fitspo: what is it, and why does it matter?

This month I’m going to be writing about toxic fitness culture – what I call fitspo. 

It’s important, and hopefully by the end of the post you’ll agree with me.

What is fitspo?

The moniker “fitspo” comes from the instagram tag for “fitness inspiration”. Another interchangeable phrase: toxic fitness culture.

“Fitness” and even “wellness” in America generally means:

  1. slim
  2. able-bodied (or “inspirationally” disabled)
  3. youthful
  4. athletic/strong
  5. white and/or light-skinned
  6. a “positive mindset”
  7. affluent or giving the appearance of wealth and ease

A simple “yoga” tag search for on Instagram, currently our largest social media platform, is illuminating (notice – even the illustrations are skinny!):

"fitspo culture has gotta go - here's why" on toxic fitness and wellness spaces by Agni Hogaboom of Little Switch Yoga | Grays Harbor Hoquiam Aberdeen Washington
"fitspo culture has gotta go - here's why" on toxic fitness and wellness spaces by Agni Hogaboom of Little Switch Yoga | Grays Harbor Hoquiam Aberdeen Washington

(also note the tag “yoga” yields almost all physical/asana work – no mention of ethics, social observances, pranayama, philosophy, or history. But those are topics for another day!)

Who is welcome, in the fitspo world?

Youthful, slim, athletic (strong), racially and socioeconomically statused individuals are seen as more worthy and more desirable than their counterparts.

Fitspo ties in with our race, our age, our body shape and size, our socioeconomic class. You can’t really separate fitspo from patriarchal and white supremacist constructs.

But perhaps more than anything else, fitspo incorporates and supports ableism.

What is ableism?

Ableism places “well” bodies, “healthy” bodies, and able-bodied individuals as morally, ethically, and pedagogically superior to sick, unhealthy, or disabled individuals.

I don’t need to be a disabilities scholar to spell this one out.

We all know ableism is real, if we are honest.

If we haven’t felt ableism’s sting – well, that is probably because we’ve been operating from our own little bubble. If we haven’t been excluded or maligned, that’s because we fit in, in some way or other.

For instance I’m white; most fitness influencers you see out there, certainly the ones who get acclaim and book deals et cetera – most of them are white. So my entire life, I’ve been in the “in crowd” – at least with regards to race – in the fitness and fitspo world.

I am also able-bodied (at this time in my life) – so again, experiences like mine are spotlighted and held up as the “norm”.

In other ways, I don’t fit in so much. I’m old (at least according to the fitness world) and I’m fat, so in that sense I’m definitely sidelined. (I happen to currently be very strong and bendy – but most people don’t expect that, just by looking at me). I’m nonbinary, and boy oh boy are we excluded from discourse – everywhere!

It should go without saying: we shouldn’t have to be young, fit, thin – any of those things – to be included, welcomed, and supported in the physical movements space.

Aren’t you making a big deal of nothing? Isn’t it a good thing, to want to be in shape?

Sure! Kinda.

There is nothing wrong with working to be stronger, more mobile, and have more energy reserves. There is nothing inherently wrong with a workout!

In fact for the vast majority of human bodies, movement practice is recommended. 

But be careful.

Fitspo can still sidetrack you – even if you have the best of intentions!

Because remember: fitspo is above all about hierarchy, and trying to scramble into a place of cultural acceptance.

Fitspo tells us: we aren’t good enough, unless we’re better than other people.

And if we aren’t worthy, we should be TRYING to get more worthy.

In the fitspo world it is okay to be old, or fat, or not-white, or poor – as long as you’re putting in work to “better yourself”.

So when I say “be careful” I really mean it – because to the extent you buy into fitspo culture, you will suffer. Unfortunately, when we seek to “better ourselves” from a place of loathing, self-hatred, or even a sense of “less than”, lots of crummy things happen:

1. We won’t experience true joy in the process – because we are more focussed on the ends than the means;

2. We have a low tolerance for failure, injury, mishaps or slow progress;

3. We may end up aspiring to something that may not actually be appropriate or even achievable for us;

4. We are hyper-sensitive to what our fitness instructor thinks and/or the sleights (real or imagined) from our fitness community; 

5. After suffering from all the above ^^^ we usually give up on our movement practice, and blame *ourselves* for failing. This perpetuates a cycle of shame, sadness, and even apathy.

