Cleanse Your Mind, The Rest Will Follow: Transform Your Health With a Media Fast

Have you tried the latest health cleanse? It’s SO great. It’ll help you feel better about your body inside and out, and jump-start your healthy choices so you’ll have the motivation to be active and feel A-MA-ZING. THIS cleanse is brand new. None of the celebrity health gurus or fitspiration icons have tried this, and you’ll NEVER hear about it from an actress in US Weekly. You don’t have to drink cayenne pepper juice OR forego solid foods for days and you’ll STILL remove countless toxins from your body. But this time, the toxins are in your mind and they’re just as harmful to your health.

Those mental toxins have built up from years of taking in distorted, profit-driven messages about what it means to have a healthy and fit female body. Whether it’s health and fitness magazines featuring airbrushed celebrities in bikinis with the latest strategies to get “sleek and sexy” in 3 days without ever moving an inch, or fitspiration models with exposed buttocks, breasts and oiled-up abs all over Instagram and Facebook — you’ve likely got a pretty specific image in your mind of what it means to be a “fit” and “healthy” woman. (We’re not even going to show you an example here, because you already have it in your mind.) This is a trending beauty ideal that is parading as a fitness ideal — made to look attainable for any woman willing to put in enough effort, willpower and sacrifice.

But what about the vast majority of women who will never, ever have six-pack abs, jutting hip bones, cellulite-free thighs that don’t touch, and every other appearance ideal that is held up as a sure indicator of fitness — regardless of how many squats they do, how “clean” they eat, how many marathons they run, etc.? This image of what it looks like to be a fit woman is so ingrained in our cultural wallpaper that we are completely desensitized to it. It is so common and unquestioned that it has become natural and invisible. THIS cleanse will start to rid you of that numbness.

It’s called the media fast. Rather than cutting out food, you cut out media. You cleanse your mind in order to cleanse your body. Choose a time period — 3 days, a week, a month, or more — and avoid media as much as humanly possible. All of it. No Twitter/Instagram/Facebook, TV, Netflix, movies, blogs, radio, any advertising you can avoid. Without this never-ending stream of biased, $-driven, idealized, Photoshopped, self-promoting messages and images (even well-meaning ones from friends and family and people trying to encourage their version/depiction of health), you give your mind the opportunity to become more sensitive to the messages that don’t look like or feel like the truths you experience in real life, face to face, with real fit people and your own health choices. Without those messages, you can see how your life is different and how your feelings toward your own body are affected. When you return to viewing and reading popular media, you will be more sensitive to the messages that hurt you, that hurt your self-perception and those that are unrealistic for you. Then you can make personalized, critical, well-informed media choices for yourself and your household that will uplift and inspire, and promote health rather than objectification and unattainable appearance ideals that may shame you into poor health choices

The following is a personal story of a Beauty Redefined supporter and health blogger named Kate, who shared her health and fitness journey with a large community of fans at This is Not a Diet — It’s My Life. She has written about her experience with a media fast, and provides some fantastic insight into what makes this type of cleanse crucial for anyone genuinely seeking health and fitness — not just the appearance of health and fitness. Here is her story: 

I’ve been a larger person for the great majority of my life. I’ve never experienced being someone who has teeny little invisible-to-others flaws they pick apart in the mirror. In fact, for most of my adult life I thought it would just be fantastic to wear a size 14 so I could shop somewhere that sold clothes I liked. I never coveted a “thigh gap” or a stomach with so little fat you could see my abdominal muscles. I thought it would be great if my thighs didn’t chafe when I walked from all the rubbing. 

The closest I ever got to the nit-picking your body phase was at the end of my weight-loss and the year that followed. I flew past original goals, to wear that size 14 and be able to walk anywhere I wanted to without getting out of breath or chafing my thighs. I was wearing size 8, even 6 in some things. My thighs didn’t chafe. In fact, they didn’t touch at all. In clothes, my stomach looked flat. I lost most of my breast tissue and went from a DD-cup to a small C or even a large B. 

While I was deep in the process of obsessively losing weight, I became a consumer of a type of media I previously never knew existed: fitness and health. I started looking at pictures of fitness models. I started following them and reading about their workout routines and diets. I worked out at least 6 times a week, for 1-2 hours each time. It was all very intense. No walks in the park for me! I weighed myself every morning and I adjusted my diet accordingly. I was the thinnest I had ever been in my life and I kept it that way with constant vigilance. But I still didn’t look like the fitness models. There was a time when I thought I should, and could, look like them if I just tried a little harder. Why not? I lost 125 pounds. I could do anything. All it takes is enough “will-power” right? If I didn’t get the six-pack, I must be full of lazy-excuses. That’s what those fitness model types said, and look at them! It must be true…

Except that it’s not true at all. My body is my body. The reason I do not, and never will, look like one of those headless ab posters actually doesn’t have anything to do with laziness or excuses. It’s just not the way my body is going to look due to my genetics and personal history. It took me a long time to recognize and be able to accept that, especially with all the messaging telling you that if you just Tried a Little Harder, you could make all your perfect body dreams come true.

The fitness and health world is not at all what it seems to be. My outlook on myself was far healthier before I ever started reading about health and fitness. Isn’t that just backwards? Shouldn’t the health industry be promoting actual health and fitness, not obsessive body re-composition?

I had long ago stopped looking at fashion magazines and models. I knew they were underweight and that it was crazy to think I would ever look like them. But the fitness look seemed so “healthy” and that’s how it was promoted. Anybody can do this, they tell you. You just have to want it bad enough. Just eat a “clean” diet, lift weights, and wake up one day looking like Jamie Eason!

Fast forward to now. My outlook is totally different. I’m never going to look like Jamie Eason. I’m me. I look like me. Kate. Hi! Nice to meet you. My thighs touch and my belly is not flat. I am strong and healthy. The 2013 picture was taken a few months ago. I’m wearing the same outfit today, so I must be a similar size. I don’t weigh myself anymore though, so I can’t say for sure.

I went on a new type of diet, you see. I went on a Media Diet. I already didn’t watch much TV or read magazines, but I do spend a lot of time online. Throughout my changing lifestyle I had managed to build up quite the repertoire of places to consume other people’s tight, toned, surgically and digitally enhanced bodies online and read about their endless nit-picking of their imperceptible flaws, Facebook being the most gluttonous. 

The most important tool of the Media Diet for me is the Facebook UNLIKE button. Does the page post fitspo? Unlike. Does it go on about counting carbs after 3 pm to get the flattest belly? Unlike. Does it tell me I’m not good enough the way I am? Unlike. Does it send me the message that if I don’t look like the model in the picture, I’m a lazy, full of excuses waste of space? UNLIKE at the speed of light! 

If it does not lift me up and support actual health and actual fitness, I don’t need to consume it. 

We are bombarded with messages about not being good enough every single day. You cannot completely escape this. I can’t stop going to the grocery store and seeing the headlines about which celebrities are too fat and which are too thin. But I can take an active role in many parts of my life. I can choose.  

You do not have to buy those magazines or follow those pages to be healthy. If you’re like me, you might be a lot saner and healthier without them.  My New Year’s Resolution this year was to stop reading weight/health/nutrition books. I am proud to say that in 2013 I have only read fiction and art books. Come to think of it, ever since I went on my Media Diet, I am doing a lot of things I enjoy that are important to me that I wasn’t doing before. I’m not working out 6 days a week anymore. I am walking in the park. I am hiking. I am practicing yoga. I only go to the gym 1 time a week, for BodyPump, which is just plain FUN. I have drawn in my sketchbook almost every day this year, something I kept telling myself I would do that I never did. I guess I needed to free up the mental space for it. When I get sick or am too exhausted, I do a crazy thing: I REST. I do not worry about what it might do to my weight the next day. 

I don’t track anything anymore, except my menstrual cycle. When I exercise, I do it for myself, for my mental and physical health, and because I want to, not for calories burned. I don’t do it to earn my dinner. I’m going to eat dinner either way. And sometimes it’s going to be pizza. I have allowed myself time and space to think about what is really important to me, how I really feel about my body, and to stop comparing myself to anyone else. Comparing yourself to other people is stupid. A person with my body and my history is never going to look like someone who has always been thin. That’s a great big “DUH.” right? But I think a lot of people still don’t get it. 

Many people would look at my body and find things to dislike about it, but I am not them, so it’s okay. My hips? They are glorious. My stomach and thighs that touch once more (but don’t chafe) — so nice, so comforting, so warm and soft. Fat is not an enemy, it is part of my body. It gives me my hourglass shape. It gives me my fabulous D-cups. I gives me warmth. I am no longer constantly cold. I don’t feel dizzy. I have a lot more energy. I am more comfortable sleeping. I feel more attractive and less self-conscious. 

Contrary to what I thought, being the thinnest ever didn’t make me happier. It didn’t make me better. It just made me look different. I remember how I felt when I took the middle picture you see above, and I kept staring at it thinking “Wow, I am actually thin.” It was strange and intriguing. It was an out of body experience for sure. When I look at the picture of me now, I see me. It’s not weird, it just is. Living the life I want to live naturally returned me to the body I was meant to have. The funny thing is, this is the body I probably would have had if I had never dieted at all. If I had just let my body mature as it was meant to. But everything told me I wasn’t okay the way I was, and I believed it. I don’t believe it now. And anyway, it’s not for anyone else to say. 

You shouldn’t consume things that make you feel like crap. That includes food and media. Are there people in real life or online in your life who treat you like crap? Do they talk down to you? Do they act like they know you better than you know yourself? Do they make you doubt yourself? Cut them out. You deserve better. And make sure you’re not one of them.

Thanks to Kate for sharing her work with us! Her original post appeared here. For more information on how Beauty Redefined seeks to turn the conversation from focusing on looking healthy to actually being healthy, see our two-part Healthy Redefined series on how health is traditionally defined and how we’re redefining it. See also our popular piece on how to tell if the fitspiration images/messages you’re viewing are helping or harming your health goals. For in-depth help to reframe  your health perceptions and improve your body image, check out our 8-Week Body Image Resilience Program!

