Thinspo, Fitspo, and the Ideal Beauty on Pinterest

If you’re a Pinterest user, you’ve certainly seen at least a few images of slender women in sports bras flaunting their chiseled abs. Below the image, you’ll probably read a lose-quick diet tip or a pithy motivational statement like “Train insane or remain the same.” These images are part of the “fitspiration” or “fitspo” trend that takes up a large part of Pinterest’s Health & Fitness category. But while fitspo might seem to encourage women to strive for healthier lifestyles, the trend seems to instead uphold a narrow standard of beauty.

Fitspo v. Thinspo

Fitspo refers to images, quotes, and ideas that encourage a healthy lifestyle. Fitspo is often seen as a reaction to thinspiration or thinspo, a trend which promotes anorexic behavior and unhealthy weight loss. Thinspo has been targeted by Pinterest in an effort to encourage those struggling with anorexia to seek help. Fitspo, however, is typically viewed as a positive pattern, a means of inspiring yourself to be healthy.

The question is how different are the concepts of fitspo and thinspo? In a search for each on Pinterest, these are some of the results we see:

Screen Shot of Fitspo Pins on Pinterest

Fitspo Pins

Sample of Thinspo Pins on Pinterest

Thinspo Pins

The overlap between the two is disconcerting. Even though thinspo glorifies pencil-thin bodies while fitspo images show more muscular figures, the message of both is the same: to be attractive or healthy, your body must be a certain size and look a certain way.

As Amy Odell writes, “This isn’t where the internet was supposed to take us.” Many feminist writers on the web are discussing the problems Pinterest presents for feminism, and fitspo and thinspo are among the dangers they see. A trend that seemingly empowers women to take charge of their health in reality forces on them a narrow definition of beauty. 

Anatomy of a Fitspo Pin

So, what are the major features of fitspo pins?

  • The images are often of women in tight-fitting exercise gear or bikinis.
  • The women in the image are often exercising, flexing, or showing off their muscles.
  • The images may contain an inspirational or motivational quote.
  • The images are tagged Fitspo or Fitspiration and are pinned on boards such as “Health & Fitness,” “Be More Do More,” “I Need These!” and “Love Your Body.”

Here’s one example.

Fitspo Pin

Sample Fitspo Pin

This pin is pinned to a board entitled “Health & Fitness.” The image is meant to serve as an inspiration to “keep at it,” but it does cause one to wonder if this is the only meaning of “healthy.” With pins like these receiving hundreds of repins, it’s not difficult to understand the concerns of Odell and others.

Do We Need a Fitspo Intervention?

On one hand, fitspo seems to motivate people to pursue a healthy lifestyle, but the images set a standard of beauty and “health” that may still lead women to pursue dangerous, unhealthy lifestyles. The overlap in the type of images labelled as thinspo and fitspo demonstrates that instead of being a healthy alternative, fitspo may just be another means to the same idealized, and potentially dangerous, end.

Although Lauren Alford argues that there are many messages such as fitspo fighting against the negative influence thinspo, my research did not demonstrate such findings. Instead, it demonstrates the same obsession with “skinny” that thinspo does. And because it masquerades as a focus on health, it has the potential to be even more dangerous.

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2 thoughts on “Thinspo, Fitspo, and the Ideal Beauty on Pinterest

  1. Really interesting comparison! I don’t have a Pinterest, nor do I ever use it to even look at things on, but, I would probably be a “fitspo” user if I did use it. I never thought of the comparison between fitspo and “thinspo” (actually, I’ve never even heard these terms before) but I think, as you pointed out, social media brings that out. While you focused on just Pinterest, I do have an Instagram account, and this is the same thing as some of the users on there that I follow and the same as some fitness group that I “like” on Facebook. For me personally, these photos don’t drive me “to pursue dangerous, unhealthy lifestyles,” and it is in fact quite the opposite. However, that’s because I joined those things as a person that works out and is into fitness for myself and my own goals, not because I care to look like or want to look like those people. On the social networks like Instagram and Facebook, there are motivational quotes, pictures of healthy food, good workout ideas, etc.

    That all said, I do agree with your conclusion in that I’m not sure social media makes the fitspo trend any worse than it was before social media or worse than thinspo, as people could still buy magazines, watch shows, etc., that show these same images. However, I definitely feel social media, like Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram, make both these types of images much more accessible (for example, to younger girls who may not have the same motives or knowledge as I do for following these fitspo-type users on social media sites) and also much easier duplicated and shared. Both, I think, are equally dangerous in their own ways, but I think fitspo content has the potential to be more motivating in general than does thinspo.

    • Thank you for your comment and input! I agree that fitspo can be motivational, but as someone who has recently started running, I have felt pressure from fitspo to strive for a certain body type that may just not be healthy for the way I’m built. I also think that in many social media platforms, the two become so mixed that it’s difficult to separate what might be beneficial/motivational and what might be pushing you down a dangerous path, especially for users in their teens.

      Thanks again!

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