Fitspo Sucks: 5 Reasons Photos of Hot Women and Catchy Slogans Are Ruining The World

What is Fitspo?

It’s a popular buzzword, short for Fitness Inspiration, and it’s used to inspire and motivate people to get fit and healthy. It usually involves photos of super fit, lean women, often accompanied by motivating words or phrases like “never give up” or “strong is the new skinny.” Sometimes Fitspo includes photos of fresh healthy food, green juices, or women doing awesome yoga poses in beautiful places. There are tons of blogs devoted to finding, making, and sharing fitspiration. It’s kind of like Thinspiration‘s healthier and happier big sister. (For those of you who aren’t familiar with thinspiration, it’s typically glamorized photos of dangerously thin girls, often passed around as willpower motivation for anorexics. It is a whole new level of horror for those of us in the body-acceptance business.)

So what’s my problem? Fitspo sounds like a great way to motivate the unhealthy masses to get off the couch and start exercising and eating healthier! At it’s very worst it sounds kind of annoying.

Here are 5 reasons why I think Fitspo is making the world  shittier place.


1) On a personal level: It Works, but for the wrong reasons


image-3My main personal motivation to work out comes from the feel-good chemical cocktail of adrenaline, dopamine, and seratonin… and also from the fact that it’s my career, my lab, and my playground. Additionally, I work out because I want to look my best. I like to have a nice round derierre (as any readers of my blog will know) and I love when my arms and abs look defined.

Now occasionally, if I’m feeling tired or under-motivated to start my workout, I’ll google some fitspo to get going. It always works. But… if aesthetics aren’t my goal, why would looking at photos of fitness models lunging in impossibly small booty shorts manage to provide me with any extra motivation? There are 2 reasons that I can come up with:

Reason #1: I see photos of beautiful people doing beautiful things and I think “I WANT TO DO THOSE THINGS! I want to be sweating and running and boxing and jumping too! Let’s goooo!!!”

Reason #2: Since I don’t set aesthetic goals for myself, I generally walk around feeling like I’m good enough. When I’m considering skipping a workout however, seeing photos of uber-lean athletes reminds me that I am, in fact, NOT good enough. I should work harder, harness more willpower, dedicate myself more, and be a gosh darn role-model like these incredible-looking women.

Obviously it’s Reason #2 that’s the problem.

Quick note: Reason #1 is fascinating! Seeing another person move makes us want to move! There is a neurological response in our bodies when we observe familiar actions called corticospinal excitability, which means our nervous system can become stimulated simply by watching the actions of others. Aka we see someone else move and our bodies wanna move.

I think Reason #2 embodies one of the most popular, and most unfortunate uses of fitspo. Women use it to remind themselves that they are not good enough. I mean, I’ve never seen a fitspo photo of someone with 30lbs to lose. That wouldn’t be nearly as motivating, even if she looked active, healthy, and happy. All you have to do is type #fitspo into your Twitter search, and you see hundreds of often young women discussing how their motivation to become less disgusting is reinforced by these incredibly lean, fit photos. Many of the photos use women who aren’t even in motion. The focus of the photo is often the tiny waist, the thigh gap, or the perky butt cheeks, and these are the ones most often accompanied by tags and comment like #thinspo #ihatemybody #imdisgusting, “I wish I looked like her,” “Can’t wait til I look like this!” etc.

The message is pretty clear… I’m not as good as these fitness models and athletes, and I need to work harder to get there. It’s a sad, dark message disguised as happy and inspirational artwork. The same is true of other social media forum, particularly those with a visual spin, like Pinterest and Instagram.

2) On a professional level: It Propogates Everything I’m Fighting Against

image-5Aside from being used to punish self-esteem, photos like this also cause misinformation to stand uncorrected. The majority of the people being inspired by fitspo are extremely young and extremely uninformed about fitness. If there is a photo of a really toned and lean body running, or even holding 10lbs dumbbells, there are now many thousands of girls who believe if they run enough, or do enough light dumbbell training, they can look like that. But most of the models and atheletes in the photos lift serious weight, and they certainly don’t look like that because they run and drink green juice. They probably deadlift heavy, do real chinups and can barbell squat more than their bodyweight.

This kind of misguided inspiration leads to women believing they did something wrong; after all they ran and ran, but they still don’t look like they think they should! It causes a belief that they must harness MORE willpower to override their obvious weakness. They feel they must try harder this time, run further, eat cleaner, or continue with similarly obsessive goal-setting. These are the clients I get all the time who say things like “working out doesn’t work for me,” and “I must have a slow metabolism.” It’s a part of a bigger problem for sure (idiotic health/fitness misinformation in the mainstream media), but it’s definitely one more reason to hate it.

3) It encourages us to compare ourselves to impossible standards.

Like Disney princesses, Barbies, the fashion industry before it, Fitspo encourages us ladies to compare ourselves to others, which we all know by now (right??) is extremely unhealthy and counterproductive. It makes fitness about comparison… “if I do this, I can look like that.” It puts the focus on acheiving some kind of universal ideal. But the girl in the photo has her body and her own ideal, and you should have yours. Our bodies are uniquely built with our own proportions, fat storage systems, and limitations. Fitspo ignores that fact. It also ignores the fact that we should be judging ourselves and others based on our values, our kindness, our intelligence, achievements, passion, or work ethic. But not our bodies. We are NOT the sum of our body parts, and this is just one more way that women are encouraged to believe otherwise.

4) A lot of Fitspo is actually just Thinspo in disguise.

Many of these photos can be tagged as EITHER #fitspo or #thinspo, because we’re sharing a trend that became popular by people suffering from eating disorders. Also, each photo only highlights something worth highlighting, and many of them are highlighting things that lean more towards thin than fit. Some popular examples are closeups on thigh gaps, super small waists, and shots of clothes being too loose. Nobody slaps an inspiring quote on an unflattering photo of someone’s least appealing body part and passes it around! Not to mention, many of these photos were taken with a professional photographer, using short-term “peaking” techniques. It’s pretty common for models to diet down for fitness photoshoots, using a diet protocol that includes water loading and cutting, carb depletion, and even salt manipulation. Not to mention spray tans, makeup artists, lighting experts, and my favorite: photo shop.