Body Wraps Work! To Promote Body Anxiety and Unreal Ideals, But Not Real Health or Weight Loss

Instead of uniting with women as more than bodies to be looked at, fixed, and judged, why are so many of us preying on each others’ insecurities by selling objectifying, unrealistic ideals to our social media contacts? Friends, we need to be more kind and compassionate to each other. Today, unattainable, degrading beauty ideals are flooding social media from women in multi-level marketing companies selling beauty and diet products to their loved ones online. We are committed to revealing harmful media ideals, and the marketing of  “skinny wraps” is an especially dangerous trend because these messages infiltrate our social networking feeds, teaching us about our so-called “flaws” through our own peers.

If you are selling body wraps, skin contouring creams, and fat-burning pills so you can “eat what you want!” or hosting “wrap parties” and persuading social media connections to magically melt away inches, please, PLEASE consider the influence you may be having.

  • Please consider the vast number of girls and women fighting or recovering from all types of debilitating disordered eating who are very likely some of your FB friends, blog followers, Instagram or Twitter followers in the long list you invited to check out your slimming products.
  • Please consider the girls and women genuinely looking to improve their health (not just the appearance of “health” for 72 hours) and instead spending hard-earned money on products you push that will not decrease their likelihood of getting diabetes, heart disease, or any other chronic disease related to lifestyle.
  • Please consider the girls and women who have been raised to believe their worth lies in the appearance of their body — especially in the thinness, firmness and dimple-free-ness of their bodies — and that many of those women’s bodies look just like the undesirable “before” photos you’re promoting all over their feeds.
  • Please consider the objectification of women that you are selling to your audiences, whether they ask for it or not. Pictures of women in underwear without heads or faces reinforces the false ideal that women are bodies to be looked at, fixed, and judged at all times.
  • Please consider the shame you may be inciting in girls and women (and men) who are being told from every angle that their bodies are flawed and in need of fixing in order to be happy, loved, and successful. Shame is a dangerous motivator to buy “quick fixes” and a terrible de-motivator away from healthy eating and physical activity.

To the girls and women being constantly exposed to these promotions and invited to these “parties,” please consider your influence as well:

  • Please consider declining these invitations, not “liking” or commenting on these seemingly miraculous before/after photos featuring headless women’s body parts, and skipping these events.
  • Please consider unfollowing or  unsubscribing to people or pages, blocking ads from that company, and actually clicking “not attending” on these event invitations, rather than silently ignoring them.
  • Please consider speaking up about why you will not be attending, why the false claims and objectifying language/images promote unhealthy body shame, and why no scientific or medically sound evidence has ever been shown to back up those health, weight-loss, lasting, skin-tightening, cellulite-reducing claims.
  • Please consider your children, family members, students, neighbors, peers and others who look up to you and may be watching, many of whom are in need of a positive example of body confidence and positive health choices that include proper nutrition and physical activity, rather than expensive reliance on new tricks for looking hot and sexy.
  • Please help remind every girl and woman you know – regardless of whether or not they buy or sell “skinny wraps” – that they are capable of much more than being looked at, and that when they really believe that, they can get on to everything else that is happy and important in their lives.

We’ve got a new challenge for you instead. It won’t cost you a dime, it won’t prey on your insecurities, and the happy, healthy benefits will last more than 72 hours! Pick just one of these challenges to get you back in the mindset of health, power, and happiness and change your whole outlook on life. There’s a good chance it’ll remind you that your body is a gift that can do great things outside of just being looked at, judged, and fixed. Which will you choose?

Set a true fitness goal: If you’ve held yourself back from running, biking, swimming, etc., because you felt self-conscious about what to wear, how red your face gets from the workout, sweating in public, (the list goes on), it’s time to set a goal and fight to achieve it!  Make this goal about your abilities and you’ll be much less inclined to care about what you look like doing it. Run a certain distance without stopping. Swim 10 laps faster than ever before. Do a certain number of crunches, push-ups, pull-ups, new dance moves – any fitness achievement measured in actions and not numbers on a scale, measuring tape or clothing tag. Research shows many women are do not exercise because they “feel too fat” to get out and move. Let’s break through that shame and move, live, and be happy.

Forget your number: If you tend to fixate on your weight, measurements or clothing sizes, pledging to leave those numbers behind is your key to freedom!  Make a goal to stop or limit the number  of times you weigh or measure yourself.  It turns out that when we fixate on arbitrary numbers, that often gets in the way of our health.  Start judging your health through your activity level by setting a fitness goal (see No. 1) instead of a meaningless number, and you’ll get somewhere great!

Stop negative self-talk: Too many girls and women have a constant script of mean thoughts about themselves running through their minds. Recent studies show us that girls who don’t like their bodies become more sedentary over time and pay less attention to having a healthy diet. If you think you’re gross and worthless, why would you take care of yourself? Set a goal to stop saying negative things about yourself. Start with a day, a week, whatever you can, and make it a permanent practice!

Think nice thoughts instead: On the flipside of the last study, research has found that girls who respect their bodies are more likely to be physically active and eat healthy. They are less likely to gain unnecessary weight and they make healthy lifestyle choices way into the future.  Since what we THINK about our bodies has a strong connection to how we TREAT our bodies, set a goal to shut out negative thoughts as they come and replace them with positive truths!

Go on a media fast: Choose a day, a week, a month or longer to steer clear of as much media as you can, including social media like Facebook and Instagram, which have been shown to reduce self-esteem in women. That way, you can see how your life is different without all those messages and images, and when you return to viewing and reading popular media, you will be more sensitive to the messages that hurt you and those that are unrealistic.

Need more help developing body image resilience that can help you overcome your self-consciousness and be more powerful than ever before? Learn how to recognize harmful ideals, redefine beauty and health, and resist what holds you back from happiness, health, and real empowerment with the Beauty Redefined Body Image Program for girls and women 14+. It is an online, anonymous therapeutic tool that can change your life, designed by Lexie & Lindsay Kite, with PhDs in body image and media.

Body Shame on You

Shame on you!”

Just the sound of that phrase feels awful, right? When someone says that phrase to you, it’s hard to ignore. But too many girls and women live in a constant state of shame that feels completely normal today — what scholars call “normative discontent.” Body shame and appearance anxiety are affecting us at epidemic rates. Shame, by definition, results in feelings of wanting to either hide or change the thing that doesn’t meet external or internal standards. For us, self-objectification takes place when we feel shame and hide ourselves or parts of ourselves from the world because we don’t meet the ideals we think we should, or we work to change the parts of us that just don’t cut it. These days, beginning with puberty, females are TWICE as likely to experience depression as males. This is directly associated with our objectifying culture, which leads us to evaluate and control our bodies in terms of our sexual desirability above all else.

Body shame, which manifests itself in the form of self-objectification, has been linked to disordered eating, unhealthy sexual practices (not saying “no” when you want to and not using condoms), plans for cosmetic surgery, diminished mental performance at school, diminished athletic performance, anxiety and depression, and sedentary lifestyles — and these impairments occur among all ethnicities and ages. Some of our favorite scholars, Fredrickson & Roberts (1997), state that “the habitual body monitoring encouraged by a sexually objectifying culture may reduce women’s quality of life.” We know this to be true.

At BR, we talk a lot about body shame – how prevalent it is today and how companies promote shame and anxiety in women as a marketing strategy. Shame is counterproductive to healthy choices. It is a debilitating and discouraging force that affects all of us negatively, especially in terms of body image. A 2010 National Physical Activity and Weight Loss Survey found that body size satisfaction had a significant effect on whether a person performed regular physical activity, regardless of the individual’s actual weight. So, those who were satisfied with the way their body looked – regardless of the ideals they did or did not meet – were more likely to engage in physical activity than those less satisfied. This is representative of a very real phenomenon among women who avoid physical activity because they feel “too fat to exercise” — THAT is shame in action, er, in inaction. In addition, too many women remain inactive because they believe they look too unattractive during/after workouts – too sweaty, too red, too jiggly, too frizzy of hair, too hard to get ready again after.

Women consistently describe their feelings of body shame in terms of not being attractive enough for their husbands or partners, or to even get the attention of a romantic interest. Entire industries perpetuate and capitalize on those anxieties by representing women in terms of their appearances only, developing and diagnosing flaws, and then selling billions of $$$ in products and services to “fix” those flaws and thus, make us attractive, happy and valued. What they don’t advertise is that those products and services to improve your appearance almost never minimize body anxiety — they often increase it. Have you ever known someone (or been someone) who decided to get a breast augmentation in order to make her feel better about herself, or to help her feel less self-conscious about her body? Did it work? Or was she still not quite satisfied with the size/shape/look of her breasts? Or did that woman then find a new “flaw” to fixate on and do whatever it took to fix it? Chances are, that’s exactly what happened. The cosmetic surgery industry reports that as many as two-thirds of patients are repeat customers. Cosmetic procedures are rarely a one-time fix because they don’t get to the heart of the problem that has everything to do with your feelings about your body and very little to do with your body.

What we want to focus on in this post is the importance of recognizing how shame manifests itself in your life with regard to your body image.

For some, it that little voice that says, “You suck. You already ruined your whole healthy eating plan for the day by eating that brownie. Now eat the whole pan.”

For some, it will be the multitude of excuses you have ready for anyone who invites you to a pool party, beach vacation or hot tub outing, all prompted by the fear of wearing a swimsuit, because people will surely be looking at your stomach or thighs and wondering how you dared show up looking that way.

For some, it is the choice to stay home with Netflix rather than be embarrassed about how sweaty, red-faced, jiggly, smelly or wet-haired you’ll be if you did that workout or played that sport with your friends.

For some, shame is what keeps you on the treadmill for 3 hours a day and restricting yourself to 1,000 calories/day in a desperate attempt to shed _ pounds or trim _ inches.

Shame is a cruel and powerful demotivator, especially with regard to health and happiness. It fuels overeating, poor nutrition choices, sedentary lifestyles, cosmetic surgery, isolation and pain. Shame is also a cruel and powerful motivator with regard to self-harm. It fuels disordered eating like bingeing, purging and starvation, as well as exercise bulimia, cutting, isolation and pain.

In Lexie’s dissertation study, 96 percent of her participants reported staying home from activities because they weren’t comfortable with the look of their bodies or faces. All but one reported they have refused to go swimming for fear of not meeting the standards of beauty they think they should in a swimsuit, even with (especially with) their loved ones. Many had plans for future cosmetic surgery. Do you see how hiding or changing parts of yourself might be your way of coping with shame for not meeting these unattainable ideals?