***

Trends in fitspo come and go – a few years ago there was a huge emphasis on being STRONG (mostly through weight lifting and so-called “clean” eating) but I’m reliably told that “heroin chic” is going to come back again (particularly with the skyrocketing popularity of Ozempic and other weight loss modalities).

So this month I invite you to look around the yoga space. Who isn’t there? And why are they missing?

Are we doing all we can, to let them know they are welcome?

(My Code of Conduct addresses that, at least in large part!)

I want something better than fitspo for myself, for my yoga space – and for the world at large.

The rest of this month, I’ll talk more about some antidotes to toxic fitness culture – and some constructive action we can take.

Resources:

“yoga” tag search on Instagram

“Understanding toxic fitness culture”, Ninjathlete at Medium.com

“How to talk about disability sensibly and avoid ableist tropes” , Shruti Rajkumar, NPR.org

Jonny Landels, male body image and strength coach

“I’m too old / fat / out of shape for yoga”

This last week – for the first time in my life – my feet lifted off the floor in the very tricky arm balance bakasana (or crow pose).

I am almost half a century old and a couple weeks ago – for the first time in my life! – I conquered that fear of falling on my face, and I had patiently gained the strength and core integrity to balance on my hands.

This is more impressive than you might realize!

It is a lot harder as an adult to learn new physical skills or feats of strength – than it is to return to habits of childhood!

I didn’t grow up with any gymnastics, calisthenics, or attendant practice. When you see me doing what I can do – I had to earn that in adulthood, after decades of life, after giving birth to two children, and while living as a working class artist (meaning: life is hard!)

The hanumanasana (front splits) you see me chilling into, in class – well you are seeing me do something I’ve never done before.

I had to get there with these weathered bones and aged muscles! LOL

Another thing:

You also might have noticed I am fat. It’s true!

And –

It has to be said I don’t dress like a “yoga teacher”. I am not in fashionable leggings and a cute sports top. Half the time my hair gets in the way as we flow and I’m always trying to tie and push it back.

It’s not that I don’t take pride in how I dress, it’s that I have had to carefully allocate yoga funds to building the space. I’ve put retained yoga earnings into shelving, rent, security deposit, insurance, licensure etc etc. And that’s okay – because I made these priorities with intention.

Here’s what I mean, though:

It’s true I don’t look like a yoga teacher, or even a yoga practitioner.

But if I’d waited to start yoga until I “looked the part” –

I’d never have started.

***

Why am I sharing all this? Because:

I am trying to WREST the true nature of yoga away from the American fitspo culture chokehold.

If you scroll the Instagram “yoga” tag (Instagram is currently the largest social media platform out there) – you’ll see youthful, slim, mostly white, aspirationally-dressed and very athletic practitioners hitting difficult poses – usually showcased in elegant, pristine locations.

The truth is…

Yoga isn’t like that.

I mean SOME yoga will look like that – all tidy and slim and clean and wealthy or wealth-adjacent. And that’s just fine.

But…

If you wait to have all those ducks in a row, you’ll never start.

And precisely WHO is getting cheated if you skip yoga until you “look like” a yoga practitioner?

(Spoiler: YOU are getting cheated).

Yoga is messy and goofy. Yoga we’re practicing in a thousand-year old sports bra. Yoga we spy a hairball in the corner of the room as we’re moving to chill in our ardha kapotasana. Yoga is arriving almost-late to class and feeling cranky and annoyed. Yoga is getting a bitchy attitude that someone else in class can do a pose “better” than you. Yoga is accidentally farting in pavanmuktasana (hey, there’s a reason it’s called “wind-relieving pose”)!

Yoga isn’t about perfection.

It’s about daily intention – and the action to back our intensions up.

I’ve created the Little Switch Yoga space to be clean, reliable, and electric.

No hairballs! 🙂 I’ve created a peaceful space with good props, a lot of laughs and some music and tea to share!

I’ve carved out this space, right here in Grays Harbor.

