The problem with -spo

Trigger warning: Contains discussion of body image. Relates to mental heath, disordered eating and exercise patterns.

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Image of a print from Living Styles

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.

Lx

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.

For Australians:

And for South Aussies in particular (because I know you make up the majority of my readership):

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8 thoughts on “The problem with -spo

  1. Great post Lauren. I find that the -spo photos just make me feel down. I much prefer to follow the campaigns about loving your body the way it is. My weight has fluctuated since leaving school and I struggle with body issues but as I get older I am learning to love my body the way it is. I love this quote from your post – “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”.

    • Thanks Sarah! Yours is a common experience (as you can see from the other ladies who’ve commented) but I’m glad you’re focused on loving lil ol’ you. Keep doin’ what you’re doin’ xx

  2. Beautiful post Lauren. I think you nailed it when you said talked about becoming “obsessed with constantly bettering yourself at the expense of all else in your life”. It’s a real risk with any undertaking but particularly so with things like weight loss and ‘fitness’ when we’re surrounded by information and image overload. I agree with you that so much more comes from nurturing and being kind to ourselves and from deep connection with like minded people. Thanks for sharing your wisdom lovely. S xx

    • Thanks so much, Sarah. I like to think I have these things sorted out but it’s always much easier in theory than in practice, isn’t it? Luckily I’ve got some great role models both in the blogosphere and IRL. I’m sure I’ll look back things like this in 20 years’ time and chuckle at 20 year-old me, but it’s all part of the process, right? xx

  3. I like your point of it all being ‘fleeting’ and ‘bombarding’.
    I have, in the last months finally felt at ease and learnt to respect myself more. I am grateful and hope that I can instil this in my daughter. Why? Because these other feelings are fleeting.

    • Absolutely, Kara! It’s so great to hear you’re feeling on top of things. I think it’s such an important message for young girls to hear (I appreciate my Mum’s realistic approach every day) so good on you for passing it on to your daughter xx

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