Once we identify and learn to recognize what shame looks like and sounds like in our own lives, we can work to reject its harmful motivating/demotivating influence. There’s no fighting back if we stay in this unquestioned, normalized state of body anxiety.

The making of bad health choices – or, alternatively, the avoiding of good choices — is very often motivated by shame. Whether it’s ditching out on fun, new, active experiences or engaging in unhealthy behaviors, we can’t let shame motivate us to self-harm or prevent us from living our lives – REALLY living our lives, not just living to be looked at. At the same time, we need to recognize that good choices can be triggered by feelings that might initially feel like guilt. Cognitive dissonance is different from shame. That uncomfortable feeling — such as a twinge of guilt — is your brain’s way of telling you that a new idea is conflicting with one of your pre-existing beliefs. If you recognize and respond to a feeling of cognitive dissonance, it might prompt you to make a healthier, more progressive change in your life. You might decide not to take non-FDA-approved diet pills you know are a bad idea — the ones that give you the jitters, dehydrate you and mess with your health. You might pick up a different magazine or take a show off your Hulu queue that promotes body anxiety and objectifies women.

You might believe that your reflection does not define your worth, but manipulative advertising and profit-driven media messages are engineered to convince you that idea is wrong — and instead convince you that improving your appearance is key to improving your desirability and happiness. We promote messages that stand in stark contrast to anything you will hear about women in any media outlet in order to create that cognitive dissonance that can remind women they are more than bodies to be looked at. It just so happens the truth is on our side, so it tends to resonate and stick with women who hear it. Believing that you are capable of much more than looking hot is a powerful foundation for us to build from — to make positive choices for our health, careers, relationships and every aspect of life.

Let’s stop letting body shame be a motivator for self-harm, a demotivator for self-improvement, or an unchallenged way of life. Let’s work to consciously recognize HOW shame manifests itself in our lives so we can reject the ways it negatively influences our choices. Need more help developing body image resilience that can help you overcome your self-consciousness and be more powerful than ever before? Learn how to recognize harmful ideals, redefine beauty and health, and resist what holds you back from happiness, health, and real empowerment with the Beauty Redefined Body Image Program for girls and women 14+. It is an online, anonymous therapeutic tool that can change your life, designed by Lexie & Lindsay Kite, with PhDs in body image and media.

Why “Fitspiration” Isn’t so Inspirational

If you are on Facebook, Pinterest, or Instagram, you have seen fitness inspiration images just in time for “the holidays” or “bikini season” or your “big day” to motivate you to “get fit” – we call them “fitspiration.” They are almost always images of parts of women without heads or faces. They are always very thin, surgically and/or digitally enhanced, tanned, oiled up parts of bodies with text like this:

Look good, feel good.

Unless you puke, faint, or die, keep going.

Girls who are naturally skinny are lucky. Girls who have to fight to be skinny are strong.

If you haven’t posted one of these pictures on one of your social networking sites, one of your well-intentioned friends has. I promise. Pinterest itself is a site designed to help people collect images that inspire them, for heaven’s sake. And while a slogan and image motivating you to get out and move and live and do is a beautiful thing, so many of these “fitspiration” messages floating across the web must be exposed for what they are: shame-inducing, objectifying, limiting ideals that keep women in their places as objects to be looked at above all else. 

Ever heard of a thing called “thinspo” or “thinspiration?” It’s an online world of thousands – even millions – of females who share and collect pictures of very thin women as inspiration to keep up their eating disorders. It is a saddening and terrifying world of females banding together to literally get thin at any cost, and thousands of girls and women die every year in this pursuit of thinness. But Beauty Redefined is here to reveal truth – to speak about things as they really are – and we echo Charlotte over on The Great Fitness Experiment: “Fitspo may be thinspo in a sports bra.”

It is.

So we are here to provide you with a few ways to determine if the fitness inspiration you are viewing is healthy and motivating you toward real health goals or keeping you imprisoned in a body that is to be looked at above anything else. You are capable of so much more than being looked at. And if you believe that, it puts fitness back into focus as a way to improve your physical health first and foremost.

Be very aware of any “fitspiration” that is advertising something. Nike, Lululemon, workout DVDs, etc., all profit from these “girl power!” messages that look so empowering on first glance. The problem with so many of these is what Virginia at calls “a lot of big, fancy girl power talk to sell us stretchy pants and sports bras. This is fine if you’re in the market for some new stretchy pants or a sports bra; not fine if you’re hoping their marketing materials will teach you something profound about yourself.”  

See this bit of fitspiration floating around online? It has effectively chopped a woman into just a part of her – without a head as is so often done in objectifying but totally normal and harmless-looking media. This part of her also happens to be sexually alluring, which is so often the case in this same objectifying but totally normal and harmless-looking media. Her hand is placed in her pants in a way that looks very reminiscent of a woman about to pull down her pants in a sexually alluring way. Her hip bones, navel, and cleavage are highlighted by the lighting of the shot, which say nothing of fitness or whatever the “it” is spoken of in the text. This text is open for interpretation so the “it” can be a well-meaning physical fitness goal, but the image would lead one to assume it is a look – a vision of oneself – that is the goal. A sexually appealing, “to be looked at” goal that leaves little room for worrying about internal indicators of health or meeting a fitness goal like hiking to the top of that peak or finishing that race or getting your heart rate up every day.