There won’t be another space like it, if it goes.

Now is the PERFECT time for you to see if yoga can serve you –

The way it has served young and old, fat and thin, disabled and temporarily able-bodied, rich and poor.

You are worth going through this trouble.

You really are!

I’d love to see you on the mat!

let’s create a community – not a clique

A reminder: I’ve already written a post on the things we can do to be more welcoming to visitors and new practitioners.

I invite you to read it, here.

But.

It’s important to take a big step back and look at the cliqueish nature of yoga as yoga often presents today.

First: no need to feel that “Westernized” yoga is responsible for the snobbery and exclusivism of some yoga spaces.

Elitism has existed in yoga for thousands of years. (Anjali Rao writes on this quite a bit in her excellent canon of work).

I am no yoga historian or expert – yet. (I am working on it!)

But you don’t need to be a yoga expert or scholar to be able to to see elitism in present-day American yoga spaces, publications, and practices.

A cursory scan of Instagram’s top “yoga” content reveals an overwhelming majority of images that are young, slim, able-bodied, athletic, often white – and wealth-aspirational (that is to say: practice settings that are clean, “minimalist”, and/or associated with leisure and luxury).

Rarely do you see “yoga” represented by influencers who are old, fat, disabled, subtle (as opposed to physically vigorous) BIPOC (although this is shifting, thankfully), and/or messy in any way.

In America at least, our visible “yoga” resources quickly inform you who belongs – and who doesn’t.

In America – this includes many so-called wellness spaces besides yoga – we are taught to believe in “self-improvement”; that is, we are told to bootstrap ourselves into a state of social belonging.

This is Capitalism stuff, white supremacy stuff.

Yoga, colonized by the aspirational American dream.

***

But here’s the thing:

Ask yourself – who does it really serve, when the marginalized believe they are not “allowed” nor welcomed in constructive community action?

Shouldn’t practitioners who are most marginalized, most excluded – shouldn’t THEY be the people for whom we make room?

Who should have access to a space that provides resources to feel better, alleviate pain – and gain clarity of mind?

The answer to this last question is – EVERYONE.

Yoga is the birthright of all who want to learn and practice.

Yoga isn’t a club we belong to by virtue of our youth, strength, serenity, strength or flexibility, our cute leggings or our “good vibes” ethos.

Yoga is for ALL.

Therefore those of us who’ve found our way here, owe it to others to help make more space.

Now – we all have barriers to get to a class, or even to practice at home.

But remember – those who have more resources, who enjoy financial stability and/or wealth, who have transportation, discretionary funds, who are well (or at least mobile and resourced enough to be available) –

these individuals have a responsibility to help the others: the oppressed, the marginalized, the (seemingly) unwelcome.

I encourage us to keep ALL in mind, as we build this community.

No one yoga space, yoga class, yoga instructor, yoga location, yoga set of props, yoga class curriculum can satisfy all people at once in every moment.

That’s not possible – nor reasonable to ask.

However – 

We need to look around the room and – with patience, gentleness, compassion and good humor – 

make room for those who have not yet found their way into our rooms.

In making this room, we’ll deepen our yoga practice much more than a sweaty asana class, a “spiritual gangster” tee shirt, or an expensive yoga mat.

I’m ready for this work.

And I know you are too!

how to prepare for your yoga class

No yoga class is exactly like another, but I’ve been going to classes so long I often forget that a lot of people don’t know what to expect. One of the things I forget is that if you’re new to yoga, it can be hard to know what to expect.

So here’s a list! These guidelines certainly work for Little Switch classes and will do you well in most any yoga class you attend.

Arrive on time, and prepared to practice.

Please arrive with time to spare so that you can settle on your mat, silence your phone, and be ready to practice with the rest of the class.

Wear comfortable clothes – and dress in layers.

There is no yoga “uniform”. Wear what feels comfortable to you. I see a lot of leggings and tank tops on Instagram/TikTok but remember those are yoga influencers. As practitioners, we wear clean clothes that are comfortable to move in! Maybe leggings, maybe tank tops, maybe not. Wear something cozy – that’s it.

