Friday, 13 September 2013

"I'm not like you and I don't wanna be...."

I’ve been meaning to write a post about the exercise I do to help with my Fibromyalgia for quite some time, but I’m going to hijack it as something most irksome links in with it and frankly I’m in the mood for a rant. I’ll post the intended subject another time.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I absolutely can’t abide this current fad of “fitspo” or “fitspiration”. It couldn’t crawl under a stone and die quickly enough for me.

Now that might seem like a bit of a juxtaposition coming from someone who exercises regularly for the benefit of her overall health, but I shall explain. Firstly, I do appreciate that there is a certain brand of fitspo imaging which can be positive, and as I’ve said before if it isn’t broken then there’s no need to fix it and different things work for different people.

However, my distaste is reserved for the vast majority of the material which isn’t beneficial and can in fact be downright frightening. You’ve probably seen some of this even if you don’t recognise the term – a photo of a professional fitness model or athlete, cleverly lit if not airbrushed out of all reality and covered over by an “inspirational” quote.

My problem with the vast majority of this rubbish is that if it isn’t telling you that you’re not good enough or making you feel guilty for not spending every minute of every day exercising to the limit or carefully measuring out your super clean meal plan, it’s giving misinformed and sometimes dangerously bad advice.

I’m going to paraphrase this example as there are a few different versions “Crawling/sobbing/vomiting is acceptable, quitting is unacceptable.” If you’re actually exercising to the point that any of those rather unhappy things occur, then you’re pushing your body beyond its limits and you’re also massively increasing the risk of an injury.

(A version of the above. Oh, with added blood. Even better *sigh*)

Your body has those limits for a reason, it would be wise to listen to it and not risk further problems just because you’re being sold the idea that you’re somehow weak or not putting the requisite effort and dedication in unless you reduce yourself to a nervous wreck each and every time you work out. It might be disguised under a veneer of “inspiration”, but it’s actually both demeaning and insidious in its preying on insecurity over body image with those ever so unrealistic photos as a backdrop.

What fitspo is is yet another layer of imperfection placed on top of all the other things we’re told we should feel insecure about. Go out and buy our expensive workout gear, because you’re not good enough. Go and get an expensive gym membership, because you should feel guilty if you don’t.

It’s size zero with a protein shake and a sports bra, and it will end the same miserable way with plenty of people who are crippled by their insecurities and poor body image because they don’t look like the people in the photos.

This sort of thing can be even more toxic when you suffer from a chronic condition which prevents freedom of exercise. You’re already “just lazy” if you can’t exercise after all, so how are you supposed to compete against all this mass market insecurity peddling?

The answer is you don’t and you ignore it.

I think the question at the heart of this to ask yourself is why indeed you want to exercise and are doing so?

For me, I was always active and discovered Pilates about six months before beginning to have problems. It was something I could do cheaply via DVD in my own home and when I developed Fibromyalgia it remained a form of low impact exercise which I could tailor to suit. It’s very good for flexibility and stretching, which is key for me and my tendency towards appalling stiffness. I enjoy it and if I’m careful it can take the edge off some of the pain associated with Fibromyalgia.

My point is that you do it for you. Whatever form the exercise takes and however little you are able to do, make it a choice you make for your own enjoyment and well being. If you “clean up” or change your diet, do it for the same reasons.

The peddling of one body type and one diet as correct for all is distinctly unhelpful as well as being plain nonsense – body type is in some part down to genetics regardless of how much work you put in, and a lot of conditions prevent the consumption of certain food and drinks and so mess up that perfect diet you’re being sold. What if you can’t eat enough of the nutrients you need because of your illness and are limited to the formulated drink products doctors prescribe?

Different forms of exercise also have different impacts and affect people differently, but it’s yet another thing that gets watered down into this idea of one correct and “best” form that everyone should participate in. One fitspo image I came across was someone posting the picture below over and over again to promote the fact she’d taken up weightlifting:

(I realise in some contexts this is a lighthearted joke, but not in the context of oneup-manship. Image from

Charming. What if zumba is the only thing that helps your particular condition, or it constitutes one of the only forms of exercise you can manage? What if you can’t actually exercise at all? Does that make you any less worthy a human being than someone who spends hours of each day in a gym?

Can people not see what utter madness this is?

We come back to the same point – one size NEVER fits all, and particularly not bridging the gap between healthy and ill with the myriad of difficulties illness can present. We’re also into the territory of my favourite comparison game – if you’re insulting one body type, one exercise form or one diet in comparison to a different one to make it appealing, then you’re helping absolutely nobody and you’re contributing to the underlying problem.

I personally think you should do whatever you need to do to “feel” healthy. That will probably be a little different for everyone, and in the case of chronic illnesses the difference will probably be quite substantial. There’s no right answer or magic formula, it’s something that’s as individual as you are and comes down to what makes you feel good and what constitutes you feeling at your best.

The thing to strive for in my view is to be in a place where you feel happy and as healthy as possible, and you are doing whatever you can manage for enjoyment and to promote good well being overall. Weightlifting every day? Brilliant! Doing ten minutes of gentle therapy once a week? Wonderful! If getting out of bed at all was your biggest achievement? Great!

Sitting with your feet up and eating cake because that’s all you feel like doing today? Even better*!

If it involves accepting you look nothing like the unrealistic and airbrushed people in the “fitspiration” images and living your life your way and not the way they try to tell you to, then I say good for you.

(Fixes everything worth fixing. Image from

*My friend and I have a saying which we often repeat to one another when we’re fed up of what our bodies are doing to us – if it can’t be fixed by cake, it’s not worth fixing. Amen to that!

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