Pay attention to the advertising so often being done in these “fitness inspiration” messages and you will see what is really being sold here. Is it a message of real health and fitness or a message asking you to commodify yourself by buying sports bras, yoga pants, the latest fitness DVD, etc. to appear a certain way. Advertisers are VERY GOOD at framing their messages as an empowering “You Go Girl!” message with their fists in the air cheering you on. But pay attention to their swift move from using that pumping fist to cheer you on, to punching you in the face for not being enough. If you do not have rock hard chiseled abs, the right workout outfit, etc., you are not good enough until you do. These advertisers will make sure you know that, because their profit depends on your wallet and your beliefs about yourself. They’ll make sure you know you must work for “it” every second. Of every day. For the rest of your life. (Note: Please be aware that we go to great lengths to avoid perpetuating harmful images on this site, so we’ve purposely left out the more obviously thin-ideal-focused fitspo images. A simple Web search for fitspiration will reveal a much more representative spread of what those images look like.)

Next time you see one of these “fitspiration” messages, please ask yourself how it makes you feel. If these images and texts motivate you to respect your body as something that can do so much good, make and reach fitness goals, and maintain health that will keep you happy and able, then they are appropriate for you. If they motivate you to worry about being looked at or to improve parts of your body to meet a beauty ideal you see in media, you must be aware of this. Being self-conscious of your looks, in a state of self-objectification, stunts your health and well-being in physical and mental ways. Virginia at so concisely says, “Pay attention to how it makes you feel to be ‘inspired’ by lots of photos of a largely unattainable beauty ideal. Because that’s what rock hard abs are, after all. Yes, sure, core strength is important for your health. But pictures of bikini-clad, chiseled muscles beaded with sweat? That’s about pretty, not about health.”

If these images and messages categorized as “fitness inspiration” actually inspire body shame – you feel ashamed of the beauty ideals you cannot reach and want to hide or judge your body or covet other women’s bodies – then these messages are not inspirational at all. They trigger you to feel anxiety, hopelessness, and ask you to resort to extremes to get somewhere largely unattainable for healthy people, which does not discount that some people may be able to attain that ideal, but most cannot. This powerful quote from a woman centuries ago has everything to do with the fitness inspiration we are discussing here:

“Taught from infancy that beauty is woman’s scepter, the mind shapes itself to the body and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison” (Wollstonecraft, 1792).

This woman hundreds of years ago described what girls and women growing up today are asked to do every second of every day for the rest of their lives. We are asked to believe our power, our very identities, our worth, all lie in our bodies because we ARE our bodies. So we are asked to fix every part of our bodies – from the wrong-colored roots of our hair to the scratchy bottoms of our feet and every new flaw in between (baggy eyelids, insufficient eyelashes, saggy knees, cellulite, stretch marks, and every other sign of life). Men are not asked to fix these “flaws” because this is women’s work – a work that must last a lifetime. Of course there are exceptions to these beauty ideals being pushed on men, but for the most part, beauty and beauty under the guise of health, is women’s work. We are advertised in media to ourselves as parts of ourselves to encourage us to view ourselves as simply parts in need of constant maintenance and perfection. We are asked to believe we are our bodies and nothing more, and we are asked to adorn the prison that we must reside in every second. Of every day. For the rest of our lives.

Now look again at those “inspirational” fitness messages. Are those messages carefully crafted to appear to be health and fitness inspired, only to sell you a product, keep you fixated on parts of yourself that have nothing to do with your actual health and physical fitness, and keep you roaming around your prison? Our bodies are not prisons – they are gifts that allow us to live and breathe and act and do and be. But when we believe we are only bodies, and health is simply making those parts look presentable and beautiful to people looking at us, we are at once prisoners and the prison guards.

We borrow from the fantastic Virginia Sole-Smith again for our last very important point: “
Any motivational statement that has to diss another type of body in order to make you feel good about your body? Not. Helping. Anyone.” You’ve seen those photos of Marilyn Monroe vs. Nicole Richie with the words: “When did this become hotter than this?” or some variation. Ugh. When we pit female against female, we get nowhere fast. We continue minimizing each other to our bodies EVERY TIME we judge each others’ bodies, comment on them, even compliment each other.

One thing Lindsay and I mention at every speaking engagement is this: We have been taught from a young age that girls are to be looked at. So we compliment little girls on how pretty they are and little boys on how funny/rambunctious/smart/anything else they are. When we greet another female, we so often compliment her on her appearance: “Have you lost weight?” “I love your hair!” “Is that a new outfit?” But reverse that scenario. When guys greet each other, how often do you hear them minimize each other to their bodies and appearance? I almost NEVER hear a man say “Is that a new outfit?” or “Your hair looks great today!” to another man, because they do not learn they ARE their bodies like females do. We are capable of so much more than being looked at, but when our dialogue revolves around our bodies and we judge other women’s bodies, we are not getting anywhere progressive or happy or healthy. So next time you see a “fitspiration” post that pits one woman’s body type against another, please comment on it and link to this post!

