Communication Currents

Inspirational poster of person running

Is “Fitspiration” Related to Negative Body Talk?

August 1, 2016
Health Communication

When using social networking sites (SNSs) such as Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest, it is likely that you have been exposed to your friends’ “fitspiration” posts. Maybe you are that friend, the one who posts videos of your Crossfit Workout of the Day or pins fitness and food quotes.

Analisa Arroyo of the University of Georgia recently studied the phenomenon of fitspiration exposure on social media as it relates to negative body talk. “I was interested in this topic because I have noticed many people posting information regarding fitness (healthy eating, exercising, etc.),” explained Arroyo. “Although I could tell that these posts were meant to inspire others, I often found myself negatively comparing myself to others—maybe I should eat like they do? I don’t work out as much or as hard as they do. I wish I could look like them!”

Arroyo and her co-author, Steven R. Brunner of the University of Arizona, took a closer look at the relationship between friends’ fitness posts and negative body talk, especially among individuals who tend to compare themselves with others.

Friends’ Fitness Posts and Negative Body Talk  

According to past research, women who have been exposed to Facebook profiles that discourage weight loss reported higher levels of psychological well-being compared with women who have been exposed to Facebook profiles that encourage weight loss. Other research has found that women who see peers posting thin-promoting comments on Facebook report lower psychological well-being than women who are exposed to thin-discouraging comments. In addition, past research has found that people who use social media to search for information about body image, such as fitness and exercise or dieting, report lower body satisfaction.

Based on these ideas and others, the authors hypothesized that frequent exposure to friends’ social media fitness posts is positively associated with negative body talk. Arroyo and Brunner also examined social comparison theory, which states that people tend to compare themselves to others to self-evaluate. The authors theorized that “social comparison moderates the relationship between friends’ fitness posts and negative body talk, such that individuals who see friends’ fitness posts on SNSs more frequently and report higher levels of social comparison [would] report higher levels of negative body talk than individuals who report lower levels of social comparison.” Finally, the authors posited that people who are more likely to engage in body surveillance (a measure of self-objectification) are also more likely to be influenced by their friends’ fitness posts.

Arroyo and Brunner surveyed 488 undergraduate students at a large university in the Southeast United States. Most of the participants were women (323), with a median age of 20.51.

Findings and Implications 

The study revealed that high exposure to friends’ fitness posts was indeed associated with negative body talk. This relationship was stronger among participants who were especially prone to compare themselves with others. While most people who post “fitspiration” on social media are hoping to inspire their friends by promoting healthy behavior, such posts appear to have just the opposite effect in terms of promoting negative body talk.

That said, Arroyo and Brunner found that more frequent exposure to fitspiration posts was also related to more exercise and healthier eating habits. The authors write: “If people see their friends’ posts about exercise and healthy eating, they may believe that it is normative to exercise and eat healthy and they may learn behaviors or techniques for how to increase their fitness levels as well.”

“We recommend promoting and encouraging social media literacy as it relates [to] body image and health outcomes, just as is the case for media literacy programs in combatting negative body image for more traditional forms of media,” Arroyo and Brunner say. Such a program, they explain, could teach people to evaluate the images and updates they see on social media, which are often edited or chosen for the purpose of making the sharer more flattering or appealing. Social media literacy programs could also teach people the repercussions of posting certain types of “fitspirations.”

About the author (s)

Steven R. Brunner

University of Arizona


Analisa Arroyo

University of Arizona