5)Ummm… So wait, you just want to look healthy?

image-4Well, healthy doesn’t really “look” like anything. I see fake-positive phrases like “Strong is the new skinny” thrown around in fitspo all the time, as through everyone just wants to healthy and strong now. As thought we’re finally done with our decades-long unrealistic and unhealthy obsession with being thin! Yay!

…But these phrases are stamped over a picture of a girl with 11% body fat. So… which is it? Healthy, happy and strong? Awesome.

I had a client who lost something like 80lbs and still had some to go, and she was one of my strongest and most motivated clients. Her bloodwork improved, her heart and lunges improved, and she could rip a loaded barbell off the floor with glee and perfect form.

But I feel confident than if you saw a photo of her doing so, you wouldn’t think “Damn that girl is so healthy and strong, just like how I want to be!” (Mind you, if you MET her, you might have thought that. But I’m talking about visuals.) This is the problem. I think the real message being passed around is that LEAN is the new skinny. And “lean” just means skinny with muscle, or muscular with a very low body fat percentage. So… not as much of an improvement as we’d previously hoped. Better, yes. But still an exclusive, often unachievable, and easily self-esteem damaging goal.

I am passionate about helping women learn to love their bodies. That includes unlearning what a woman “should” be, feeling empowered and confident in yourself, embracing your authentic power, and creating a life so kick-ass and beautiful that you hardly have any time or energy left over to think about how your body looks. 😉

That’s why I created

The Empowered Women Project

— for women like you, who are sick of being judged for what you look like, and want to focus instead on all the amazing things you can do and be.

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  • Caroline

    Try being a lesbian who’s androgynous. I hardly see myself represented anywhere as it is- not in movies, tv, or magazines. Are pics like the above motivating to me? Somewhat- but like I said they are already unattainable for me in that they don’t represent me or my ideal.These pictures of uber femme but fit chicks already are removed from me in that way- that I’ll never look that skinny or tall or femme in those yoga shorts. That said, I’ve gotten down to just below 18% bf before, and I was pretty ripped and getting compliments all the time- but not for being skinny-fit, just damn fit.

    But if these pics motivate people to go from fat to fit, I’m ok. Although the less sexy, but even MORE motivational pic is this one, end of story.

    • Oh my god what an amazing photo!! Yes that sure is motivating.. And thank you for you honest post! I wrote this to ask a question about the bigger picture of fitspo and what it seems to represent… Obviously as a personal trainer, anything that gets people moving is ok with me, I just hope that by opening up a discussion about the reasons we come up with to motivate ourselves, we can start to change the pattern of habitual self-bashing and the acceptance of trends like this that seem normal. I appreciate you reading and commenting!!

    • Annie

      If you want to see some hot lesbian androgyny in the media google ‘Casey Legler’. She’s a Ford model who does mostly menswear but some women’s as well and was an Olympic swimmer.

      • Oh wow she’s fanastic- gorgeous, articulate, and brave. Thank you for the suggestion! 🙂

    • There are really awesome ones of healthy brains and other organs vs. unhealthy. Thanks for the post, its an interesting perspective of motivation, and a FAR BETTER REASON to keep fit.

      • Maybe I’ll make a whole post about THAT! Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • CR

    I am truly grateful for your insightful and well-articulated post on these issues! Despite being a person who tries to be healthy and well-informed, I struggle deeply with fitspo and the culture that only defines healthy as lean, driven by discipline, and valuing fitness more highly than any other goals or aspirations. There are many reasons why this is unachievable for me- I have conflicting goals that don’t allow me to dedicate myself non-stop to fitness, and I know within myself that there’s a line I can’t cross mentally and emotionally in my pursuit of fitness where it no longer remains healthy. Yet, I find that many (pseudo?) “professionals” in fitness advocate for an extreme way of living, where I find myself struggling to discern what is healthy.

    THANK YOU for being a voice of reason, calling out the subtle unhealthy messages woven throughout this “healthy” movement!


    • I love that- conflicting goals. I see it a lot, where on the one hand someone really wants to lose a few pounds and fit into their old jeans. But on the other hand they want to enjoy a glass of wine with dinner or not trade time with loved ones for time at the gym. In my mind you do have to have a very strong “why” to reach your goals, especially if you want to do it quickly. But that “Fitness Why” will never overpower my Life Why… which is to live and be happy.
      I’m with you, and I want to spread the message that you CAN get healthy and fit and feel your best ALL WHILE putting the real priorities first: family, friends, career, connections, passions, and experiences. More on this to come 🙂
      Thanks for commenting!

      • This is quite possibly the best reply ever. Conflicting goals? Check. I would love to love the muffin-top but a)not at the expense of enjoying my life and the food/wine that goes with it, and b)not at the expense of time with my family and friends. My husband and I are up at 4:30 AM every day to work out before the kids get up so that we don’t sacrifice time with them. Our WHY is to be the very best parents and spouses we can be, and that will never be trumped by our fitness WHY. Lovelovelove this!
        (And now I’m going to have a glass of pino noir…)

        • Amen sister. I love your why and I love your choice in wine 😉 Thanks for reading and commenting, and let me know if you have any questions or anything I can tackle in future posts!

  • Natalie Hawkins

    I love this! So so true! The fitness models are usually under the healthy body fat ratio. It is important to maintain a healthy level of body fat to keep all your systems running at optimum level. To sacrifice your neurological system, your cardiovascular system etc. all because you want to look cut is just another form of self mutilation like cutting. I get sick of people making comments like ‘ She looks, uh, ‘healthy (snicker snicker)’ about women that do look healthy, not overweight but healthy. That should be a good thing not something you hear people laugh about.

    • So true. Healthy should be aspirational, not condescending.

  • Great article, thanks so much! I have been trying to figure out for so long why these pictures don’t sit well with me. Some of them are okay, but largely I just find the images de-motivational and the text inaccurate

  • Wonderful post. I absolutely despise those damn “motivational” posters, and it drives me nuts that they are floating all over around the internet.

    Much like yourself, I occasionally find them revving myself up but for the exact wrong reasons, and that just makes me angrier 😉

    Sort of along these same lines, I get a big kick out of people posting selfies of their washboard abs or killer ass on FB or IG and then they caption it that they are trying to motivate others. Is it really motivating, or is it actually discouraging? I’m on the fence.

