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There are over 27 million photos tagged #fitspo on Instagram. Most of them, like a lot of “fitness inspiration” on the Internet, depict slender women dressed in Lululemon designs, flawlessly illuminated by natural light spilling onto their yoga mats. Men bearing oiled up, six-pack abs and before/after photos of alleged weight loss are also popular images in this theme.
On Instagram, Pinterest, or other visual-based social media outlets, #fitspo pics are meant to inspire others to achieve their health and fitness goals. But what if your stomach will never be flat, no matter how many crunches you do? What if your yoga selfies garner more comments about how big you are rather than how well you just executed crow pose?
Meet the plus-size #fitspo community, a loose collection of fitness fans who are challenging stereotypes and shaping what it means to be fit by posting photos of themselves living healthy and active lifestyles. We may not see many plus size bodies on advertisements and mainstream media, but social media is flooded with images of women celebrating all shapes and sizes under a slew of hashtags, like #CelebrateMySize and #EffYourBeautyStandards.
Plus-size #fitspo stars post pics and videos of themselves doing the exact same things other #fitspo folks do: eating clean, whole foods; drinking green juices; twisting their bodies in a difficult yoga pose; and sweating it out on an afternoon jog. Oftentimes, the caption to these pics doubles as a body-positive pep talk—not “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” but “Honor my curves.”
“It’s empowering when someone who looks like you does what you want to do,” fitness and lifestyle blogger CeCe Olisa told the Daily Dot. “It makes it seem more attainable.” Two years ago, Olisa began blogging about her healthy lifestyle journey and launched the hashtag #PSPfit, named after her blog Plus Size Princess. Today more than 10,000 Instagrammers have used the hashtag, prompting her to create a @PSPfit account.
After a few years of lifestyle blogging, Olisa made a decision to document her transition from obsessing over weight loss to embracing her size on her website. “I started it as a place to be open, honest, and transparent as a plus-size woman and what that looked like—to date, to shop, to go to places, to fall in love and live in New York,” Olisa said. Readers took to it. She said she has a six-figure monthly reach on her blog and almost 20,000 followers on Instagram and YouTube.
The first time Olisa heard she was overweight was in her doctor’s office as an 11- or 12 year-old girl. Feeling judged and ashamed, she tried fad diets and starved herself, only to binge eat in the evenings. “My life now is about unravelling a lot of the disruptive behaviors that I’ve had and embracing who I am,” she said. A few years after she was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome, an endocrine system disorder. If untreated, the condition can lead to heart disease and diabetes.
When Olisa began openly discussing her health in her blog, she found that others intimately related to a hardship she had coped with privately for so long. “Women feeling like they were alone in that and then seeing someone who is living a healthy lifestyle and just trying to balance all that out is really powerful,” Olisa said. “I get emails every day from women saying those things.”
You guys got me nominated for a @shortyaward. I mean, I know I’m supposed to be like “oh my god, I’m so excited and proud and blah blah blah” but all I can think is how fucking grateful I am for each of you. Really. At the end of the day, all media hoopla aside, I’m just a femme from Durham County by way of the Gate City, practicing her yoga under the gaze of an over protective pitbull and a Garfield-style Tabby cat. I began teaching because so many of you guys asked for my presence in your lives. I am astounded by the power of social media- really and truly. Even if we’ve never met or never meet in the future, and even if this comes off as the flakiest pile of bullshit you’ve ever read, please know this fact- I am grateful for you. Yes, you. Even if you think my belly is repugnant and you’re only here because one of your friends tagged you, please hear me-I am grateful for you. I cannot tell you what an impact you’ve had on my life. If you want to vote for me, click the link in my Instagram header- but, to be honest, I’m not really hunting for votes. I’m just glad that fat people are finally standing on their own two feet. Thank you for being part of that mission. ALSO MAD LOVE TO EVERYONE WHO IS BEING SO NICE TO ME ON TWITTER I LITERALLY CANT EVEN WITH YOU GUYS. A #crowpose grows in Brooklyn- thank you, @lydiahudgens, for getting my ass out in the middle of traffic practicing an #armbalance. Sports bra- @purelimesport Top- @k.deer Leggings- @maleshactivewear Fingers + Toes- @yogapaws Photo by @lydiahudgens [email protected] YAS I AM FROM GREENSBORO GUILFORD COUNTY THE GATE CITY BEST CITY IN THE WORLD. Tarheel born and bred, wouldn’t trade it for anything- I am damn proud of my Southern roots.
A photo posted by Jessamyn (@mynameisjessamyn) on
Another star of the plus-size #fitspo world is yoga instructor and body-positive advocate Jessamyn Stanley, who was nominated for a Shorty Award this year in the Healthy Living category. Visibility is the most important part of the body positivity movement, she said, so she uses her body to put an end to skinny fitness stereotypes. Stanley posts images of herself practicing yoga to her 147,000 followers on Instagram and has dozens of YouTube videos where she shows off her yoga moves.
“I think there’s been major improvement,” Stanley said. “If social media is any indicator, we’re definitely heading in the right direction.”
Fans can also purchase guided yoga videos from her EveryBody Yoga plan. As Stanley explains on Cody, the site which sells her videos, “I’m familiar with the difficulties that come with practicing in a larger body, and I’ve designed these workouts and this series to move at a comfortable pace, but to also be challenging regardless of your age, gender, experience or body size.” She believes, as she explains on the page for her beginner yoga class, “Larger-bodied people are just as capable of moving freely as a smaller-bodied person, and I believe that it is so important to see a larger-bodied person completing postures and moving freely with confidence.”
This belief sums up the motivation for plus-size #fitspo stars. “Healthy curves at every size is my motto and is really important,” Olisa explained. “Loving your body and healthy living is the most empowering thing you can do and everything else will flow through that.” As people obsessively surf online for the latest health fads and trendy exercise routines, body-positive leaders remind us what the movement is truly about: acceptance and self-love.
Photo via CeCe Olisa
Molly Stier is the Real-Time Social Editor at the Daily Dot, where she previously covered politics, lifestyle, entertainment, and technology. Her work has also appeared in The Nation magazine.