Is Fit the New Skinny? How the discourse of skinny has taken new form in the fitness revolution

Women are persistently bombarded about their image. As a society we are given unattainable ideals of what a woman should look like. For example the ideal body of a Barbie doll would actually require a woman who was over seven feet. Girls grow up with dolls like Barbie and consequently have a desire to be like her-their first female influence. But this skinny doll sets girls up for disappointment, as the body shape of Barbie is completely unattainable as discussed in the video linked below.

Barbie of course is not the only influence on young girls. The fashion industry has historically perpetuated the image of nearly anorexic models. Like Barbie the industry gave girls impracticable expectations about body image. But in the recent past, culture has rebelled against the idea of pin thin models and impossible representations of a woman. As seen in the article below, the public has rebelled against fashion label using women who look as if they are starving as models. The public has finally pushed back against mannequin like models as influences on body image.

Skinny Gap Model Sparks Twitter Controversy, Company Response And ‘Thin-Shaming’ Debate

But in this exodus of pin thin being pretty, our culture has entered a new discourse, one that is just as dangerous. This new treatise is “being fit.” Now there are hundreds of media outlets and videos instructing women (and men) on how to live a “healthy” life without starving. While this might seem like a more constructive way of thinking, “healthy living” as a discourse has become as detrimental as starving models to the body image of women.

My interest for this topic came after reading, Body Panic by Shari Dworin and Faye Wachs. The two authors explore the idea that “health” and “fitness” are not person specific but is generalized to every single person. Every person is supposed to look like the fit models we see on the cover of a fitness magazine. The book begs the question of is this really health or is this just another unhealthy/unattainable fad.

Body Panic

This idea, that health and fitness has been twisted in a way that is ironically unhealthy, is the heart of what I am interested in perusing in my project. Secondly I would like to look at how discriminatory this health movement can be to women who do not have every muscle perfectly toned. There is an abundance of research on social influences causing anorexia, but not as much on the effects of the fitness movement.

I would like to pay special attention to how this fitness revolution takes place in the social media sphere-specifically on Instagram. I would like to collect data from at least 100 Instagram users who use the hashtag fitspo, fitfam etc. and analyze the image that is being promoted. It is also relevant to recognize how popular these specific accounts are, how many impressions they receive and how many followers the actual account has. I am hypothesizing that these social media users would be projecting the same image that Dwroking and Wachs illustrate in their book-perfection, every muscle toned. I think that there is less of a ethics question with using Instagram because users can choose to have their accounts as public or private. Furthermore I would keep the identities of the accounts I was using anonymous.

An example of the Instagram images I would be looking for

An example of the Instagram images I would be looking for

I am hoping my project will help address issues such as body image in woman and our cultures misunderstanding of health and what it mean to be fit. I think the essay would best take the form of a research essay. In regards to multimedia, incorporation of fitness videos and shows are crucial to the understanding of what I am trying to demonstrate. I am hoping I will be able to show that these videos show fitness as one body type and not representative of a normal population.

In regards to timeline, I would like to start by collecting research on the effects mass media has on the collective conscious of women. Secondly I would like to look into research on the healthism movement. Healthism is a term introduced by Robert Crawford in 1980 that illustrates how “health” can be used to separate the have and the have nots. Citizens use health to as a way to make themselves seem better, and look down upon those who are not “healthy” (Crawford, 1980). This plays into my project as when people have a skewed idea of what it means to be healthy, people who do not fit this image are looked down upon. And finally I would like to collect my data and record my findings.

Works Cited

Crawford, Robert. “Healthism and the Medicalization of Everyday Life.”International Journal of Health Services 10.3 (1980): 365-88.


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