    Great post, girl!

    • or is it a glorified “humble brag”? I’m w/ you JCK 🙂

      • Haha are you talking about the mirror-abs-selfies? I’m into them! If people are publicly lovin’ up on their bodies, I say humble brag away!! (Hell, just straight up BRAG away, see if I care!!) Just don’t put up photos and self-bash. That I cant handle. 🙁

    • Thanks! And ha! I know what you mean… when I find myself googling them I feel like I’m letting myself down! But I also love to watch videos of sprinters, hurdlers, and dancers to “rev up.” (To be honest, I just like watching bodies move well at whatever it is they are doing.) So maybe I’ll write a post on some seriously inspiring chicks. 🙂

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    • Thanks for the re-post! 🙂

  • Great post and I think there is a very clear divide. You have the #fitspo fanatics on Tumblr posting half naked girls who look anorexic and considering that “sexy.” and then you have up and coming brands like Healthspo on Facebook or where it is more about losing a little weight and really just finding happiness in eating clean.

    Love what you’re doing. #ChangetheGame

    • Thank you very much! I’d like to keep drawing attention to it and hopefully offering some alternative ways to approach the health/fitness industry.
      PS is one of my favorite sites, because they’re doing something nobody else thought could work- solid information with minimal fear-mongering!

  • Reblogged this on DINUTRITION – Vancouver Personal Training and Nutrition and commented:
    A great post reinforcing my view on “fitspo” I wrote in an article last year:

    • Thanks for the repost, and GREAT article! As a nutritionist I’m sure you see a LOT of the same misinformation, body bashing, and general lack of self-love. We’re on the same mission 🙂

  • Thank you for articulating this so well. I actually love the statement “strong is the new skinny” but NOT when its plastered on photoshopped picture of a fitness model who has 11% bodyfat. The word STRONG is about what you can do, and how your feel, not about what you look like.

    I completely agree that there is SO MUCH misinformation out there about that is completely perpetuated by this Fitspo. Pinterest is just full of it. Such a good point you make about how the models often got their bodies by lifting heavy, not the light dumbells shown in the picture, or by running hundreds of miles. I’ve been that young un-informed girl following that idiotic advice for years. Now I’m just angry I spent so much time and energy following these types of workouts. Seems like the truth about heavy lifting is so rarely touched in mainstream media. I don’t understand it.

    • It’s literally baffling to me. WHY does the MSM not think people can handle this information? Because enough people are fine continuing to sell nonsense, and because MSM like magazines, news sites, and even book publishers don’t want to risk losing sales by putting info out there that people don’t want to hear. However, there ARE some good resources out there, (I hope to bring more of them to light in future posts) and there ARE those of us whose mission is to change it.

  • jenna

    As a fitblr myself, I tend to post pictures of women who look how I want to (and am able to healthily) look. I may post a picture of a girl with smaller thighs than I could personally achieve, but that doesn’t mean that I’m fixated on that. I might be fixated on her small waist that I know for a fact I can achieve because my body has always been small up top and more muscular on bottom. I post a lot of pictures of women that look how I did when I was a few years younger and more fit. I also post pictures of women who have undergone healthy body change from diet and exercise, many of whom may still be overweight because I think they deserve just as much credit as someone who’s already starting on the lean side, like myself, and also because some of them are naturally curvy and will always have curves where I don’t. I reblog anything I find inspiring and I usually blog my workouts because it keeps me motivated to know that my followers are expecting them. All of the quotes I post are also body (and food!) positive, and I don’t restrict myself with my eating or do anything unhealthy to lose weight. My fitblr has helped me to start exercising again and motivate me to work out in order to look and feel the way I want to look and feel. I think your critique is far too broad and even offensive when what you’re really talking about here are fitblrs that are just thinspo blogs in disguise.

    • I am SO happy to hear that you’ve been able to motivate yourself by staying accountable to your followers, and it sounds to me like you’re not really a part of the issue I see! So this post may not have been your favorite (and I’m sorry if it came off as offensive) but please know that I’m glad you read it and shared your thoughts. I’m also glad you’re sharing your positive attitude and body image with people. Because to me, that’s what the world needs more of.

  • Great Post! I wrote a really similar one about a month ago. I have noticed that a lot of other people are writing articles like this as well. Fitspo isn’t motivating because it is empowering. It is motivating because it is shaming. It is really awesome to see more people talking about it!

  • Amy

    I love this post. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I am on the cusp regarding fitspo… if the motivation is to encourage people to get active without posting a picture of ripped abs then I think it is okay. However, fitspo has moved away from that and has crossed this delicate line.

    • Exactly. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  • AH LOVE THIS! Just posted two articles like this on my blog in the past month. AMEN. Sharing this with my readers!

    • Thanks so much! Just checked out your site… great to see more people using a scientifically sound and sensible approach. There is WAY TOO MUCH nonsense out there scaring the crap out of beginners and sending them on wild goose chases!

  • Great commentary on image. I come from a long line of body image obsessed women and I find it hard to move past what I look like sometimes and find it motivates me to do some of the things I do. Having just had my first baby, I’m actually a bit shocked at how comfortable I am with my new curves. I finally look and feel like a woman and hope i continue to embrace that as I head back into racing.

    • Wow! What a fantastic thing to hear! Maybe it’s because your curves now have meaning?? I love that you’re experiencing this, and look forward to hearing how it feels to get back into running/training.

    • J

      Actually I completely disagree. I think the women in the pics are inspiring. Why are people (women especially) so quick to bash other women? In this case fit women. Not everything needs to be so dissected in my opinion. Health is great and all but personally I want to look good :). I did a bikini competition last year where I went from 17% bf to just under 10%. I did it through hard work and I shouldn’t have to apologize for it and cover myself up because some women think it’s “the wrong message.” Why can’t we just say “Wow she’s fit.” And just move on??

      • I don’t bash anyone! I would NEVER hate on the fabulously sculpted women in the photos.. only the common practice of adding irresponsible or innaccurate slogans to those photos and sharing them for the wrong reasons! It sounds like you work hard and I wouldn’t ask you to apologize for anything! 🙂 (Congratulations by the way!)

