When Fitspiration Goes Wrong
Content versus Intent
If you haven’t seen this meme circulating around the social media by now, good for you. This one hits pretty close to home, as in she is local and barely a degree of separation from me. By all accounts, she’s a very nice woman (I’ve heard this from several of her friends). Her intent, which is well documented in several forms of media, was admirable. But the execution, the content, is where the trouble began.
Until something socially detonates right before our eyes, many of us haven’t discovered that the big worldwideweb receives and processes information considerably different than our immediate social peer group. In other words, no matter what you meant or how you want something to be perceived, when dealing with the internet you’d better apply some lubricant to this particular rule of friction: content trumps intent. Period. In other words I began by giving her the benefit of the doubt; that she simply didn’t understand the implications of her content. But the content overwhelmed whatever her intent was.
In this case, there was no lubricant. The friction caught fire. The content was poorly chosen words, and whatever the intent was went up in flames and smoke.
The picture alone would have succeeded in the intentions better. Less shit storm, more high fives. Part of her response to the backlash from this meme would have made more sense if it was just the image sans words. In the aftermath she wrote “what you interpret is not MY fault. It’s yours.” In the case of the intent of an image, this is often very true (although not a lot of compassion or responsibility in that response, which is simply adding fuel to the fire).
But add some loaded text, and the fault becomes very clear, despite intent. Oh, those words. Is there an instance in your mind where you can remember those words being used in a positive manner? They are shaming words. They’ve always been a matter of blaming someone for not achieving something. They’re mean-parent/mad-boss/grumpy-drill-sergeant language. And motivation through shame is NOT empowering, despite what the fucked up fitspiration movement has been trying to perpetuate. Ya can’t wink or nudge playfully in a meme like this, especially when these words are very loaded for most (not some, but MOST) people.
Let’s isolate the words without context. Has “what’s your excuse?” ever been positively motivational? On it’s own as a sentence, it is a poor choice of words for inspiration. But in context with the picture… BOOM! Exponential explosion.
For instance, this wouldn’t make sense, despite the intent…
In Maria Kang’s meme, the entire package says (again, despite her intent) “I am an ideal… why aren’t you like me?”
Simply put: “what’s your reason for not being like me?”
Shame, blame and judgment. Again, despite good intentions, this type of language says the viewer is being judged for not meeting the standard set by the photo. If you find blame motivational, what does that say about your relationship with your body? As a former bulimic, it might behoove her to understand the importance and impact of language like this.
But here is ultimately what I’m getting at…
If you are motivated by a body shape, by an aesthetic ideal, or by shaming language, that might say something profound about your relationship with your body worth looking into. You’re probably being motivated by a complete lie. The lie of ability, the lie that such a body can actually accomplish anything or that it is IMPORTANT IN ANY WAY.
Later she wrote “start celebrating people who are a result of hard work, dedication and discipline.” Yes, but what result are you talking about? Lean body mass? The result of hard work should be skill, empathy, tribal empowerment and strength. She’s proven none of those things. So far it just seems that her 6 hours a week in the gym are to post pretty pictures. Is there benefit in that result? I’m willing to make a case that pictures of lean bodies don’t prove shit. Add boastful and shaming language (‘why aren’t you like me?”) and the ‘result’ is actually kind of ugly.