Function better than #fitspo for promoting women’s exercise

Amanda Lyons

11/01/2018 3:31:09 PM

A new study from Flinders University has found that viewing images of ‘aspirational’ bodies can actually have a negative effect on women’s fitness.

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The study showed women who viewed functionality-focused images reported greater intentions to exercise and satisfaction with their body appearance. Image: World Obesity Federation

The study – ‘This girl can #jointhemovement: Effectiveness of physical functionality-focused campaigns for women’s body satisfaction and exercise intent’ – tested the impact of two different types of ‘fitspiration’ or ‘fitspo’ (inspirational fitness) images on women’s self-perception and motivation to exercise.
The first category of fitspo images were taken from existing women’s fitness campaigns, ‘This Girl Can’ in the UK and ‘Join the Movement’ in Queensland, which are designed to encourage ‘functional’ women’s fitness. These images involved female bodies of various shapes and sizes in the act of performing exercise. The second category showed idealised, ‘aspirational’ female bodies engaged in fitness activities.
The study’s results indicated that the women who viewed the functionality-focused images reported higher intentions to exercise and satisfaction with their own body appearance. Conversely, those who viewed the idealised images reported decreased body satisfaction, increased negative mood and lower intent to exercise.
However, the study also found that exposure to the functional fitness images did not inoculate women from negative self-comparison to more idealised images. This finding was of concern to Dr Elizabeth Sturgiss, a GP with a special interest in obesity and a lecturer in general practice at Australian National University.
‘Even though we sometimes get government messages around having a fit and active body, those types of campaigns are not going to be effective [at] protecting women from other harmful images and messages in the media,’ she told newsGP.
 ‘It’s well-known in the literature that the way bodies are portrayed in the media has a huge effect on how people, particularly women, view their bodies. And we know that if people have low esteem about their body shape and size, they’re more likely to put on more weight, more quickly, over time.’
Dr Sturgiss remains supportive of both public health campaigns featured in the study, and agrees that functional fitness images can provide a blueprint for a more positive representation of bodies and fitness overall.
‘It’s not about having a perfect body, it’s about having a healthy and active body, and that’s a much better health message,’ she said.

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