      • Liz

        I don’t feel that the author is bashing the women in the photos. It’s the use of the photos as far as achieving a goal. I find myself inspired by a lot of things, but I personally know that I’m not going to look like a fitness model. And I workout a lot! I’ll look as best as I can, but I know that being bombarded by such images and mantras is actually going to deter me more than assist me. I’m also recovering from anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder so maybe it’s my fault for comparing myself to others, for wanting to look a certain way, for being obsessed, and for coping in ways that aren’t healthy. What I do realize is that it’s my responsibility to do something other than be motivated by someone I’ve never looked like and probably will never look like – and if I do, won’t look like tomorrow, or by the weekend. Don’t apologize for your achievements! Be and do you the best you can! I happen to agree with this article as well as you. But I fall more into disarray than empowerment when it comes to such fitspiration and I know to not look to them for encouragement.

  • iMomma11

    I completely agree. I also have a problem with many (if not most) of these photos of women having their heads cropped out of them. Even photos that showcase large portions of the body (upper and lower) will often stop just above the shoulder. Just another way women are objectifed, as if saying “this is valuable because it is an atractive body” rather than acknowledging the woman who happens to reside inside the body.

    • Yup. So the message continues to be: Your worth is based in your appearance.

    • I’ve been hunting through the comments to see if anyone else was concerned about this, too. I’m always aggravated (to say the least) by photos that dehumanize by cropping down to a single body part or just the torso, leaving out the face. This is a common problem in photos of women but it seems to be more and more common with photos of men, as well.

      • Ah yes…I mentioned that many “fitspo” photos show cropped close-ups of body parts, and some do indeed just show a flexing body with no face. While someone could make the argument that it’s artistic, I tend to feel like it encourages separating your body from your mind/heart/spirit, and it seems to me that ALL of those pieces work best when they’re integrated, and seen as parts of a whole.

        • Korrtni Lenney

          Oh come on, so what, big deal, the head/face is cropped off or it zooms in on a bicep or derriere. All of you need to grow a thicker skin. Only WOMEN would feel offended that images are cropped. I’m a blogger and do this all the time. It’s for emphasis on the topic of the post. It’s also because the image I obtain is ALREADY cropped, but it works for the post I want to use it for. The world isn’t gonna end because photographers crop heads off the fitness models. Goodness gracious, toughen up, ladies.

    • Korrtni Lenney

      They all have their heads. Which photos are you referring to? I rarely see one with heads cropped off. Sheesh.

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  • Fantastic post, Jessi. I love your voice as a writer!

    I think you’re touching on a very important topic here that goes beyond just Fitspo.

    You spoke briefly about how photoshop plays a key role in all the photos being used as the backdrop for the insporational slogans.

    Photoshop has become standard practice for most media these days, and it’s astounding how different the before and after images can be. Just watch this 2-minute clip to see how easy it is to modify an image:

    I would be curious to see what would happen if we all started sharing fitsporational posters using images of real people, untouched by professional photoshop artists.

    How motivating and inspiring would these “real people” posters be?

    • Wow Derek, crazy video… maybe untouched photos of real-life healthy women with pimples, babies, cellulite, sweat, and hair frizz? Lol I don’t know who it’d inspire but it’s an interesting concept!

  • I liked this a lot–I wrote a little rant about the “strong is the new skinny” ( movement but you have a way of summing it up neatly and I will definitely be bookmarking and sharing this one!

    • Thank you and I just read yours- nice job! It’s great to meet similar-minded bloggers! 🙂 Also, I really like how you ended it by asking how we want to be remembered.. I think the “bigger picture” perspective is so important.

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    • Thank you for sharing!!

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  • Jen

    Thank you thank you thank you
    For having the balls to tell the truth about fitspo.

    AMEN sister!!

    • You’re VERY welcome, thanks for reading and commenting! 🙂

  • Awesome post!

  • nnkn

    Thanks for your article. Another thing most Fitspo images do is erase the bodies of women of colour and women from other diverse identity groups from the realm of defining health, fitness, and beauty.

    Makes me think of Dianne Bondy’s work (she is a yoga instructor who is creating safe spaces for women of all body shapes to tap into their own inspiration for wellness and physical activity).

    “Remember everyone can do yoga. We breathe, we feel, we stretch, and we connect fully to ourselves, even if we don’t look like a supermodel.” – Dianne Bondy.

    For more on her and other helpful body-affirming resources check out:

    • I love that. Thank you for the link, I can’t wait to check it out!

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    • Thanks for the share!! 🙂

  • Many many thanks for this article! ♥ ♥ ♥ I shared it in my personal Tumblr, but I’m going to submit it to too if you don’t mind – it articulates my thoughts on these fitspo images so well and it’s a bit of a different perspective than the one I usually see on that website.
    Fitspo images can be pretty triggering because I’m still recovering from disordered eating. Even those that strictly speak of being stronger and doing more and make no reference to fat or jiggling or squat butts or whathaveyou. On the other hand, when I see videos of trainers [people who DO look like fitspo material] explaining proper form for an exercise/workout tutorials, now that definitely wants me to go out there and try the hell out of them. Keep up with the amazing work, I love your blog <3

    • Thank you so much, and yes of course that’s fine! Thank you for sharing and commenting, I love to hear how people are responding… and I’m already thinking about making a post of ACTUALLY inspiring things… maybe videos or GIFS or something of trainers/athletes/women who are super rad and strong and amazing.

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    • Thanks for the share!!

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  • Well….. I struggle with this on a daily basis! I am the wife of a gorgeous, big-hearted Marine….who also does Men’s physic competition’s. Now don’t get me wrong, he looks absolutely brilliant…but this involves two or more hours at the gym a day, and six meals I usually have no problem cooking for….
    The problem that is presented though is the pressure from feeling like I have to keep up! I was an athlete all through high school, an endurance runner, and super lean by accident no matter what I put into my mouth! But after having our son 6 years ago changed it all. I can no longer eat whatever I want without suffering the consequences! I commissioned a friends help who competed in her first bikini competition at 50! YES 50!!! She wrote out my diet plan and gave me her work out routine.
    Lets just say if I had no job…. or an abundance of money…. or cared a little less about spending time with my family… three hours of working out would be no problem!
    The diet?
    Kill me now. I started it, and my body responded almost immediately… I was pleased, but at the end of week two ended up tearful in the kitchen telling my gorgeous husband that I would rather starve than eat what I knew I was supposed too!!! 🙂 Looking back on it now it was hysterical… and I will have a go at it again but there are dangerous pit falls. I have learned not to beat myself up at the end of the day and keep on with my endeavor to eat healthy and workout!