I like to advise wearing layers as it’s impossible to find the perfect temperature that pleases everyone! You may get warm during practice and want to remove a layer; then while we rest at the end of class, you may want to cozy up. My personal recommendation? Very warm socks, for savasana.

In general, we practice barefoot. But if you want to keep your shoes on or wear socks, just be mindful during any balance or wide-legged standing poses.

If you can, buy yourself a mat.

I have mats at the studio you are welcome to use! But I highly advise getting your own. This is for three reasons:

1. to invest in yourself and your practice – to show your commitment to quality props and materials for your own use.

2. the studio mats are great for padding – but paying for a more upscale mat provides more access to poses. I personally like Jade, and Manduka mats. They are positively no-slip! When I practice on a lower-quality mat, I always feel a bit impeded.

3. if you have a mat you bring to and from class, you may start practicing at home, too! It’s nice to get used to your mat. You come to have a fond feeling about it!

Now – mats can be expensive. It may take time to save up. But I have found the expense of a better-quality mat, is far outweighed by the health benefits that regular practice delivers!

Let the instructor know of any special needs or requests you have.

A group class cannot tailor to one individual at the expense of the group; however, your instructor is trained and qualified to help you with anything you need. Many times your requests can be accommodated – so don’t be shy!

Some examples of special needs or requests you may have:

1. Let your instructor know if you are experiencing pain or soreness. The instructor can then help you be as comfortable as possible during class, with suggestions and/or props.

2. Let your instructor know if you are new or newish to yoga! They will tailor the class with more helpful explanation than they might otherwise.

3. Let your instructor know if you are sensitive to sound or scent. Each class is listed with a full explanation of sensory and adaptive information. But your instructor will accommodate you as much as possible!

Make sure you are neither too hungry or too full.

Life is busy and sometimes we make mistakes – I once taught two classes back-to-back after consuming a huge lunch of spicy nachos! Oof!

While we can’t expect perfection here, it’s worth noting that going to class while too hungry will be distracting and even cranky-inducing; going to class while too full can foment discomfort.

Remember – it’s your practice, so listen to your body.

You don’t have to do an asana (pose) that doesn’t feel right – ever! In yoga, listen to your body. Follow the cues of your breath and body. As long as you aren’t disrupting the class or other students’ safety and participation, you really REALLY can do what you need to on the mat.

I don’t just talk the talk on this one. MANY times I’ve been in a class that was a little too intense, or fast, or whatever – and I did exactly what I needed to for myself, rejoining the class practice when I was ready. In fact to be honest, this was one of the most liberating moments in my yoga history. This helps me walk into any class with confidence – I know I’m going to take care of myself. Put that into practice for YOUR body and mind, and your yoga experience will soar!

Ask yourself *why* you practice!

This may be the scariest suggestion on this list!

Ask yourself WHY you practice. You can do this on your way to class, after class – or during an introspective moment in class.

Don’t feel like you need to come up with an answer right away. Don’t pressure yourself either! Just ask yourself. I’ll tell you, I practiced for YEARS and asked myself and many days the answer was, “I don’t know!” And that’s okay. Because over time, this regular check-in helped me really solidify the fact that I was finding practice beneficial. I’m glad I didn’t just go to class on autopilot – because I’d have quit by now!

I hope you’ve found this post helpful!

We’d love to practice with you. Click here to book a class!

why a sliding scale business?

A sliding scale business model is rare – but I choose to believe it’s still a wise build when engineered well.

In a sliding scale, either the business sets the criteria for the rate the client is charged, or the client chooses the rate they wish to pay.

I have chosen the latter option.

Since I am trusting you to self-select, I ask that you take responsibility for that choice. I don’t need any “advice” or criticism about the structure itself.

You can trust me that I’ve done the math correctly. 🙂

My Membership page hosts a pretty thorough explanation and provides multiple options for participating with Little Switch. I always tell interested parties to make sure to read it carefully before committing.

If the implications of the sliding scale is too stressful for you and you don’t want to apply for work scholarship, you can always pay the regular per-class fee.

I also gently remind anyone reading here that there are so many other yoga options out there. Little Switch won’t be for everyone!

