a thing? I still have a 7 year old inside me because I was seven-year-old Katie once. She's not gone, she's just a part of who I am now - one of the layers of bark inside my trunk... now I've lost my train of thought and need to get back to work. Good post, btw, definitely right on the money.

LaChicaRuns said...

I like the last one you posted, too, but my favorites tend to be funny (like what Courtney suggested) or reiterate someone's mantra (mine is "trust the plan") because I find it inspiring.

Kim Fannin said...

This is beautiful. I'm sharing it on my Facebook page because it makes a point that many seem to overlook when it comes to these memes. Let's focus on fitness because it makes us feel good and makes us healthier -- not because we feel like we need to beat our "old selves" and look like an air brushed magazine cover!