    • Oh lord I could write a whole post on living with someone whose eating habits are extremely structured/rigid.. My live-in boyfriend used to compete as well, and while he’s become more moderate now, it has driven me crazy to watch him swing through super rigid diets and massive cheat meals. It can totally make you feel– in comparison–like a whimsical food-nymph who just floats around lawlessly eating whatever pleases her! (No? Just me?) And when style of “intuitive eating” starts to let you down (due to changes in hormones or aging or whatever) instead of finding YOUR OWN rules and structure, often we’re tempted to follow something more rigid like the person we see counting macros/weighing food/whatever every day WHO LOOKS FANTASTIC. But the truth is, that only works for that person, and we are all so different. Obviously the plan you commissioned was too rigid– I’ve tried plans like that myself only to realize I can’t go low-carb without becoming a threat to myself and others! That’s my body and my mind: I need very loose, flowy rules like “eat more colorful things” or whatever, in order to get leaner and be happier. And I’m ok with that. 🙂

  • Jacque

    I thought this was really interesting. You have a unique opinion. I, however, am motivated by the pictures and quotes. I want a strong and healthy body. And I get excited with the overwhelming support of comments and “likes” for those pictures on Facebook. I feel like, I’m not alone and this is so incredibly hard, but I can do it if she can. And side note, I’ve never heard of fitspo or thinspo. You are teaching people about those key words. I also train by myself. So it’s awesome to see inspiring bodies that I can attain. I don’t really see things the way you do. Different strokes for different folks I guess.

    • Absolutely! Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • 251925

    This couldn’t have come at a better time for me personally. I am super active and fit, maybe those pesky 10 pounds on my 5’9 frame yet the body image thing still gets me, i’m still not “good enough” because of all the damn posters and quote and images. Im not doing enough, sweating enough, trying hard enough…ENOUGH ALREADY! Ive been pretty hard on myself lately and this blog has come at the perfect time, thank you and thanks to all the other who have posted. I will absolutely re-post

    • Thanks so much for commenting and sharing. I think I’d like to write a post about self-talk soon, because women are so much harder on themselves than they would ever be to a friend or loved one… Seriously, can you imagine how a friend would feel if you said to her “You’re not good enough and it’s no surprise you haven’t found a boyfriend yet because you have jiggly thighs.”
      AHH!! But somehow we do it to ourselves all the time!

    • Korrtni Lenney

      An online image can’t make you feel “not good enough” without your permission.

  • Jennifer

    Guess what? I look like one of the women in those posters. Yes, I bust my ass in and out of the gym, but it’s not about the aesthetic. It’s about the athletic endeavor. I compete in figure and I can tell you this, you can look that good. You just have to be willing to have some self control, eat clean and work out consistently. The best part? Low cholesterol levels, high energy levels, no more being self conscious, being strong as an ox and able to do all other activities even better. The bottom line is most people just don’t have it in them to commit to doing what it takes to have a body that looks and feels fantastic. Maybe that is why obesity rates are so damn high. Easier to make excuses, nit pick images and eat that big bowl of ice cream while trying to quell you overwhelming sense of cognitive dissonance for making horrible life style and wellness choices.

    • I’m super impressed and glad to hear you work hard and get results! I endeavor to help all women feel amazing and strive towards their goals, WHILE accepting their bodies and not indulging in body-bashing or negative self-talk!

    • Heather Williams

      What she’s saying here is that some people have genetic dispositions that nothing they do will ever overcome, I am an extreme example of this reality. I will never be smaller than a size eight, and that is fine. I have two rare heart conditions that conspire to put particular limitations I must work within…other people live this way too and it is not “lazy” it is not for lack of effort. Your dedication is wonderful, but some people will never be able to do what you can.

      • Jessi Kneeland

        Totally! Where was everyone in Kindergarten when we learned that we’re all genetic snowflakes? 🙂 Work hard and be present with your body… then let GO of the outcome!

      • greenandchic

        Though I know this is 10 months too late, I agree with you, Healther. Though I work out faithfully, lift very and eat very clean, I also live with chronic illnesses that will always push me back some. I love the point of the article, everyone is different and no matter what, will never look like those posters.

  • Reblogged this on latebloomlisa.

  • Great blog! I totally refuse to put “fitspo” on my FB page and my blog! As a 43 year old mother of two, I think it paints a totally unrealistic picture of what health and fitness should be.
    Greetings from Australia,
    Liz N

  • Thank you so much for the article :). Unfortunately many people get swept up in the fitspo hype without asking these important questions. I know, I was one of those people. Sometimes I come across a great blog that genuinely motivates me to get off my butt and workout or to nourish my body better. After making the awesome lifestyle change 10 months ago, I have found that loving my body and understanding what works for me has made all the difference.

    #redefinehealthandfitness #eyeswideopen

    • I’m glad to hear it! Being thoughtful and asking yourself these questions can be all the difference!

  • jen

    thanks for your post, which I stumbled upon at a good time. i used to get SO frustrated that i couldn’t reach my unrealistic goals of looking like the women in those photos. i was working my butt of in the gym before and after work 6 days a week. i was stressed to the max, exhausted, struggling to maintain my relationships and chugging coffee to get through work each day. i don’t even know how these unrealistic ideals snuck into my head! ugh, after giving up pretty much all activity for 2 months, i feel whole, and rested, and clearheaded. I am slowly coming back to exercise but with a different attitude. i’m glad I woke up finally, and thank you for sharing these insights

    • You’re welcome and that’s fantastic! Yes sometimes the thing we need most is to step away completely for a while to reset our expectations, emotional grounding, and even our bodies. Good luck on your journey, and let me know if there is anything I can write about or answer for you!

  • And also, even if it saddens me to say it. A lot of those pictures are really eye candy for guys. Not to inspire women. But, that’s the degenerative reality of our gender.

