Trigger warning: Contains discussion of body image. Relates to mental heath, disordered eating and exercise patterns.
I first encountered the -spo concept in the form of thinspo. As someone who (unfortunately) has wanted to lose weight for most of their life, I thought anything that would inspire me to exercise a little more enthusiastically or eat that little bit healthier could only be a good thing. And when you put it like that, yeah, it is. Sometimes we all need our butt kicked into gear a bit. The problem I found with thinspo was that it got very extreme very quickly. The messages went from “take care of your body” to “YOU NEED TO SEE BONES” in approximately 0.4 seconds. For a newly pubescent lil lady, it was a disaster waiting to happen.
Eventually, as I came towards the end of high school, fitspo came along. Now bones were okay but lean, mean, squatting machines were better. Again, the images and messages around fitspo varied greatly but reached pretty scary levels of obsessiveness (although, die-hard fitspo-ers would say that “obsessive is just a word that the lazy use to describe the dedicated”). For a young woman emerging from the cosy cocoon of high school, this was just another unreachable standard I felt the big wide world demanded of womanhood now.
And that’s the thing with -spo, regardless of whether it’s to do with your body or your home, your food, your children, your parties or your outfits: it sets the bar at an overwhelming height (I’m all of 5ft. tall, so perhaps this mental image is particularly scary for me). It seems so unreachable that you risk becoming obsessed with constantly bettering yourself and others at the expense of all else in your life. On the other hand, these images of perfection can seem so far from where you are that you become despondent and give up completely. I haven’t included any -spo images for this exact reason. I don’t believe they provide me, or anyone else for that matter, any deep or lasting benefit.
They’re also fleeting. They come flying at you: thick and fast and seemingly relentless. They’re in front of you for but a moment, but they can damage you for a long time. They are extreme, and they offer you nothing but an extreme reaction. Love or hate. Embrace or resent. Inspire or depress. They do not and cannot offer you any real support because they themselves are not real. They are far-removed from your life and may well be far removed from the way the people in them see their own lives too. We’re all guilty of presenting a brighter, shinier picture of our lives on the internet, and perhaps it’s worth thinking about the reality behind the -spo. Seek out real life connections with people whose values align with yours. Real life role models and mentors can offer you far more than any -spo could; they will show you the diversity of the meaning of ‘success’ and that complete ‘perfection’ does not actually exist. Appreciate what you have and do what you can with that. Be kind to yourself; from little things, big things grow. Be your own lifespo.
If any of the issues I’ve discussed in this post concern you, please reach out for support. There are fantastic services available if you are struggling with issues of mental health or body image.
And for South Aussies in particular (because I know you make up the majority of my readership):