Objectifying Fitness: A Content and Thematic Analysis of #Fitspiration Images on Social Media

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Abstract

Research suggests that exposure to #fitspiration content can result in increased body dissatisfaction. Employing a data-driven approach, the present study examines the nature of images and text contained within #fitspiration posts on social media. First, a content analysis of images labeled as #fitspiration on popular site Instagram (N = 1,000) was performed. People featured in 52% of images, of which nearly 90% of individuals were coded as having low body fat and 55% were coded as muscular. Individuals were typically presented in sexually objectified ways, which varied as a function of gender. Second, a thematic analysis of text from the same set of images (N = 400) was conducted to identify common themes and underlying meaning embedded within the messages. Six themes were developed: (a) Fit is sexy, (b) A “fit” physique requires commitment and self-regulation, (c) Your choices define you, (d) Pleasure and perseverance through pain, (e) Battle of the selves: You versus you, and (f) Here’s to us! A celebration of a community. In combination, the analyses demonstrate how text and images found in #fitspiration posts perpetuate pervading sociocultural appearance ideals for men and women, positioning exercise as means to achieving these ideals. Furthermore, #fitspiration sexually objectifies the fit body, with text and images encouraging self-objectification and the distancing of the self from internal bodily functions in physical activity settings. Future research should focus on how #fitspiration content influences individuals in relation to how they think and feel about their body and physical activity.

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