    • OOOhhhhh I almost just sent you an email in response to this comment… I didn’t want to tackle that topic in THIS post, but I have a LOT to say on the topic of how men’s supposed “ideal” woman is formed, and how and why women value it so much. Another post for sure.

      • Lee Williams

        Jessi, I’d love to hear your opinions on the topic of ideal beauty and women’s value for it. I have noticed that a majority of fitspo pics and accounts across social media are very sexual in nature, and the images/videos are very suggestive… any ideas why??? Please send me an email to discuss! I’d love to hear from you! [email protected].

      • John Paul Jones

        I’m sure he isn’t the only person looking forward to such a post.

    • Lee Williams

      Hey Frank. I’d like to hear more of your opinions regarding this topic. Please feel free to email me at [email protected]. I am a communications blogger and would like to dialogue with you on your observations!

    • Degenerative? I’m not sure. Men are visual. Women are auditory. I don’t think you can entirely blame men for what they’ve been taught, and encouraged by women, the fashion industry, the fitness industry, the advertising industry, the porn industry et al, to believe is an ideal body type. In my experience, men don’t want that ideal anyway. They want that ideal for a moment, but for any long term relationship I don’t believe the majority of men are even attracted to the construct.

  • coleybintexas

    Love the article! Linked from a friend who posted on FB. I hadn’t heard the term fitspo before. Interesting though……. On my own Pinterest boards I find my self very aware of posting inspirational workout pics …. Like cross fit action pics or functional fitness pics. I’ll see pics of the “fitness models” and think, “is that really gonna motivate me? Is she representing fit? skinny? strong? Is her model pose just a pose or a real workout? When it’s obvious that she’s not doing a real workout I just won’t pin it. It’s the wrong motivation. Maybe my pics are still unattainable & I’m just part of the fitspo crowd, but I’d rather be strong & healthy & have my own pics to post!!! 🙂 happy Friday!

    • Here, here! Honestly I think just by paying attention and being thoughtful about it, you’re already doing yourself and your followers a service!

  • Nichole

    Thanks!! I struggle with being my own healthy and instead compare myself. I consider myself knowledgeable in the health field but a good reminder is always needed. Keep writing!

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  • I just stumbled across this today as it was linked to in a Girls Gone Strong Blog that I saw reposted. Loved this blog! I’m admittedly guilty of reposting some Fitspo (I didn’t even know this word til today) on facebook from time to time. And I actually really do get motivated by some of it but I did find myself cracking down harder on myself than I should at times and wishing for a body that may just not be in my genetic profile to attain. The last part of this blog REALLY resonated with me.

    In 2011 I started a long slow journey that has led to me losing 150 pounds. It started out with the goal of “getting skinny” and has transformed into just wanting to be healthy and not really being sure how that will end up looking as someone who has been obese pretty much since childhood. People who see me and don’t know me might describe me as “fat” still. But that’s no longer my image of myself.

    2 years ago I couldn’t run 10 feet if my life depended on it. Now I’m up to 4.5 miles 3 times a week. No one would have ever convinced me that I’d learn to love running. Hell, I couldn’t have been convinced that I’d learn to just not hate it. I train resistance 2 or 3 days a week as well. I’ve learned to focus on what I can control. I can control how I eat. I can control my workout discipline. I can’t control the fact that everyone in my family (parents, grandparents, siblings) has thick thighs and I will probably never have some of those cute toned thighs like I see so many of the tall lean women in my gym with. But what I do have is so much that I did not have before: more strength, improved balance and coordination, improving endurance, more flexibility, more physical ability to do things I couldn’t do before, more confidence, more love for myself, a new found addiction to biking, the courage to try new things. But you are right, we won’t see any fitspo posters with a 190 pound 40 year old woman doing a 50 mile bike ride that she wasn’t capable of a year before because there is no way to convey just how far that person has come in a single image. So THANK YOU for this grounding reminder to be inspired but to also be real. Looking forward to checking out the rest of your blog!

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  • Thanks!! Really liked your article, especially trying to understand why Fitspo works. I was really intrigued by the concept of corticospinal excitability and tried to relate it in my life. I definitely like looking at images at times to see bodies in motion to draw inspiration. I can’t sit and watch a football game without feeling compelled to move!! Having said that, I have experienced the negative side of making comparisons and focusing on the external to the detriment of my health. Through yoga, I have found some effective tools that work for me to focus INWARD.

    You inspired me to share more about this in my blog:

    Thank you for providing a positive message. It helps to reinforce mindsets of those in the minority who feel confused, yet want balance. -Amy

  • RS

    Thank you for the very interesting post – I enjoyed reading your article and think you raise some interesting issues about how we visualize fitness. It is important to think about what motivates us, and to identify self-shaming at the core. That said, I’d like to point out… the photo at the very top of your blog? Pretty much a fitspo image without words. Very tiny legs, perky butt, super skinny waist accentuated by a pretty weird posture, and pretty much the only muscles we see are defined because of the pose… not because the person is engaged in physical activity. When I first clicked through to this post, I got confused, because I thought the image in the upper left was actually the example that you were discussing, since it is an unattainable (for many) but socially idealized body type outside of the context of fitness itself. Then I realized the image I felt critical of was simply the banner for your blog. So, I might suggest another relevant topic for discussion: how *should* we visualize fitness in photographic/2D/still form?

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  • Fitspo makes me want to cry and stuff donuts in my face.

    • Jessi Kneeland

      Hahaha well then I think it’s inspiring you in the wrong direction…

  • I think someone earlier mentioned that fitspo is thinspo in disguise and I tend to agree. I said this earlier today to a client “fitness is not a look” and the costs of compulsatory exercise and food restriction far outway the hope that if one looks like the fitness models they might be seen as somehow better.

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  • monster1

    Love this post! Thought you might like to another one that’s been making the rounds:

    • Jessi Kneeland

      I hadn’t seen that one, thanks for sharing!!! SO appalling…

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  • Reblogged this on Extended Recovery.

  • Not to mention they ALL have fake boobs.

    • AJ

      What is wrong with that?

      • John Paul Jones

        Nothing, if the implants at least look somewhat realistic. When a woman (or man for that matter) is thin-toned with an oversized chest, it seems to go against the “all-natural” angle of Fitspo.