Given you want to read on, here’s what you need to know:

Little Switch’s sliding scale lets you self-select your level, trusting that you’ve read through the material and made the choice right for you. Please do not reach out to criticize or “advise” me on the conditions therein. 

I will be regularly sharing the expenses and efforts of running Little Switch through email and social media. This is not only for my sake and for Little Switch’s sake, but to better inform the community I’ve seen too many wonderful projects fall apart due to the burn-out of the facilitator, who does not share the load.

Little Switch does have a corporate mentality. Little switch has a community mentality, and a collective set-up. That sounds well and good but it can be difficult for some people to get their head around. Some people always suspect some kind of egregious profit motive. That’s just not the case here. My mission is to provide a clean, reliable, electric yoga space and I am more transparent than most businesses in how I do this.

Please remember that creating this space and organizing this space takes a great deal of effort and considerable expertise. I am not in need of business advising at this time.

Thank you so much for your careful consideration and ALL forms of support you provide!

We are now at the historic Vasa Hall!

Nothing ever is as hard as keeping good news to myself so when I tell you I have been BURSTING AT THE SEAMS trying to contain myself!

As of February, Little Switch Yoga will be operating at the historic Vasa Hall in Hoquiam.

Not to sound trite, but –

This is a dream come true for me!

I was very, very particular about the space I would take on.

The Vasa Hall is an incredible historic space in Hoquiam that has a long history – not just in regards to the original Swedish Vasa oganization, but in later iterations as a significant music venue.

It’s almost a hundred years old!

And yes, I went to high school dances there in its tenure as a Moose Hall! 

I am sad to say that so many historic buildings here are left to rot and die – not because we locals do not love our history but because we are an economically-depressed area, and it costs a lot of money to keep these buildings up.

Fortunately, a local construction group acquired the Vasa and has restored and upgraded it beautifully – absolutely beautifully! I am in good company next to the Red Cedar, Solid Coffee, and The Hive –  and we have another business taking up residence soon!

***

As for me?

My family goes deep, here in Hoquiam. My great grandparents settled here to start a family. Great-grandpa was an entrepreneur who lived and worked just a few blocks away from this very Hall. He was a titan of (tiny little) Hoquiam and flew the first mail plane to the Harbor!

I am a fourth-generation Hoquiam entrepreneur and I’m so proud of this.

I am also proud of the TYPE of enterprise I am bringing.

It’s different than anything we’ve previously had.

[gulp!]

My yoga space will prioritize constructive community effort, mental, emotional and physical strength-building, JOY, and the sacred space of interpersonal connection.

I will also host the only sliding-scale yoga business in the whole Harbor.

This is a big leap for me.

And I will be honest: I’m kind of nervous!

But it’s time for me to make a move!

Please keep your eyes peeled and your ears pricked –

Because I’m canvasing the community (survey below)! –

And one of the best ways you can help, is to fill out that survey and check “yes” to staying on my email list!

***

A few more words.

Just last night after Sunday group I talked to two of my students. One of them said she almost started crying at the way I gave each student “permission” to stop pushing themselves in a certain pose.

We talked for a while – it felt so good to talk about something I love so much! – and I finally said:

“It takes time to overcome fitspo culture.”

I’ve talked about fitspo before. I’m not here to go on at length now.

But what I will say is this:

The reason people know yoga is good for them – but don’t make time to practice – is because we’ve been squeezed out of our own life.

We don’t deeply believe we deserve good things.

Maybe we know – IN THEORY – that we deserve good things.

But our actions show that we don’t make time for them.

Now – 

I can’t change someone’s mind, or someone’s priorities.

All I can do is offer up the absolutely best-engineered space possible for this wholesomeness, this blooming, this joy and electricity to flourish!

And that’s my commitment.

I hope I succeed.

I hope I can pay rent.

By the end of the year, I hope to pay myself even a little.

But.

I can only do my best.

Can I count on you for your support?

***

Another note: I simply cannot overstate my gratitude to Maija Nordin and Gayle Russell for letting Little Switch have a home in 2023. Without business owners helping me rent at a low price-point, I could not have built a practice that let me step into Big Boy rent.

As for Big Boy rent!

