The Definitive Guide to Fitspiration and Well-Being

My last post here was more than a few months ago. Life got a little hectic and I had to put both my social media presence AND the site on the backburner for a bit. However, new and exciting content is coming your way and I could not be more thrilled to share it with all of you! I wanted to kick off the new content with something that combines what I do professionally and what I do personally: social media and fitness.

I work in marketing and social media. A lot of what I do is online, across all types of social platforms. I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of what social media can be/do.

Most of us have given into the idea that we need to have an online presence, for “personal branding” reasons at the very least. Taking a step back from my online presence allowed me to focus more on being present offline.

fitspiration and well-being guide

I spent more time working on my relationships with friends, family, and the one I have with myself. As I began to return to social media – creating, posting, and engaging – I realized I needed a social purge for my own well-being. I wanted to follow accounts that inspired me to live a healthy, whole, and happy life.

After taking a look at the studies that focus on social media, fitspiration and well-being (which includes fitness, health, and the like), I created a fitspiration guide that breaks down what you need to be aware of when it comes to social media as you work towards your health and fitness goals, regardless of whether you’re male or female.

The Definitive Guide to Fitspiration and Well-Being

Part 1: What is Fitspiration?

Part 2: Fitspiration’s Impact on Behavior and Motivation

Part 3: How Fitspiration Affects Body Image


Part 1: What Is Fitspiration?

What fitspiration actually is – what it looks like – may not be as clear to you as the studies show, which is why I’ve included this chapter. Is it an eating disorder in disguise? Is it motivation? Is it the perpetuation of the body ideals we are used to? Or, is it simply a buzz phrase used to attract new followers on social media? Let’s define what “fitspiration” really is.

Most of us have some sort of morning routine. Maybe you read a little on a Kindle, open the WSJ on your laptop, or rush to get dressed, grab coffee, and head out the door. Or, maybe you pull out your phone while still lying in bed and scroll through your Twitter feed… and Facebook feed… and Instagram feed. If you’re reading this guide, it probably means you’ve seen photos with #fitspo, #fitspiration, and similar hashtags at one point or another.

Linguistically, you’re probably thinking that fitspiration is simply a blended word, combining “fitness” or “fit” with “inspiration.” You’re right!

Now, what is fitspiration really? What does it actually look like? A content analysis of gendered images took a look at what these images actually contained across Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Female #fitspo subjects typically adhered to a thin or athletic ideal, while male subjects typically adhered to the muscular ideal [1].

Yep – most fitspiration images are what we would expect them to be – thin, fit men and women.

Female #fitspo images typically featured thin, but toned women, while the male #fitspo images often showcased muscular (or hypermuscular) men. The females were significantly more likely to be less than 25 years old, to have their full body visible, and to have their butts emphasized. Men were more likely than women to have their face visible in the post. The women were also more likely to be sexualized than the male subjects.

An earlier study showed similar results when looking at Instagram alone. In this study, a larger sample size of images was analyzed [2]. Results showed that the majority of images of women contained only one body type: thin and toned. Additionally, most of the images containing women also had objectifying elements.

Yet another study analyzed fitspiration content on Pinterest [3]. Similar to Instagram, Pinterest is an image-based social platform. In this study, messages were categorized as appearance- or health-related, and coded for Social Cognitive Theory constructs: standards, behaviors, and outcome expectancies.

The researchers found that #fitspiration messages encouraged appearance-related body image standards and weight management behaviors more frequently than health-related standards and behaviors.

Results also indicated that fitspiration messages include a comparable amount of fit praise (such as an emphasis on defined muscles) and thin praise (such as an emphasis on slenderness), suggesting that women are supposed to be thin and fit.

Part 2: Fitspiration’s Impact on Behavior and Motivation

As this hashtag comes to even greater prominence, and more people are impressed upon, those who are feel inspired or motivated by the images they see may alter or enhance their own behavior. As with any social trend, especially in the fitness world, certain individuals will be impacted more than others, and in varying ways. Let’s now explore the impact of fitspiration on behavior and motivation.

A 2017 study took a look at disordered eating and exercise in women who post fitspiration on Instagram [4]. 101 women who post fitspiration images were compared with a group of 102 women who post travel images. Both groups completed measures of disordered eating and compulsive exercise.

The researchers found that women who post the fitspiration images scored significantly higher on drive for thinness, bulimia, muscularity, and compulsive exercise. Almost 20% of these women were at risk for diagnosis of a clinical eating disorder, compared to less than 5% of the travel group.

Compulsive exercise was related to disordered eating in both groups, but the relationship was significantly stronger for women who post fitspiration images.

This study essentially suggests that women posting #fitspiration-type images are far more likely to partake in both disordered eating and compulsive exercise.

While only certain individuals were able to be selected and this could be considered a small sample size given the number of females on Instagram, this study is one of the first to quantitatively assess the characteristics of women who post #fitspiration on Instagram. This study also adds to the evidence regarding the impact of social media on body image.

Part 3: How Fitspiration Affects Body Image

Before diving into the specific impacts of fitspiration on body image, it’s important to note that a number of studies have proven that more traditional media (TV, magazines, etc.) can have an impact on body image. We won’t get into those studies here.

Exposure to fitspiration images can play a role on body image, either consciously or subconsciously, and the amount of exposure can as well. This chapter will outline the influence of fitspiration on body image.

In 2015, a study was published about fitspiration that investigated the impact of fitspiration images on women’s body image [5]. Similar to the study mentioned earlier, female undergraduate students (130) were randomly assigned to view either a set of fitspiration images on Instagram or a control set of travel images.

Results showed that even the short-term exposure to fitspiration images led to increased negative mood and body dissatisfaction. Compared to those who viewed the travel images, the exposure to fitspiration also decreased appearance-related self-esteem. The researchers concluded that fitspiration can have negative unintended consequences for body image. The results support past research that media (including this “new” media) can have an effect on body image.

A study, published in 2017, examined the impact of exposure to fitspiration images and self-compassion quotes on social media on young women’s body satisfaction, body appreciation, self-compassion, and negative mood [6]. The women in this study were also undergraduate students. They were randomly assigned to view either Instagram images of fitspiration, self-compassion quotes, a combination of both, or appearance-neutral images.

Those who viewed fitspiration images had poorer self-compassion than those who viewed appearance-neutral images. However, women who viewed self-compassion quotes showed greater body satisfaction, body appreciation, self-compassion, and mood compared to women who viewed neutral images.

Viewing a combination of fitspiration images and self-compassion quotes led to positive outcomes compared to viewing only fitspiration images. The findings from this study essentially suggest that self-compassion (quotes/images) might offer a way to mitigate the negative impact of social media on women’s body satisfaction.


Choose the accounts and hashtags you follow AND post wisely. It may not be clear now, but the #fitspiration images you scroll through on Instagram, Pinterest, and other social media platforms could be negatively impacting your body image, self-compassion, and well-being.

Peer groups on social media networks have proven to be effective in motivating people to hold themselves accountable. However, #fitspiration images may do more harm than good.

Do you engage with #fitspiration on social media? Why or why not?





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