So where do you turn for fitness information and happy inspiration?! If you are seeking positive inspiration to get fit and healthy and respect your body as something so powerful and capable of more than being looked at, we can help. That’s why Beauty Redefined is here! Read our post on how your body is an instrument, not an ornament here. Check out our in-depth look at the Body Mass Index (BMI) that has a shocking history and completely flawed present status. Read why fat shaming and focusing on numbers on the scale won’t get us anywhere in terms of real health here.

You are capable of much more than being looked at. When you believe that, you break free from the prison walls that keep you confined to your body, pitted against every other woman/prisoner in her own individual cell, always monitored by a gaze that controls your beliefs about yourself and your actions. Need more help developing body image resilience that can help you overcome your self-consciousness and be more powerful than ever before? Learn how to recognize harmful ideals, redefine beauty and health, and resist what holds you back from happiness, health, and real empowerment with the Beauty Redefined Body Image Program for girls and women 14+. It is an online, anonymous therapeutic tool that can change your life, designed by Lexie & Lindsay Kite, with PhDs in body image and media.

Since the Huffington Post published this very piece and we got hundreds of comments and shares from it, Lindsay was interviewed by the F Word Media Collective’s radio station to talk about the post and the backlash. Listen to her interview here!

Vogue Mom Shows Us How NOT to Fight Childhood Obesity

The teaser on the cover for what’s being called the “worst Vogue article of all time” is unbelievably misleading: “A Mom Fights Childhood Obesity at Home.” The truth is, if the article’s author, Dara-Lynn Weiss, mother of 7-year-old Bea, was genuinely trying to “fight obesity,” she couldn’t have done a whole lot worse. At Beauty Redefined, we’re not big on finger-pointing or parenting-shaming, but the major windfall of negative feedback this article is receiving is very much welcomed, in my opinion. But this mom isn’t alone in using misguided and dangerous strategies to “fight childhood obesity” — she was just bold enough to write down all the shameful details for Vogue and accept a book deal to tell the story even further.

Too many of us are guilty of imposing these unhealthy strategies on our children, our friends and ourselves. If any of these missteps sound familiar to you, now’s your chance to recognize it and reject it. Replace that mistake with a new strategy, a new way of thinking, a new way to redefine beauty while we redefine healthy!

You can read the full story in the current (April) issue of Vogue (not currently available online) to capture the full picture of this mother’s harmful, health-threatening actions, but I’ll summarize a couple of the problems with her approach here and follow that up with some much less shameful and more promising strategies to fight weight-related health problems.

First up on the list of reprehensible, health-harming strategies used in this much-publicized case: This mom decided to take action against her then 6-year-old daughter’s growing weight because she looked fat. When a boy at school mocked her beautiful little girl, calling her fat, Mom decided her sobbing, heartbroken daughter’s weight had to be fixed because it’s a problem “everyone can see.” Her instructions and warnings centered on the young girl’s appearance: “Bea, you have to stop eating crap like that, you’re getting too heavy.”

Second, Mom put her daughter on a restrictive diet, monitoring her food intake closely, banning participation in “Pizza Fridays” and assigning “good” and “bad” labels and reactions to certain foods. Upon finding out about the 800 calories her daughter consumed at her school’s French experience day, Mom withheld dinner as punishment.

Third, Mom alternated her daughter’s food restrictions and allowances based on her own relationship with food and her own fluctuating mood.  “When she was given access to cupcakes at a party, I alternated between saying, ‘Let’s not eat that, it’s not good for you’; ‘Okay, fine, go ahead, but just one’ and …  Then I’d secretly eat two when she wasn’t looking,” wrote Mom.

Fourth, Mom openly derided and embarrassed her daughter in public regularly. “I cringe when I recall the many times I had it out with Bea over a snack given to her by a friend’s parent or caregiver … rather than direct my irritation at the grown-up, I often derided Bea for not refusing the inappropriate snack. And there have been many awkward moments at parties, when Bea has wanted to eat, say, both cookies and cake, and I’ve engaged in a heated public discussion about why she can’t,” Mom wrote.

Why those four strategies are bad and what to do instead:

Rather than taking up a medically sound approach to promoting health in her child, Mom was only moved to intervene in her daughter’s health after her daughter was bullied and called “fat.” Her concern was solely for her daughter’s appearance, based on all given indicators. The 6-year-old was previously diagnosed as “obese” by her pediatrician, which can be used as a warning to pay close attention to proper nutrition and physical activity, but it can also be a very problematic diagnosis for such a young child since no reliable measures exist to determine what weight/levels of obesity coincide with increased health risk for children. More information on problems with measuring health can be found hereThis confusion of health with appearance is a massive and widespread problem that much of my research is devoted to. In this profit-driven media world, health and fitness are consistently defined according to appearance-based terms, which simply isn’t accurate, to say the least. This article is featured in Vogue‘s annual “Shape” issue, right alongside a glossy portrait of cover girl Jennifer Lopez looking “fabulously fit.” We have to stop judging fitness by what bodies look like and start judging it by what they can do.