My expenses have gone UP, and within the next few weeks you’ll see my class offerings going up, as well.

I’ve been studying, crafting, and modeling several options AND I now have a survey!

Please trust I have worked very hard and put a lot of thought AND taken professional advice.

What I could use from YOU, is your feedback.

So please please, take time to fill out the survey!

You can do so, here!

This will help us all so much.

***

Finally:

I am so, so grateful for everyone who attended class in my studio in 2023! Each of you has a special surprise coming your way before the month is up! Make sure to stay on my email list and keep your eyes open!

I am so excited about this new move. It’s a BIG move and I know I’m bringing my best self. It’s time to let the community come together in a bigger way!

six ways to dismantle a fitspo mindset

One of the hardest things to dismantle when it comes to anything like physical exercise is a fitspo mindset.
 
That includes a sort of defensiveness and self-consciousness about one’s abilities (or lack thereof).
 
We have been indoctrinated to feel bad about ourselves.
 
Like if we eat two slices of cake (or three, or four, or the whole cake) we’re a bad person. If we sit and watch ours of mindless telly instead of doing the dishes or going for a wlak, we’re lazy. If we’re not as disciplined or as put-together as someone else (seems to be), then they’re a better person than us.
 
This all leads us to feel rather sorry for ourselves and, sadly, SHRINK into ourselves a bit more. 
 
Well I can’t fix ANY of this for you but I can tell you I’ve fixed – or improved – a lot of this within myself.
 
It took years.
 
In my case, I had to learn, deep-down learn that I was going to love and treasure myself, NO MATTER WHAT.
 
This is such hard work and also so much PATIENT and persistent work, I certainly don’t have time to write it all out now!
 
Here are six practices that might help you dismantle these kinds of fitspo attitudes.

1. Recognize fitspo is real.

It’s going to be a lot easier to change how we feel if we recognize how much we’re up against. Our entire culture and most of our familial culture values thinness, weight loss, youth, whiteness, those kinds of things. It’s huge, it’s massive, it’s everywhere. If we acknowledge this presence and power we may appreciate our successes – however small they may seem – all the more.

2. Ask yourself if you truly want to change.

When we actively reject fitspo, we actively reject the fantasies that come with it. We also dismantle the fitspo privileges we have – if we are thin, able-bodied, white, young, cisgender. We still BENEFIT from those privileges, but we actively work to dismantle them. This is a lot of work. So ask yourself if you’re ready!
 

3. Soften – and widen – your gaze.

Fitspo encourages us to make it all about US. We are jealous, defensive, we start this strange self-absorbed cycle where we ruminate on all the wrongs and unfairnesses against us, and we stop SEEING the beauty and hard work that other people show up with. Fitspo wants us in this place – it doesn’t want us to really LISTEN to and value others.
 

4. Mind your business!

So speaking specifically about yoga. I had a teacher that used to say, “Mind your mat!” In other words, pay attention to YOUR mat and your body. Don’t try to “copy” the instructor or other students, don’t strain, don’t compare.
 
I love looking at the other practitioners who can do amazing things. Some of the things they can do… well maybe one day I can do them too! But sometimes it’s pretty obvious I’ll never do what they can do! (For reference: check out my friend thetysonedwards on Instagram!)
 
I should not diminish other practitioners’ beauty, joy and practice by relentlessly comparing it to my own!
 

5. Commit to loving yourself – even if you’re faking it!

I had to act AS IF I loved myself, for a long time before I felt it.
 
And some days it’s a struggle!
 
But I’m so committed to myself and my love of feeling better, stronger, and feeling happier –
That I won’t give away my own joy by comparing, or (the twin cousin): getting defensive, making excuses, lapsing into self-pity.
 
It took me years to get to a better place. And I re-commit regularly.
 

6. Give yourself props!

Please remember fitspo is just another entrenchment of white supremacist capitalism. Fitspo actually isn’t personal, rather a system that wants you to feel despondent, disempowered – and wants you to SPEND MONEY out of your rut. Resist! In fact your very resistance is a loving commitment, and it is very brave work!
 
***
Okay peeps – thank you for reading and thank you for being a part of my community!
 
 

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