Of all the ways to motivate me to do anything, calling me fat isn’t one of them. Showing me photos of underweight underwear models is more likely to make me hungry than inspire me to hit the gym. And while thousands of people over the years have sought my advice on how to become more fit, lose the baby weight, or sculpt a certain body part as if it were a fashion accessory (this is one part of my job, and I happily oblige), I have told people they should lose weight precisely this many times in my career: never.
Why would I bother when there are so many other voices telling women and men that they need to whittle more of their bodies away in order to feel worthy of living inside them? I wouldn’t, and it’s a shame.
But people find inspiration in different places, and, while disconcerting, thinspiration is a thing—a style of motivation that ranges from cheeky mantras like “Sweat is your fat crying,” to downright dangerous behaviors in support of eating disorders. Yes, there are people who don’t believe anorexia is a disease but rather a lifestyle. It’s call the pro-anorexia movement (“pro-ana” for short). Terrifying, right?
Glamorizing an eating disorder is never cool, but this crazy social behavior (even if only in shadowy corners of the Internet) doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It comes from some source of inspiration somewhere and is compounded by some insecurity inside—or vice versa. I remember attending a fitness class taught by a popular teacher a few years ago at a swanky Boston health club. It was a strong class, and I liked the teacher’s sense of humor. But when she encouraged us to eek out one more rep of an upper body exercise to incinerate the “disgusting flab on the backs of our arms,” it didn’t make me work harder. I wilted. I worried about all the ears hearing those words of disgust about their hardworking bodies in the room (some of whom were also my yoga students), and I wondered how they would be internalized.
Because that’s the thing about a body—it’s much more than muscles and bones and fat, and, thankfully, yoga tradition encourages us to remember this. (Yoga does; the business of yoga, society, advertising, and Photoshop do not). Your body has a spiritual layer (or kosha) that endures or shrinks, fuels or flags, lights up or loses heart depending on how you and others treat it.
Thinspiration, whatever it is to whomever is using it, is an interesting word, a riff on inspiration, which is, in turn, formed by the root to inspire—to fill with spirit. Whether at the gym, in a yoga class, or on the Internet, be mindful of what you allow to fill your spirit, and choose these inspirations accordingly.