Fitspiration—imagery designed to motivate viewers to exercise more and to choose healthier lifestyle habits—has seen a surge in popularity on social media sites. While the goal is usually to elicit positive responses, a new study published in Body Image (2015; 15, 61–67) suggests the opposite may be the case.
Researchers from Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, wanted to examine the influence of fitspiration on body image and other variables among women. The researchers enlisted 130 women aged 17–30 who were randomly selected to view one of two sets of Instagram photos. The first set featured 16 fitspiration images featuring women and two travel-related images. The second set emphasized travel and included pictures of destinations, monuments and buildings; 11 of the pictures featured people. After viewing the images, the women rated their mood, body dissatisfaction, self-esteem levels, inspirational goals, how often they thought about their own appearance during viewing and how often they compared their appearance with others.
“The major finding is clear,” the researchers wrote. “Despite fitspiration being inspirational in a number of ways, exposure to fitspiration images resulted in greater body dissatisfaction and lower state appearance self-esteem than did exposure to control (travel) images. Further, this effect was fully mediated by appearance comparison processing.”
Fitspiration did produce some positive results, with subjects feeling inspired to exercise after viewing the photos. Those looking at the travel shots also felt inspired and had the urge to pack their bags and head off for a vacation.
However, the authors stated that the negative aspects of fitspiration could outweigh the positive and suggested that women make efforts to avoid seeing fitspiration images.
“At a practical level, the findings point to recommendations for women to limit their exposure to fitspiration images,” the authors said. “One challenge, however, is that fitspiration imagery is difficult to avoid in that it is prolific and a large number of Instagram and Facebook users may receive inadvertent exposure via their friends’ postings. Thus this adds to recommendations to limit social networking time, Internet time and screen time more generally.”
For a more thorough discussion of this topic, read “Social Media and Body Image: A Complicated Relationship,” in the January 2015 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal.