By lab members Kristen Pasko, Kerri Mazur, and Sabrina DiBisceglie
Depictions of female appearance ideals have long been portrayed in the media, such as movies, TV, and magazines. These ideals have meaningful (and usually negative) effects on women’s body satisfaction and eating behaviors, and have received a great deal of research attention as a result. Examining the role of appearance ideals and the sources of idealized messages can be helpful for preventing and intervening against negative body image and disordered eating behaviors.
Recently, social media has become the main platform for communicating these ideals, especially Instagram. More than half of teens and young adults use Instagram, and many rely on it as a source of health information. Unlike previous trends toward extreme ideals of thinness (i.e., #thinspiration), the recent trend of #fitspiration portrays strong and muscular women as the ideal body image.
#Fitspiration posts usually promote exercise and healthy eating, but sometimes focus on the appearance benefits of a healthy lifestyle rather than the health benefits themselves. For example:
Images from a #fitspiration blog which promote exercise and defined muscles.
Click here to visit a #Fitspiration blog
The ideal female body has changed over time, from a full figure to the hourglass (actresses like Marilyn Monroe in the 1950s) to extreme thinness (models like Twiggy in the 1970s). It is possible that these body types were idealized because many people could compare themselves to them and see similarities, or because they were inspired by them to change. Decades of research on appearance-based social comparisons indicate that many women experience
negative consequences of viewing images of the appearance ideal, including body dissatisfaction and desire to diet or exercise. Though not all women (or men) respond negatively to these images – indeed, #fitspiration exists because social media users appear to find others’ appearance and fitness success inspiring.
What leads some people to be inspired by #fitspiration, and others to be discouraged? Motivation for viewing images and related content (such as blogs) may be a key factor in deciding how #fitspiration will affect an individual. In our next post, we will explore this motivation in more detail. Look for our follow-up next week!