        • ughyousuck

          As long as they look real? The morality or immorality of implants does not depend on how realistic they look.

          • John Paul Jones

            Says you. To me, aesthetics and morality are related. Of course, if you like unrealistic transplants, you wouldn’t agree. In that case, oh well.

          • ughyousuck

            Oh psh, false dichotomy. Isn’t the whole point of the article that fitspo can be damaging because it promotes a singular physical ideal that is genetically unattainable for many women? That women shouldn’t be gauging their health on how well they fit into the fitspo image? It doesn’t matter how natural a boob job appears, because it still represents conformity to and promotion of an unrealistic ideal.Even if it looks realistic, it’s not.

          • John Paul Jones

            Fair enough. I thought that you were arguing this from the opposite angle. I know that it shouldn’t matter, but it does. However, I just find it difficult to imagine a world without cosmetic surgery, photoshop, and other such tools. Ideally, we would be able to work towards out own fitness goals without being bombarded with images and information saying that we’re not strong enough, our abs aren’t tight enough, and the like.

          • Daisy Maybe

            If a women wants to get breast implants, she can. I personally won’t but that doesn’t mean you should have the ego to take away that choice from her. Fitspo doesn’t shame women into a certain body type. Are you saying women with toned bodies aren’t allowed to post their pictures just because they are a certain body type some females want? And yes toned bodies are linked to health. Overweight bodies are linked to diabetes. Some overweight people many be healthy but everyone has to agree that being past the weight your body is intended to be will give you significantly higher risks for weight related diseases. I’m not fat shaming here but most fitspo is promoting an idea of health not thinspo. Thinspo is unhealthy but fitspo is healthy as long as you aren’t obssesively excersising due to fitspo.

          • sharjil

            Hey Daisy I noticed you have a lot of information regarding to women and I am in a problem. Will you please help me out. Even I made this account a minute ago just to talk to you.

          • I think the point of the article is that Fitspo is masking unrealistic goal-setting as “healthy” and its only slightly better than Thinspo. Toned is not what Fitspo is showing. And by comparison, if you don’t have 11% body fat and deadlift 5 days a week you are NEVER going to look like those fitness models. So its yet another hit to womens’ self esteem.

            Breast implants are perhaps just another extreme women are willing to go to because they feel they are not meeting an expected visual body standard.

            Putting silicon/inanimate objects, surgically implanted, into your living organic body isn’t healthy. This isn’t news. (And YES there is always a risk of sensory injury because you’re stretching the nerves. Greater stretching = greater loss of sensation. Any doctor will tell you this).

      • Diane

        It isn’t strong or healthy to have silicone or saline-filled balloons surgically implanted under your skin while your real breast tissue is scarred or reduced and your nipples are (often) moved to a new location. Not to mention the loss of sexual/pleasurable sensation in a highly sensual part of your body.

        • AJ

          I have silicone breast implants. I’m strong, I’m healthy, my breast tissue isn’t damaged, and my nipples feel awesome thank-you-very-much. Also: my tits look amazing.

          • MagnetoWasRight

            Gives a false impression of what you’ll look like with low body fat though. You likely won’t be skinny with big natural boobs.

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  • aida

    i’m on my way to getting healthy and fit.. and i can’t deny that sometimes i get demoralized if i have not yet achieving the results.. whenever i’m feeling down, i make fitspo or fitblr or any fitness blogs as the sources of inspiration to keep myself motivated.. i learnt that at least i made progress.. and to achieve the ultimate goal is not easy coz if it’s easy, then everyone will be healthy and fit.. it requires effort and strong mental to overcome circumstances.. something that is hard to get is something that is worth fighting for.. for example in relationship scenario, we fight over someone we love, but if he or she is not meant for us, then the relationship won’t happen.. but being healthy and fit are something everyone deserve and is meant for everybody.. it’s just that whether we want it or not.. i feel blessed that i get to know people who have the same ambition as me from blogs and tumblr (not into instagram yet.. haha).. it makes me feel that i’m not fighting alone.. and i think you and i and your other blog readers are on the same boat right?

    Have a great day ahead ^^v

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  • Sam J

    This is incredible,see how some 20 years of cellulite almost all gone in only 23 days –

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  • Jenita GiGi Howard-Lawal

    Thank you for this! I have lost over 100 pounds, completed six half marathons, become a certified fitness instructor, and finished a a Tough Mudder…but I don’t fit the “fitspo” visual. It undermines my confidence at times.

    • Jessi Kneeland

      That’s amazing though! I absolutely love to hear stuff like that, congratulations!! 🙂

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  • all about fitspo here

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  • Interesting. I had never even heard the term ‘fitspo’ until I contributed to a fitspo Friday blog as a guest blogger. As an afterthought I looked up the word, just to make sure I wasn’t involved with some kind of cult or something.
    So I see your point here, and I’m guilty of pinning those ‘motivational’ images to my Pinterest. With me, I’m 46 and need to lose some weight and feel strong again, they remind me of a me that was lifting weights, running 6-8 miles, and had all the endorphins and such that you need for that exercise high.
    So I like that my guest blog spot didn’t perpetuate any unattainable ideals. It’s about drinking water and committing to a 30 day water challenge to kick off better water habits.
    Unrealistic images are everywhere. I think it’s because people want to see different or a fictional better. Like my husband never watches tv dramas. He says he wants to watch a fantasy or something impossible in real life. He says if he wanted real life he would turn off the tv and watch the people he knows. So maybe idealized images are just another form of escapism.

  • glass_owl
  • Kelly

    this was a great read and i really appreciated it – until i noticed all but 1 of Jessi’s testimonials come from EXTREMELY fit & attractive people and some are even self disclaiming models, etc. Just see a bit of a disconnect between your argument here and the people you are sharing with us that you’ve helped the most (or at least took the time to write a review). still, great article. really enjoyed this.

  • Lauren Topor

    Great call out! Check out this post about unhealthy fitness quotes

  • Adan Austin

    Why does it have to be about being “not good enough”? Why does it have to be a value judgment? ANYTHING you want in life that you don’t have, there’s a gap between your current state and your goal. Focusing on the goal doesn’t mean that your current state is “not good enough”.

    I can try to imagine what I’d look like with 6-pack abs or 20-inch biceps, but it’s a lot easier to get that goal in my head if I have an actual visual to associate it with.