No amount of cosmetic surgery, Photoshopping, tanning or disordered eating will produce true health and fitness. By focusing on the appearance of this young girl’s body rather than her physical well-being, this young girl is set up for a lifetime of body anxiety and all the corresponding unhealthy practices that too often accompany body shame. What if Mom had instead consoled her crying, embarrassed daughter after the bullying incident and reassured her that she is beautiful, worthwhile and powerful? What if she then intervened in providing healthier food options and joining her in physical activity if there was true concern for her health? I believe the outcome – both internally and externally – would have been much more appealing.

SOLUTION: Define health in terms of how you feel and what you can do, not what you look like, how much you weigh or your BMI. Same goes for kids. Kids need helping learning to take responsibility for their health and feeling the positive repercussions of doing so. Help them see their health in terms of how they feel and what they can do, NOT what they look like. Eating healthy and getting enough exercise won’t always translate into what weight charts and the BMI deem a “healthy weight” – many people (especially children) will be under or over this threshhold despite being active, eating a well-balanced diet and being free of disease and sickness. Along with healthy levels of physical activity (which many experts agree is 60 minutes per day) as the best predictor of a person’s health, internal indicators of health like blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure are much better indicators of wellness than weight, body fat percentage or BMI. More information on accurate means for measuring health can be found here. We must remind people, especially young girls, that their reflection does not define their worth — or their health.

PROBLEM: Dieting in childhood is a major predictor of both obesity AND disordered eating later in life. Dieting is not recommended for children, whose bodies are developing and in a state of constant flux in weight and composition. Further, Mom’s methods for weight loss are scientifically unfounded. Depriving her daughter of dinner after she ate 800 calories at school is a recipe for weight gain, if anything. Deprivation kicks body into starvation mode, which has been shown to contribute to weight gain AND binge eating. Further, assigning positive and negative labels or emotions to different foods will serve to promote anxiety and feelings of deprivation, not healthy choices. Dr. Leslie Sim, clinical director of the Mayo Eating Disorders Program, said, “When there’s a lot of emotional response around food, that can really create an anxiety disorder and potential eating disorder.” Further, most children do not understand proper nutrition. The foremost teacher of cultural values, including nutrition and health, is mass media — and that’s not a good thing. Studies show the influence of mass media, particularly food advertising, on children is a major cause for concern: In research, most children believe “diet” and “fat-free” labeled foods are healthier than actual healthful foods. That means when given the choice of which is better for their bodies, most children choose Diet Coke over skim milk and fat-free fruit snacks over apple slices.

SOLUTION: No more categorizing food as “good” or “bad.” Try your best to separate emotions from food. Avoid deprivation and exessive restriction. Get informed about what proper, balanced nutrition entails for you and your family and pass that information along! In a media landscape that teaches inaccurate health information left and right, the responsibility falls on parents, teachers and other adult caregivers to learn proper nutrition for themselves and then teach their children and those over whom they have influence.

PROBLEM: This mom determined her choices for her daughter based on her own mood, her own negative body image and disordered relationship with food. Preoccupation with thinness and weight in the home – especially by the mother – is a strong predictor of a future eating disorder. We know this level of shame associated with a young girl’s growing, changing body is harmful because it can generate a preoccupation with thinness and weight loss through unhealthy means for the rest of her life. Body shame and fixation on thinness are precursors to disordered eating and eating disorders on both ends of the weight spectrum — by contributing to anorexia and bulimia and to binge eating disorders, sedentary lifestyles, and poor nutritional choices. If you feel awful about yourself, why would you take care of yourself?

Recognize and reject your own body image problems. Choose to recognize the ways you enforce harmful ideals, body shame and preoccupation with weight on yourself and those you love. Choose to reject them by giving them up, one step at a time, and replacing them with positive thoughts, health-promoting choices, love and renewed dedication to positive body image and positive health every day. Redefine beauty and health for yourself in attainable, realistic, happy, healthy ways. For a list of strategies you can incorporate into your own life and pass on to those you love, see our Strategies for Girls and Women to Take Back Beauty. For sticky reminders or postcards you can post around your house/work/school, check out our body-positive merchandise that supports the work of Beauty Redefined.

PROBLEM: You can’t embarrass or shame anyone into making healthier choices. It’s especially harmful to publicly embarrass a young girl for her food choices. Body shame only leads to health problems, as previously mentioned, which are often in the form of eating disorders, sedentary lifestyles and poor nutritional choices. We have to encourage ourselves and our loved ones in productive, uplifting, loving ways — not through negativity, shame and embarrassment. Lexie and I do this work out of a serious feeling of love and concern for girls and women everywhere. We’re not moms yet, but we are well aware of the love our mom feels for us and the love so many moms have for their growing daughters and sons. I don’t doubt the mother who wrote this sad article loves her daughter, but I do hope she recognizes that her strategies and priorities are tremendously misguided and doing a major disservice to the daughter she surely loves.

SOLUTION: Let your own love — for yourself, your daughter, those closest to you — be the impetus for making heathy changes in your own life and supporting those around you in doing the same. Shame doesn’t do it. I guarantee you love will have a much stronger, more lasting and more powerful effect on your health than shame or embarrassment ever will.


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