    Having a goal and working towards it doesn’t mean having to feel down about yourself where you’re at right now.

  • Lindsey

    I think fitspo works if you already have a positive body image. For example, I want to lose weight, work out, get fit, and have a healthy relationship with food, but I also don’t let it get me down if I screw up one day. For people who don’t have a strong mental image of themselves, however, I can see how these images feel like personal attacks on not only their bodies but on their work ethic and value as a person.

    Bottom my line, I feel like my ego is too strong so I need a kick in the ass to remind myself that even if I like myself now, I need to improve. For people with confidence issues, they should be focusing on their defining themselves and finding what they value about themselves. You can’t lose weight until you lose the negativity. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, losing weight won’t fix your mentality, but fixing your mentality will help you lose weight.

  • James Wareham

    My sister is a fitness model, and the least I can say is that I’m pretty damn proud of her. She uses the fitspo hashtag on many of her posts on instagram, facebook, etc. and all I can see is the blatantly positive side of that hashtag. Once in a while, she will post a transformation photo (a real one) of a friend or client of hers that was inspired by her. THAT is fitspiration.

    I look at men with that hashtag underneath their photos, men with 6% body fat, men who use steroids, men who dedicate a vast majority (some would say an unhealthy amount) of their life to the church they call the gym. My point is, yes, I know their physiques are out of reach to a natural guy like me, but I use those photos as inspiration. I use the women’s photos as inspiration too, I don’t care, it’s just all about being the healthiest human you can be and setting goals and reaching them.

    I see comments on this post and many others about things like their boobs, a completely irrelevant personal choice of theirs, and I see it as people just trying to find things wrong with or complain about these people’s passion. They love to shape their bodies (healthily) through exercise. The things they can’t change, like their boobs or even nose (Jen Selter), they also do something about. In my opinion, fitspo is not about looking at how big someone’s boobs are or how beautiful their face is, but about taking that essence of health, hard work and dedication they inhabit and harnessing it for yourself. To me, that’s a no brainer.

  • John Rocquet

    Fitspo is good for the initial push to do something but beyond thats fairly useless. It suffers from the same problems as all inspirational material. It idolises the ectomorph (naturally slender, long limbed people) because that’s what looks good in a photo. I’m a mesomorph and I achieved my perfect body but I don’t look anything like a fitspo pic despite having similar body fat and good muscle definition. I am just all over chunkier at that level of athleticism. If I was changing my body to get smaller, lighter or drop a dress size I would have been disappointed. I actually got larger everywhere.

    Once I started with my nutrition and exercise plan I ditched the fitspo and started comparing my body to itself in terms of development.How was the composition of my body changing and did I like it.

  • HalleG

    Just another women judging women article. When you people can learn to appreciate themselves without belittling another, for whatever reason, the world will become a different place.

  • Ivan

    This is the most pathetic bunch of self pitying excuses Ive ever read in my life.

    [email protected] all the jealous fat pigs in the comments saying the girls in the photos are “unhealthy” or need to eat a sandwich.

    Hey guess what – being fit and thin is a singular human standard in beauty, because youre not a digusting blob of rotten cottage cheese with unwashed yeasty stinking folds.

    • Fit and thin is the goal – yes. But saying thinspo is teaching you to be thin is ridiculous. Its simply not the case. Thinspo supports unhealthy eating habits to reach a weight the human body wasn’t meant to sustain.

      Likewise, Fitspo isn’t preaching fitness. Its showing you an Olympic standard, an athlete. Attainable? Sure. But not by the average human. For those models, that IS their 8 hrs-a-day career. Most ppl have a career outside the gym and pressing family responsibilities that make it less feasible to put the time in to achieve that Olympic result.

      Having said all that, I’m in the camp of the poster above – Lindsay – I have a healthy self-image and both Thinspo and Fitspo do help motivate me. I think the key is I know those images aren’t reality and I’m not chasing the fantasy that’s presented in them.

  • Roll

    I know exactly how you feel. For example, my high school had posters encouraging people to study, including things like an attractive woman in a lab coat and goggles, studying rocks, saying “Science Rocks”. What kind of message is this sending to our young girls?

    1) Are we studying science because we want to know more about the world, or because we’re not good enough to be this attractive person with a good career? Maybe I would enjoy being a waitress without all this Scientistspo.

    2) It presents extreme misinformation to kids. Scientists aren’t simply sitting around, having fun. There are years of tedious analyzing data, and the children should know.

    3) It encourages us to compare ourselves to impossible standards. Very few of us could ever have a successful, achievement-filled career in a hard science.

    4) A lot of Sciencespo is actually just Capitalist Propganda in disguise. Who funds much of the research and labs in the real world? That’s right, corporations who want to use the research for profit. It’s all about widening the income gap (which is worse for women!)

    5) Wait, so you just want to look smart? This is pushing the idea that we should be concerned about owning glasses and beakers and lab gloves… but what about actually being smart? Aren’t kids in danger of not caring about that from the poster?

    Just so you know, when the rest of the world laughs at the “first world” societies, these are the kind of whiny, made-up problems we laugh at.

  • Bob Roberts


    Fit is beautiful, fit is desirable. Telling women to not try is the real war against women. The crabs wanting everyone to be fat –but healthy, though–right? Fat can be healthy.

    Uh, no. It can’t.

  • Military Officer

    HEY FAT ASSES, QUIT CRYING (or OINKING)…..have discipline when you eat and see what happens: you LOOK and FEEL better. Oh, and despite what you may believe, nobody, given the choice, wants the fat chick. So if you cant cut it and make changes in your life, hang out with your thin and more attractive friends for their rejections

  • Michael Lance

    Being fat sucks. The end. Short story by me.

  • Korrtni Lenney

    Apparently the author of this post has never seen the Fitspo images of muscular women (I don’t mean overdone like Arnold) holding 25 pound dumbbells, huge kettlebells, doing planks with big plates on their back, and deadlifting thick barbells or kneeling by one. Or doing the battle ropes or pull-ups. The vast majority of images of “Fitspo” women holding 10 pound dumbbells are frail looking women who lack lean muscle mass.

  • Bl00dwerK

    People aren’t created equal. Deal with it.